Hopes shattered on season finale. Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart suffered huge disappointment today when it lost its two remaining Lancer Evolution WRC2s in the second leg of the Rally of Great Britain. Both FranÃ§ois Delecour/Dominique Savignoni...
Hopes shattered on season finale.
Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart suffered huge disappointment today when it lost its two remaining Lancer Evolution WRC2s in the second leg of the Rally of Great Britain. Both François Delecour/Dominique Savignoni and Jani Paasonen/Arto Kapanen crashed out of the event joining an increasing number of retirees, many of whom went off in the same stage.
Seventy three of the original 85 crews contesting Britain's round of the World Rally Championship left Cardiff at 06:00 hrs this morning for the shortest leg of this Welsh based event. Today's route took the contenders to the north-west of the city for five forestry stages before returning to Cardiff for the third and final run at the super special stage. The action and competition has been intense today with a number of close battles going on in the top of the leaderboard, affording the thousands of fans who have trekked into the forests a chance to witness the sport at its best. Clear and dry conditions have added to their enjoyment and, while temperatures have dipped to as low as two degrees, blue skies and sunshine have added a warm feeling.
There could hardly have been a more difficult event for François Delecour to contest with a replacement co-driver, the high speeds and slippery conditions adding to what is already an immense challenge. Despite working with François for a number of years and the pair being great friends, Dominique Savignoni has been faced with the mammoth task of filling Daniel Grataloup's boots with just over a week to prepare. The French pairing have however pulled together during the event, but a late delivery of a pace note in stage 10 saw the Frenchmen slide off the road and into retirement. "It was on a sixth gear crest followed by a tight left-hand corner," said François. "Dominique was a little late on the note so I only heard it once we were on the crest and it was impossible to make the corner. We slid off the road, very sideways, and damaged the front of the car too badly to continue. I've been saying all along that in long and fast stages like the ones we have in Rally GB it's difficult to get the speed of delivery just right and we obviously need time to build confidence and experience with each other." Both François and Dominique walked away from the incident without injury.
Team-mates Jani Paasonen and Arto Kapanen have been competing together in Great Britain for the first time and Jani has admitted the event has been a learning curve, the wet and slippery conditions worse than he had anticipated. The Finnish duo went off the road in the same place as rally leader and World Champion elect Marcus Gronholm. "Marshals were trying to warn us about Marcus' accident and we slowed down ahead of it, but it was a very very slippy place, we slid wide and clipped the edge of a bank which sent us into a roll," said Jani. "It's really disappointing and a little bit difficult to understand." Paasonen and co-driver Arto Kapanen walked away from the accident however Jani was taken to hospital for precautionary checks after suffering whiplash.
Adding to their comments, Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart team director John Easton said: "Obviously it's a disappointing end to a disappointing season. The car has shown some promise during the year, but clearly we still have a lot of work to do. I'm very pleased the team has maintained its motivation, despite it being a very difficult year, and history shows that every team has had a lean period during its time in the sport. I'm confident we'll be back at the top of our game and all our efforts over the winter will go into making the car more competitive for next season."
The second leg of the Rally of Great Britain has been a dramatic and incident-filled one, with the most notable retiree being rally leader and 2002 World Champion elect Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot). The Finn, who had over a minute in hand to second-placed Markko Martin, spectacularly rolled out of the event in stage 10, minutes before Jani Paasonen went off at the same place. Ford's Markko Martin therefore inherited a well-deserved lead, but the Estonian has a fight on his hands with Petter Solberg (Subaru), the duo not only split by 1.6 seconds at the end of the leg but both fighting hard for their first win at World Championship level. Double World Champion Carlos Sainz (Ford) is also hot on their heels a further 26 seconds adrift and poised to take up the mantle should either of the 27-year-olds slip up. Richard Burns (Peugeot) has made a remarkable recovery from yesterday's 12th position to hold a seemingly comfortable fourth overnight after a trouble-free day. Tommi Makinen (Subaru) and Colin McRae (Ford) have been neck and neck all day in fifth and sixth positions respectively, however McRae spun in the final super special, losing sixth to 2003 team-mate Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) by just four-tenths of a second. Mark Higgins, in Ford's fourth Focus, has climbed from 10th to eighth but is fighting hard with Freddy Loix, the Belgian piloting the lead Hyundai 12 seconds behind. His team-mate and four-time World Champion Juha Kankkunen lies 10th overall, but he too is only 1.9 seconds ahead of Harri Rovanpera (Peugeot) in 11th. Leading retirements today include Armin Schwarz, the Hyundai driver forced to stop to extinguish a fire at the rear of the car. Despite reaching service this morning, the crew was withdrawn on medical advice, being that Armin and Manfred Hiemer both suffered smoke inhalation. Joining them on the sidelines was Thomas Radstrom (Citroen), an oil leak causing a fire and mechanical problems.
Still to come...
The final leg of the Rally of Great Britain, and the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship, is the longest of the event and takes in 138.50 kilometres of competition over four stages. The day is once again kick-started with a re-run of the 54.69 kilometre Resolfen stage, and moves on to a repetition of Rheola and two runs at the famous Margam stage, scene of many dramatic Rally GB finales. The crews return to Cardiff for the finish at 16:40 hrs (GMT).