Outgoing FIA World Rally Champion Marcus Gronholm continues to lead the final round of the 2001 series, the Network Q Rally of Great Britain, which continued today in Wales. The Finn and navigator Timo Rautiainen set fastest times on today's two forest stages to arrive at this evening's superspecial in Cardiff more than a minute and a half clear of world title hopeful Richard Burns.
Today's action was curtailed mid-way through the running of SS11, however, because of a serious accident involving Carlos Sainz. The Spanish driver's Ford Focus slid off the road about 13km into the stage, injuring 12 spectators. All medical facilities on the stage and two air ambulances were deployed to deal with casualties, and with the prospect of a delay and fading light the organisers decided to cancel both SS11 and SS12. Ford elected to withdraw Sainz and Higgins from the event, due to the serious nature of the incident. A following statement from the hospital has confirmed that none of these injuries are considered to be life-threatening. Actually nine casualties had minor injuries and were discharged later this evening.
Technical: The 206 WRCs of Marcus Gronholm, Didier Auriol and Harri Rovanpera have been reliable today. Peugeot's engineering team has determined that Auriol's transmission problem yesterday evening was a differential glitch, not a broken driveshaft as originally thought.
Sporting: Marcus Gronholm has consolidated his overnight lead during today's stages. The outgoing world champion was comfortably quickest on both of this morning's tests to extend his advantage to well over a minute. Team-mate Harri Rovanpera lost time when he hit a rock and bent his car's steering on the day's second stage, but the Swedish Rally winner still held a comfortable third overall as the cars returned to Cardiff this evening. Didier Auriol hit real trouble, however - the Frenchman spun into a ditch less than two kilometres into the opening stage of the day and he had to wait until enough spectators arrived to return the 206 to the road. He dropped to the bottom of the top ten as a result. Ford's decision to withdraw Carlos Sainz after his accident means that Peugeot is now confirmed as the winner of the World Rally Championship for Manufacturers.
Quotes: Marcus Gronholm said: "We haven't had any real problems today. I'm confident about tomorrow - there are four forest stages left and anything can still happen, but if we don't have any dramas or make any mistakes then I don't think Richard is going to try anything."
Peugeot Total Team Director Corrado Provera said: "Our first concern is that we have had no proper information concerning the seriousness of the injuries. We have heard that Ford has withdrawn Carlos, which must have been a difficult decision to take. As a consequence of that we are mathematically the manufacturers' world champions. In order to confirm this more completely we know that we have four more forest stages to go. All we can do is try to end the season and the rally itself in the best way possible."
Didier Auriol said: "It was a silly spin on the first stage. The corner was nothing special, but I just braked a bit too late and we overshot the junction. The car was in a bad place in the ditch and we needed quite a few people to get back onto the road. It's quite frustrating because although I haven't liked today's conditions too much - there's been quite a lot of fog - I'm sure we could have kept a points position."
Technical: Richard Burns suffered a scare this morning when his Impreza WRC2001 refused to fire up in parc ferme. He had to push the car out of the control and then change two spark plugs before the car would start. He arrived at first service without any penalties, however, and the car ran reliably thereafter. The Impreza of Toshihiro Arai has enjoyed a troublefree day.
Sporting: Second-placed Richard Burns has concentrated on not making mistakes, as his current second overall would be enough to clinch the world championship. The Briton adopted a cautious approach in the foggy conditions, allowing leader Marcus Gronholm to pull further clear yet still setting fast enough times to extend his own cushion over third-placed Harri Rovanpera. Burns's only real scare today occurred in parc ferme this morning, when he had to push the car out of the control and change two of its spark plugs before it would restart. Toshihiro Arai, meanwhile, is continuing to build experience of the notoriously fickle Welsh conditions - the Japanese driver lies outside the top ten.
Quotes: Richard Burns said: "At times like this it's difficult to think of the championship. The main feeling is to hope that everyone injured in Carlos's accident will recover as quickly as possible. How I'm driving and things like that don't matter at the moment."
Technical: Kenneth Eriksson's Accent WRC2 has been reliable today, but Alister McRae's example lost all of its front differential hydraulic pressure as it left for the first stage this morning. The problem was cured at the following service, though.
Sporting: Alister McRae has continued to post top-six times and when Didier Auriol slid off on today's first stage, the Scot moved back up into the fifth position that he held for much of yesterday. He wasn't helped by a loss of front differential hydraulic pressure in the same test that caught out Auriol, though - McRae's Accent arrived at the following service with some rear-end damage after he went off at the last corner. Ford's decision to withdraw Carlos Sainz moved McRae up to fourth. Kenneth Eriksson continues to hold a top ten placing in his Accent, although the Swede looks unable to Armin Schwarz's Skoda.
Quotes: Alister McRae said: "We've been trying like hell on every stage today. There have been a few moments and it was a bit lively in today's first stage when the lack of front diff pressure made the car very hard to drive under braking."
Technical: Carlos Sainz's Focus WRC has been reliable today, although the Spaniard did suffer another mysterious puncture on the day's opening stage. Mark Higgins hit gearbox problems in the same test (losing fourth and fifth), but the problem was rectified at the following service.
Sporting: Carlos Sainz has moved further clear of Alister McRae today, and when Didier Auriol slid off in SS9 the double world champion moved into fourth overall. He held that placing entering SS11 but around 13km into the stage, he crashed heavily. Fifteen spectators were injured in the accident, and Ford elected to withdraw both its drivers because of the seriousness of the situation. Mark Higgins lost time on the day's first test with gearbox problems, but the former British champion recovered quickly to move back ahead of Kenneth Eriksson in SS10 and put sixth-placed Armin Schwarz under pressure too.
Quotes: Mark Higgins said: "We're not going to catch any more of the guys in front unless they have problems but then, I had one myself first thing this morning so it shows it can happen. I'm still only getting about 50 percent of the corners right, too, so I know there's more speed there. I'm learning more on every stage and really enjoying myself."
Technical: Armin Schwarz and Bruno Thiry have reported no major problems with their Octavia WRCs today. The third driver, Roman Kresta, crashed out of the event last night.
Sporting: Armin Schwarz has enjoyed the misty, slippery conditions on today's stages and the German has more than matched some of his closest rivals. He extended his advantage over Kenneth Eriksson throughout the day and when Didier Auriol slid off, Schwarz moved into the points. Bruno Thiry experimented with tyre choice this morning, opting for softer Michelins than usual in the day's second stage. The retirements of Neil Wearden and Freddy Loix allowed the Belgian to inch into the top ten.
Quotes: Armin Schwarz said: "It's been going quite well. We changed the differential last night and that solved the problems we'd had yesterday afternoon, and the car's been going really well today. Every bit of knowledge of these stages helps when the fog comes down, because otherwise you end up lifting on long corners or long crests."
Bruno Thiry said: "I've been much happier with the car today. We've been using a different type of differential today and it's much more progressive and easier to drive. We'll just keep trying and if others continue to hit problems then we could make up a few places yet."
Technical: Freddy Loix was forced to retire the sole remaining Lancer Evolution WRC today. The Belgian lost third and fifth gears in Resolfen, and although the Ralliart mechanics effected repairs at the next service, he then lost all but first, second and sixth in the following stage. The team replaced the gear selector at service but Loix again lost gears on the road section to SS11 and had to withdraw.
Sporting: Gearbox problems meant that Freddy Loix didn't enjoy a successful end to his time at Mitsubishi. He lost gears in both of today's opening two stages and although the Ralliart engineers tried on more than one occasion to fix the problem, Loix had to retire on the road section to SS11.
Quotes: Freddy Loix said: "It's been a frustrating event for us. We made a lot of changes to the car last night and I was quite hopeful that we could put in some good times this morning, but then the gearbox started to lose gears. The team have tried hard to fix the problems but the damage to the transmission was pretty bad and we had to stop. I'm really disappointed to end my time at Mitsubishi like this because they've been a great team of people to work with."
Newly-crowned FIA Super 1600 Cup champion Sebastien Loeb continues to lead the category on the Rally GB. Second-placed Andrea Dallavilla endured a difficult morning, however - half of his Fiat Punto's sump guard came off in the day's first test and in the second, he hit rear suspension problems and spun. Those dramas allowed British driver Niall McShea into the second S1600 position, although the Saxo driver is too far behind his Citroen stablemate to seriously threaten him tomorrow.
There have also been retirements among the privateer World Rally Car ranks. Neil Wearden, who held a top ten position for much of yesterday's stages, was forced onto the retirements list in SS10 when he clipped a gate post and damaged his steering rack beyond repair.
In the Group N category for more standard machinery, Peru's Ramon Ferreyros continues to lead the class in his Mitsubishi Lancer.