Round 14 of the FIA World Rally Championship
22-25 November 2001
Thursday, 22 November 2001
Four drivers will enter this week's closing round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally of Great Britain, with a chance of lifting the top prize in the sport. Colin McRae, Tommi Mäkinen and Richard Burns can all secure the drivers' title by winning the event (regardless of where the others finish), while fourth-placed Carlos Sainz still has an outside shot at the crown if he wins and the top three all fare badly. Britons Burns and McRae will start as favourites, since between them they have won every 'full' Rally GB (the 1996 event was not a round of the World championship) since 1994.
The notoriously slippery Welsh forests will also play host to a thrilling conclusion to the Manufacturers' championship, with Peugeot and Ford separated by just four points as they start the final round at this evening's superspecial in host town Cardiff. With rain and fog both forecast for the days ahead, driver concentration and mechanical reliability will be more crucial than ever as the championships go down to the wire.
PEUGEOT (1st- 90 points)
Technical: Peugeot enters three official cars this weekend, for Marcus Grönholm, Harri Rovanperä and Didier Auriol. The team conducted three separate tests for the event. Grönholm and Rovanperä have again opted for the five-speed gearbox, while Auriol has his preferred six-speed unit. All three cars feature three computer controlled 'active' differentials.
Sporting: Peugeot has nominated its two Finnish drivers, Marcus Grönholm and Harri Rovanperä, for manufacturers' points in Britain. Didier Auriol will thus start his final event for the team aiming for drivers' points only. Peugeot's fourth regular driver, Gilles Panizzi, will contest the event in a 206 WRC run by private team Grifone.
Quotes: Marcus Gronholm said: "We're here to try and win the manufacturers' championship for Peugeot but that means pushing as hard as possible anyway, because I'm sure Colin (McRae) will be fast and he's driving for our main rival! I've been quite fast in Britain before and the car has felt very good in testing, so I'm quite hopeful that we can be on a similar pace to Richard (Burns) and Colin."
Harri Rovanperä said: "It's going to be a very big fight at the front, especially with Richard and Colin on their home event and going for the drivers championship. My aim is to put in a quick but steady drive that will get as many manufacturers' points for Peugeot as I can. I know the stages in Britain quite well but the conditions in Wales can be very difficult."
FORD (2nd - 86 points)
Technical: Ford has introduced no major technical changes on the Ford Focus RS WRC01s for this event. The team conducted its entire Rally GB testing in October. Mark Higgins's Focus features a non-active rear differential.
Sporting: Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae are nominated for manufacturers' points. Victory for McRae would guarantee him a second world drivers' title, but Sainz needs to win with his team-mate non-scoring to stand any chance of a third crown. The Spaniard's hopes slimmed, when he aggravated the back injury that hampered him earlier this year. Ford has entered former British champion Mark Higgins in its third car, instead of Francois Delecour. Higgins's chance is some consolation after his factory drive in this year's British championship was scrapped because Foot and Mouth disease caused most events to be cancelled.
Quotes: Colin McRae said: "I'm looking forward to the challenge. This is the toughest situation I've ever been in, but we've faced pressure before and normally we come out on top. It'll be hard on Richard too, because he hasn't won a world title yet and I have. It's going to be a great finish to the year."
Carlos Sainz said: "This event has been very good for me in the past, but also very cruel. I only have a small chance of winning the world championship but I'll still be pushing as hard as possible, both for myself and for Ford in the manufacturers' championship. We must make sure that we don't make any mistakes."
Mark Higgins said: "It'll be hard for me here, because although I've driven the Focus a lot in testing there's nothing like putting numbers on the side of the door and comparing times against the best in the world. I'm confident in my own abilities, but we'll have to wait and see how our times stand up on Friday morning. There's such a good entry that anywhere in the top ten would be a good position for us."
MITSUBISHI (3rd - 69 points)
Technical: Mitsubishi continues to evolve its still-new Lancer Evolution WRC. Two examples are entered for this event, driven by Tommi Mäkinen (who uses a brand new car) and Freddy Loix.
Sporting: Tommi Mäkinen and Freddy Loix are both nominated for manufacturers' points on their final event for the Mitsubishi team. Mäkinen is navigated by his third co-driver in as many rallies: Kaj Lindstrom replaces Timo Hantunen as stand-in for the injured Risto Mannisenmaki. A former British champion with Tapio Laukkanen, Lindstrom attended Mitsubishi's pre-event test and consulted Mannisenmaki, in an attempt to make the transition as easy as possible. Victory for Mäkinen here would net him a fifth world title, regardless of where Colin McRae or Richard Burns finished.
Quotes: Tommi Mäkinen said: "It's going to be a very tough event for everyone. The stages here are always very difficult and we're still working on the car to get the right set-up. I was much happier after the last day in Australia, though. I don't mind that all the attention is on Colin (McRae) and Richard (Burns). It's their home rally but in a way, that gives them more pressure."
Freddy Loix said: "This is a rally where your pacenotes can be more important than ever. It often gets foggy in the Welsh stages and you have to be able to commit to corners where you can't even see 50 metres ahead of you. It'll be tough."
SUBARU (4th- 62 points)
Technical: Subaru has introduced no major technical changes to its gravel-spec Imprezas. The team has entered four cars in Great Britain - for Richard Burns (a brand new car), Petter Solberg, Markko Martin and Toshihiro Arai.
Sporting: Richard Burns and Petter Solberg are nominated for manufacturers' points, leaving Markko Martin and Toshihiro Arai to fight for drivers' points only. Victory for Burns would guarantee him a first World drivers' title and would also be the first time that any driver has won the Rally GB four years in succession. His preparations haven't been without their hitches, though - Burns rolled his Impreza in a recent pre-event test. Meanwhile, Toshihiro Arai has a new navigator on this event - Tony Sircombe will co-drive for the Japanese driver instead of Glenn Macneall.
Quotes: Richard Burns said: "I'm glad that the pre-event talk and hype will finally stop and we can just get into the forests. I don't know why I've got such a good record here, but obviously I'm glad that I've come here with a chance of the title. No-one really enjoys driving in the fog but when the mists come down in Wales, I know that I stand a good chance."
Petter Solberg said: "I'm really looking forward to this one. We did a good test and found an excellent set-up for both the car and the tyres. It's easy to make a mistake in the Welsh forests because the grip level is always changing, though."
SKODA (5th - 15 points)
Technical: Skoda has entered three Octavia WRCs for the Rally GB, to be driven by Armin Schwarz, Bruno Thiry and Roman Kresta. The Czech manufacturer has switched shock absorber supplier for this event, to a positive response from the drivers. The Octavias are otherwise basically unchanged from their normal gravel specification, although Thiry is trying slightly different differential settings. Kresta's car had differential problems during yesterday's shakedown test.
Sporting: Armin Schwarz and Bruno Thiry are nominated for manufacturers' points, with Czech driver Roman Kresta aiming for drivers' points only. Skoda recently confirmed that Swedish veteran Kenneth Eriksson and young Finn Toni Gardemeister will form its line-up for the 2002 season.
Quotes: Armin Schwarz said: "The new shocks are really good and very dependable. It's very important on this event to have a reliable car and one that you feel comfortable with, because the levels of grip and the road surfaces can vary from corner to corner. Skoda's done well in the Welsh forests before and after our shakedown test I'm quite hopeful that we can score a good result."
Bruno Thiry said: "The car felt good in shakedown, although the stage cut up quite badly and there were bad ruts after a few cars had been through. But with some of the stages being used more than once here, that could be a problem anyway."
HYUNDAI (6th - 13 points)
Technical: Hyundai is entering three Accent WRCs on this event, for Kenneth Eriksson, Alister McRae and Piero Liatti. The cars feature no major technical revisions since their last outing.
Sporting: Alister McRae and Kenneth Eriksson are nominated for manufacturers' points on their last outings for the Hyundai team. Italian Piero Liatti will drive a third car and aim for drivers' points only. Hyundai recently announced that Freddy Loix and Armin Schwarz will contest all 14 rounds of the 2002 championship for the team, with Finnish veteran Juha Kankkunen tackling nine of the events in a third Accent.
Quotes: Kenneth Eriksson said: "It's going to be a tricky rally for everyone. The slippery conditions might help us a bit because we've got quite good handling, but if it gets into thick mud then raw power will become important and we could lose out."
Alister McRae said: "My home round of the championship hasn't always been that kind to me, but I'm hoping for a good run this year. The car's been fine in testing and if we get a troublefree rally then we could end up scoring a point or two."
Citroen is absent from the Rally GB, but the team recently confirmed its line-up for its seven-rally programme in 2002. Thomas Rådström and Sebastien Loeb will tackle all seven rallies, with Philippe Bugalski conducting much of the development work and driving a third Xsara WRC on the three asphalt events in the programme.
The Rally GB is the sixth and final round of the inaugural FIA Super 1600 Cup, but the title has already been secured by French driver Sebastien Loeb. The event will thus be a battle for pride. Loeb is likely to face still competition from local drivers like Niall McShea and Martin Rowe, and the man who finished second to him in the title race, Andrea Dallavilla.
The event has attracted a 120-strong field, including several strong private World Rally Car entries. Former British champion Gwyndaf Evans will drive a SEAT Cordoba WRC E3 after being temporarily released from his MG contract. Young Finn Janne Tuohino brings a Toyota Corolla WRC, while Belgian veteran Gregoire de Mevius has entered a Peugeot 206 WRC.
Tyre suppliers Michelin and Pirelli provide a number of options for their teams. Michelin (Mitsubishi, Hyundai and Peugeot) offers the Z for clear, hard ground, the ZA for damp or slightly loose surfaces and the ZE for soft, damp or loose gravel roads. The French manufacturer also has the G51 available in case conditions turn snowy, although this can only be used with authorisation from the rally organisers. Pirelli (Ford and Subaru) brings two types of tyre - the K for hard and compact surfaces and the KM for smoother roads. Again, the Italian manufacturer has the S option available in case of snow.
<pre> RESULTS AFTER SS1, LEG 1 SUPER SPECIAL
1 McRae Ford Focus RS 02:10,1 2 Solberg Subaru Impreza WRC 02:10,2 3 Sainz Ford Focus RS 02:10,8 4 Gronholm Peugeot 206 WRC 02:11,2 5 Panizzi Peugeot 206 WRC 02:11,5 6 Auriol Peugeot 206 WRC 02:11,8 7 A.McRae Hyundai Accent WRC 02:12,1 8 Martin Subaru Impreza WRC 02:12,5 9 Eriksson Hyundai Accent WRC 02:12,5 10 Burns Subaru Impreza WRC 02:12,6
Leg 1, Thursday 22nd November SS1 19:10 Super Special 2.41km Leg 1 cont, Friday 23rd November
SS2 08:26 St Gwynno 13.67km SS3 08:53 Tyle 10.45km SS4 09:29 Rhonda I 26.54km SS5 12:40 Crychan 12.87km SS6 13:04 Halfway 17.37km SS7 16:03 Brechfa I 26.76km SS8 16:51 Trawscoed I 26:22km
Leg 2, Saturday 24th November
SS9 08:55 Resolfen 46.50km SS10 11:23 Margam I 28.15km SS11 13:53 Brechfa II 29.76km SS12 14:41 Trawscoed II 26.22km SS13 19:10 Super Special 2.41km
Leg 3, Sunday 25th November
SS14 07:58 Rheola I 27.03km SS15 09:42 Rhondda II 26.54km SS16 12:18 Rheola II 27.03km SS17 13:36 Margam II 28.15km
</pre> -www.worldrallychampionship.com- -FIA.com-