Peugeot driver Marcus GrÃ¶nholm has taken an early advantage on the 13th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Telstra Rally Australia, which started in earnest today. The Finn and his navigator Timo Rautiainen set fastest times on all...
Peugeot driver Marcus Grönholm has taken an early advantage on the 13th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Telstra Rally Australia, which started in earnest today. The Finn and his navigator Timo Rautiainen set fastest times on all but one of today's forest stages to arrive back at this evening's superspecial in host city Perth with a lead of around half a minute.
Australia's stages traditionally punish the first few crews in the running order, since they are forced to sweep clear loose gravel and reveal a grippier surface underneath. But heavy overnight rain left many of the roads coated in standing water instead. That allowed the frontrunners to maintain their advantage: Carlos Sainz, Harri Rovanperä and Petter Solberg all featured strongly, although Grönholm's team-mate Richard Burns was forced to retire his 206 WRC with clutch problems.
Technical: The 206 WRCs of Marcus Grönholm and Harri Rovanperä have been reliable today. But Richard Burns was forced to retire his example when it hit clutch problems on the penultimate forest stage of the day.
Sporting: Marcus Grönholm realised when heavy rain hit Perth last night that he stood a better chance than normal running first on the road today. With the usually-troublesome loose gravel packed down by the overnight showers, the Finn was able to inch into the lead on this morning's second stage. He didn't look back after that, setting a string of fastest times as he built up an advantage of almost half a minute. His team-mate Richard Burns looked set to be his closest and most consistent challenger, and the Englishman recovered from a cautious start to move into second overall by lunchtime. But his car succumbed to clutch and gearbox problems in the penultimate forest stage of the day and he was forced to retire. Peugeot's third driver, Harri Rovanperä, arrived at Langley Park in fourth overall after a consistent performance today.
Marcus Grönholm said: "The rain last night helped me for sure today, because there wasn't so much loose gravel in the morning. It started to dry a bit in the day's longest stage and I was surprised that the rest of the guys didn't take time from me in there but after that, we were using most of the roads for the second time so they were clean anyway. There's a long way to go yet but I'm feeling quite confident."
Technical: The Impreza WRC2002s of Petter Solberg and Tommi Mäkinen have run without any significant problems today.
Sporting: After Petter Solberg's fastest time at last night's superspecial in Perth, Subaru started today with high hopes. But although the Norwegian and team-mate Tommi Mäkinen have been among the leading non-Peugeots, they have been unable to really threaten Marcus Grönholm's advantage at the head of the field. Solberg started best of the Impreza drivers, holding the overall lead after the second stage and then occupying second spot once Grönholm got into his stride mid-morning. Mäkinen struggled on the opening three stages after he opted for Pirelli's wider tyre. But their fortunes reversed for the following two tests, as Solberg switched to a harder compound that didn't work and Mäkinen opted for the narrower Pirelli and improved his pace. Solberg benefited from Richard Burns's retirement, though, to arrive this evening at Langley Park in second overall. Mäkinen held fifth, albeit just nine seconds behind Harri Rovanperä.
Petter Solberg said: "We're obviously trying hard and it was frustrating when we got the tyre choice wrong because I had no feeling at all for two stages. But we're in a good position now and we have to keep this pace to make sure Grönholm can't relax."
Tommi Mäkinen said: "I had completely the wrong tyre choice this morning. We thought the roads would be dry but in the end, the loose gravel was just sitting on top of some really wet surfaces. We had gone for the wider tyre and it just didn't cut through that at all. But since we changed back it has been better. We just have to be a bit patient and not push too hard to make up the time, because it's important to stay smooth and precise on these roads."
Technical: The Focus RS WRC02s of Carlos Sainz, Markko Martin and François Duval have been reliable today. Colin McRae's car has generally run without problems too, but the Scot did complain of a little brake fade towards the end of the day's longest stage. He also suffered an EMI mousse insert break-up in the same stage.
Sporting: Carlos Sainz has been Ford's strongest driver today. Buoyed by revised suspension geometry that he fine-tuned at the team's pre-event test, the double world champion set second-fastest time on one stage as he kept his Focus in the top five for much of the day. The retirement of Richard Burns boosted his chances further, and he'll go into tomorrow in third, but ready to battle with Petter Solberg for second overall. Colin McRae found it difficult to find his rhythm on a few of today's stages and he wasn't helped by some brake fade and an EMI mousse insert break-up in the longest test of the schedule. The Scot held sixth overall by this evening's superspecial. Markko Martin felt that the changeable conditions made it hard for him to compete on the Australian stages for the first time, but the Estonian still arrived back in Perth in seventh, only 14 seconds behind his team-mate. Ford's fourth entry, François Duval, held eighth after a day spent gaining experience of the conditions.
Carlos Sainz said: "I had a feeling before this event that we'd found a better feeling with the car and it seems that's the case. We made a few changes to suspension geometry and it's really helped my confidence with the handling. It's nice to be fighting for second position after the last few rallies."
Technical: Toni Gardemeister's Octavia WRC has encountered no major problems today, although the young Finn says he lacks sufficient confidence in the car to really attack. His team-mate Kenneth Eriksson has endured a difficult opening leg. A loose pipe allowed hydraulic fluid to leak this morning, leaving his Octavia without any differential pressure for the first three stages. The problem was fixed at the following service, but on the next stage, a turbo pipe broke and the car lost boost. Eriksson fixed the problem himself before the day's longest stage but the repairs meant that he did not have enough time to accurately balance the car's tyre pressures before the 39km test. Halfway through it, the car's differential sensor failed, locking all of the car's differentials and making its handling even more unpredictable.
Sporting: Toni Gardemeister hasn't felt comfortable with his Octavia all day but the Finn battled through the forest stages to hold ninth as he arrived back in Perth this evening. His team-mate Kenneth Eriksson was slowed by a catalogue of mechanical glitches but the veteran Swede occupied 13th as the cars left the forests.
Toni Gardemeister said: "I've got no confidence in the car at the moment. I went straight on at one junction today and at another I nearly went off completely. It's not easy - we clearly need to find something but it's not immediately clear what the problem is. All we can do is keep trying."
Kenneth Eriksson said: "I was completely demoralised after this morning's stages, because we didn't get a single clean run. If you get one good stage then you can at least see where you are against the others. But with no differentials for the first three stages, and then the turbo and differential sensor problems, we didn't get that chance. I've had enough!"
Technical: The Lancer Evo WRCs of Jani Paasonen and François Delecour were reliable today.
Sporting: Jani Paasonen knew that with wet roads, he would struggle to repeat his form from New Zealand last month, so the Finn has spent today settling into the Australian stages and making small adjustments to his Lancer's set-up. His pace was still good enough for him to hold 11th as he entered the Langley Park service this evening. His team-mate François Delecour wasn't so fortunate - the Frenchman was encouraged by a more aggressive front differential setting that gave him better handling, but on the day's penultimate stage he crashed heavily. His navigator Daniel Grataloup was immediately treated by medical crews at the scene and he was subsequently airlifted to hospital in Perth for further tests. There he was found to have a fractured ankle and pelvis and bruising to his right lung. Daniel was conscious and injuries are not considered critical.
Jani Paasonen said: "The conditions this morning made it very difficult to actually learn the stages, and I hadn't done any wet-weather testing here either so I had to learn how the car behaves on the roads here when they're wet. The biggest problem is knowing where the grip is, because it can be great in one corner and then not there at all at the next one. But I feel reasonably comfortable."
Technical: The Accent WRC3s of Juha Kankkunen and Freddy Loix were reliable today. Armin Schwarz, meanwhile, felt that his car's suspension softened towards the end of the day's longest test, and then its engine stopped and refused to restart in the following stage.
Sporting: Freddy Loix looked likely to occupy a points-scoring position for Hyundai for much of today's action. The Belgian was fastest overall on this morning's first stage and he held a top five placing until lunchtime. But in the longest stage of the day, he misheard a pacenote and rolled his Accent out of the event. Juha Kankkunen felt that his times didn't match his performances this morning, but the veteran Finn still arrived at Langley Park this evening in 12th after a steady drive. He is now the sole surviving Hyundai, since Armin Schwarz's efforts came to nothing after engine failure in the penultimate forest stage.
Freddy Loix said: "The accident was completely my fault. I misheard a pacenote and went into a corner far too quickly. The car slid off the road, hit a bank and rolled, and it was too badly damaged for us to continue. I'm totally disappointed because we'd shown again that we had good enough speed to get into the points."
The battle for honours in the FIA Production Car World Championship category has seen seven changes of lead in seven stages today. After Toshihiro Arai grabbed the initial advantage last night, Marcus Ligato assumed the top spot on the first forest stage. Series leader Karamjit Singh moved ahead in SS3, before Ligato reclaimed the top spot in SS4. He then retired with gearbox problems, allowing another title hopeful, Kristian Sohlberg, to take the advantage. He then suffered a puncture, though, allowing Arai back into the frame before the Japanese driver was slowed by brake problems. All of the dramas allowed Singh back into the category lead as the cars arrived at Langley Park tonight. Other non-registered drivers have also featured strongly - Possum Bourne led Group N overall before his Subaru succumbed to suspension problems, while Juuso Pykalisto set competitive times until his Mitsubishi's engine failed.
LEG 1 STATISTICS
STARTERS: 69 crews (27 Group A and 42 Group N) started this morning.
RETIREMENTS: Burns (GB), Delecour (F), Schwarz (D), Loix (B), and 10 other drivers
TODAY: Friday 1 November - The second part of Leg 1 started from Perth at 07h00 and covered 673.64km, including 133.48km on eight special stages.
TOMORROW: Saturday 2 November - Leg 2 starts from Perth at 07h00 and covers 539.15km, including 147.27km on 11 special stages. The first car is expected to arrive in Perth at 20h41.
WEATHER FORECAST: Scattered cloud with occasional showers.