Harri RovanperÃ¤ (Peugeot) dominated the early action, the Finn winning four of the first five tests. However, he rolled 5km after the start of RuuhimÃ¤ki and retired at the following service park as the car was too badly damaged. Team-mate...
Harri Rovanperä (Peugeot) dominated the early action, the Finn winning four of the first five tests. However, he rolled 5km after the start of Ruuhimäki and retired at the following service park as the car was too badly damaged. Team-mate Marcus Grönholm moved to the front and set four consecutive fastest times en route to an overnight lead of 18.3sec.
Another team-mate, Sebastian Lindholm, had been Rovanperä's closest pursuer but he slipped behind Grönholm and remains second. Finns Mikko Hirvonen (Subaru) and Jani Paasonen (Skoda) had an exciting battle for fifth, the latter enjoying a superb debut drive. However, Hirvonen hit a barrier on the final stage and retired with broken suspension and radiator. Rally Argentina winner Carlos Sainz (Citroen) led the French team's challenge in fifth, edging ahead of Paasonen on the final stage, while team-mate and championship leader Sebastien Loeb found the going hard. He had the worst of the conditions by running first through the stages on loose gravel and his lack of experience in Finland also hindered him. He is seventh. Petter Solberg (Subaru) was the day's other major retirement. The Norwegian was third when he slid into a ditch on stage four, hitting a rock in the grass which damaged the suspension too badly to continue.
The second leg can be regarded as the classic day of the 2004 season. Based on wide, flowing roads south-west of Jyväskylä, it comprises 167.80km and includes some of rallying's greatest speed tests. It includes two passes over the awesome 33.24km Ouninpohja, a roller-coaster stretch of road full of blind crests and huge jumps that is viewed by many as the sport's greatest test of driving skill. It is also an incredibly long day. Competitors depart Jyväskylä at 05.48, returning for the overnight halt at 21.52.
After a first leg that turned out to be as difficult as everyone had expected, Carlos Sainz/Marc Marti and Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena are currently lying in fifth and seventh positions. A provisional classification, which both the Citroën team and the drivers intend to improve, during tomorrow's long day of competition.
Sébastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: "This evening, I can't say that I am in the sort of position I dreamed of," Sébastien Loeb said. "Starting first on the road was not an advantage. However, the gap is not solely due to my road position. I pushed really hard, but the times did not come. I worked hard on improving the settings of my Xsara, and I think I am going in the right direction. Tomorrow, I won't be opening the road, and I will have markers to follow. There is still a long way to go, and I fully intend to make the most of the remaining special stages to improve my classification as much as possible."
Carlos Sainz / Marc Marti: It was then noticeable that the Xsaras were climbing up the classification sheets. According to Carlos Sainz, more work was needed : "It was not an easy day. We need to work towards a car that is secure laterally, with perfect balance, which will give us total confidence. This confidence is "compulsory" for this rally, because we are driving at such high speeds all the time !"
After a promising start on today's first Leg of Rally Finland, there was disappointment for the Subaru team when both Petter Solberg and Mikko Hirvonen retired from the event. Solberg became the first casualty of the unforgiving high-speed stages when his car left the road and sustained suspension damage after a collision with a rock. Mikko Hirvonen's encouraging performance on his home event came to an abrupt end when he too slid wide on a corner on the last stage of the day.
Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: It's a very big disappointment. I really wanted to get a good points finish here, and to retire on the first day is so frustrating let me tell you. The accident itself didn't seem too bad. I lost my concentration just for one small moment and we went wide. The car didn't spin but we dropped off the road and into the ditch. As we were coming to a stop I was sure we would be back on the road in no time at all, it certainly wasn't a big accident, but then we hit that one rock in the grass and that was that. The guys will get things fixed today and I'm going to start the rally again tomorrow, it's all good experience. As for the result, well that's just too bad. The thing to do now is to put it behind us, keep positive and move on.
Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen: I still can't quite believe what's happened. Things seemed to be going well, but on the Super Special stage, I made a mistake on the line into a tight, right-hand corner. I tried to correct it, but it was so slippery I got caught out and drove straight into a metal barrier. That broke one side of the front suspension, I tried to continue, but the car immediately swerved to the other barrier which broke the other side and that was it. Retiring from a rally is bad enough, but to do it on a Super Special stage makes the whole thing much worse. Of course you have to drive fast all the time during a rally, but to make such a mistake in front of crowds including your family and friends is a pretty bad feeling. Of course I really hope to be able to restart, we'll just have to see what the guys can do to the car when it comes back.
BP-Ford World Rally Team ended today's breathless opening leg of the Rally Finland in third and fourth overall. Markko Märtin and Michael Park, still recovering from last month's massive accident in Argentina, lie third in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. Janne Tuohino and Jukka Aho were outstanding on only their second drive for the official Ford squad to lie just one place behind in their similar Focus RS after a fast and furious day's driving. François Duval and Stéphane Prévot, in a third BP-Ford Focus RS, are not nominated for points here but lie eighth.
Markko Martin / Michael Park: Märtin and Park eased themselves into the event, trying to rebuild their confidence after the Argentina crash. The 28-year-old Estonian driver ended the opening stage in eighth and progressed as the day continued. He posted four consecutive second fastest times before claiming fastest on the final super special stage, defeating rally leader Marcus Grönholm in their head-to-head battle around the Killeri trotting track. "I'm really surprised to be on the podium because today has been the toughest of my career," said Märtin. "I'm still recovering after the accident and don't feel 100 per cent. Because of that, I didn't feel confident in driving flat out but this is the kind of rally where I have to drive at maximum speed all the time. It was hard to concentrate but I've improved as the day has gone on and won the last stage. It's hard when your head wants to do one thing and your body can't keep up. I was shocked when I realised this morning how difficult it was to drive. "I haven't taken any risks but we had a heavy landing after a jump in the Ruuhimäki stage. Last year we flew perfectly there but this time the car landed nose down. The car was OK but it wasn't nice to land looking down at the ground. Tomorrow's stages are quite difficult and I will need to drive flat out again all day. Marcus has a good lead and it will be hard to catch him but I think second is possible," he added.
Francios Duval / Stefan Prevot: Duval and Prévot were released from the pressure of having to score points on an event in which the 23-year-old Belgian driver lacks experience. His aim was to learn more about the Finnish roads and perfect his pace notes for the future. Duval was a quick learner because after sampling this morning's stages, he posted third and fifth fastest times when the tests were repeated this afternoon. "Our pace notes are much better than last year but they are still too slow in places so we have made changes as we go along," said Duval. "I'm driving better this year than I did in 2003 but still only at 95 per cent and I will keep the same pace tomorrow. The stages are nice to drive but are so fast. It has been so quick today that my body feels hotter here than in the heat of Turkey in June!"
Peugeot has finished the opening leg of Rally Finland in first and second, with Marcus Gronholm setting five fastest times over today's ten stages. Marcus ends the leg in the overnight lead, 18 seconds ahead of his team mate Sebastian Lindholm.
Marcus Gronhölm / Timo Rautiainen: "Today seemed to get better and better. Of course it is still a big battle with Sebastian so I cannot relax at all, and there are many areas where we can still improve. But the main thing is to be in the lead and fighting for victory. I'm very happy for the team: our first and second places underline just how hard everyone has been working."
Harri Rovanperä / Risto Pietiläinen: Unfortunately, Harri Rovanpera was forced to retire from the lead after SS6. The Finn set an electric pace, racking up four fastest stage times. But he slid wide on a left-hand corner over a fast crest and damaged the rear of his car. Although he made it back to service, the damage was too bad for the team to safely repair. He said: "I'm bitterly disappointed: this was my rally and everything seemed to be going so well. It was a very stupid thing: a bit too far to the right over the corner and the car went off the road. I had a very good feeling, and I know what might have been possible."
Sebastian Lindholm / ...: Driving his first rally in the 307 WRC, got to grips with the car straight away thanks to his solid experience of testing it. The local expert had no problems at all throughout the day, and was delighted with his new machine. He commented: "It's been a perfect start to the rally, and I have to say that I even surprised myself! I was quite confident before the start, but I didn't expect to be this close to the lead straight away. It's good fun to be challenging Marcus, and the car is the best I have ever driven."
Kristian Sohlberg and Kaj Lindström lead the Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports team assault in Rally Finland, round nine of the FIA World Rally Championship. The Finns have played safe and hold ninth position at the end of the opening leg, while team-mates Gilles and Hervé Panizzi are 13th, having struggled to find the optimum settings on the Lancer WRC04.
Gilles Panizzi / Herve Panizzi: Team-mates Gilles and Hervé Panizzi have fared less well in the second Lancer WRC04, the French pair struggling with a lack of stability for a lot of the day. They hold 13th position overnight but now seem to have solved earlier problems. "The handling has not been perfect and the car isn't as stable as it was during shakedown or the first stage this morning", said Gilles. "I'm struggling to keep it on line and we've ended up on the side of the road a couple of times. I just couldn't push until we changed the gearbox and rear diff during the mid-leg service. Since then I have felt confident with the car and am enjoying the rally now. I was a bit too cautious over the jumps, but we have made changes to our pace notes which will benefit us next year".
Kristian Sohlberg / Kaj Lindström: Kristian Sohlberg and Kaj Lindström eased into the pace this morning, the Finns intent on maintaining a measured speed and making no mistakes. They have enjoyed a trouble-free run, honing settings throughout the leg and enjoying the support from the thousands of home fans lining every inch of the route. "We played it safe this morning but things have been good and our confidence is growing all the time", commented Kristian, who is competing in his home rally in a world rally car for the first time. "We made some changes to the suspension set-up and anti-roll bar this morning which improved the handling and everything has been fine, except for a silly mistake I made in stage five. It was in a slow left corner, the engine stalled which then caused a small spin and we lost about 11 seconds. But for that our time would have been pretty good. I'm really enjoying the rally though and there are thousands of spectators cheering us on; it makes a big difference and the feeling is great when you drive through the stages".
The ©koda Motorsport World Rally Team is holding positions 6, 13 and 15 after the first nine forest stages (117.59 kms) of Rally Finland and ahead of the Killeri superspecial. Jani Paasonen leads team mates Toni Gardemeister and Armin Schwarz and is currently 51.7 seconds behind rally leader Marcus Gronholm. Jani has been in the top 10 on every stage today including setting fourth fastest on the Laukaa stage (SS5) while Toni joined him in the top 10 twice (SS3 and SS7).
Toni Gardemeister / Paavo Lukander: "Over the first three stages this morning everything was fine and the car was performing as we expected. However, on the start line of SS4 something happened with the anti-lag system and after 10kms I had almost no turbo boost for three stages (44.25kms). I am frustrated because I started SS4 just four seconds behind Jani but by the end of SS6 I was 1m39s behind him. The problem now is that I will have to start first tomorrow so the roads will be very slippery for me."
Armin Schwarz / Manfred Hiemer: "My instructions for this rally are not to push too hard but I think I should have pushed a bit harder on the first group of stages! The car is fine but I stalled on the start line of SS4. Manfred (Hiemer) said we lost 27 seconds before I could restart the car but it felt a lot longer at the time!"
Jani Paasonen / Jani Vainikka: "Everything is fantastic! I have had no problems with the car at all and I am very relaxed about the rally. I can go a little bit faster if I want to as I am probably only driving at 98% right now."
Possible storms are prediceted late Sunday, scattered couds during the event. With temeratures in the high-teens.