WRC

Rally of Great Britain: Round 12 preview

The WRC returns to gravel next week when the FIA World Rally Championship moves to the UK for round 12 of the series, Wales Rally GB. This classic rally is run through the forests of south Wales, with Rally HQ based in the cosmopolitan Welsh ...

The WRC returns to gravel next week when the FIA World Rally Championship moves to the UK for round 12 of the series, Wales Rally GB. This classic rally is run through the forests of south Wales, with Rally HQ based in the cosmopolitan Welsh capital, Cardiff, which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary as the principal town of Wales, and its centenary year as a city. The service park is located some 70km to the west of Cardiff, at Felindre near Swansea.

The event, often billed as one of the greatest motorsport challenges in the world, is famed for its punishing forest stages and changeable weather.

The return of Colin to the WRC after an 18-month absence is being eagerly anticipated by rally fans who have rushed to buy tickets to see their hero since the announcement was made last month. Colin and Nicky are the second most successful partnership in the history of the World Rally Championship. The ©koda Motorsport World Rally Team for Rally GB is also the most experienced partnership in the entry list with 257 WRC starts and 26 wins between them.

The event comprises 354.22 competitive kilometres and 17 stages, two less than 2004. Leg one comprises three separate stages, each run twice, and takes crews into the forests of Wales, with a mixture of fast straights and twisty, narrow sections. The Leg includes the celebrated Rheola stage that undulates through the Neath valley. The second Leg features seven stages, starting to the north east of Felindre, near the Brecon Beacons national park, before returning to Cardiff for a Saturday night Super Special stage. This spectator stage will be run for the first time in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, host of the 2005 FA Cup Final. World Rally Cars will race the 1.1km stage under the cover of the stadium's fully-retractable roof, the cars never previously having competed indoors. The final Leg comprises just four stages, however the event has a real sting in its tail with the last day featuring the longest test of the event, Resolfen, at 29.39km and, if the conditions are dry, potentially the dustiest stage of the championship at Margam.

For the second consecutive year Rally GB will be held in September with crews expecting anything from warm sunshine and blue skies to lashing rain and fog. Such unpredictable conditions can really affect the road surface,

Citroen

Wales Rally GB not only marks the return of the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship to gravel but it also stands out as the last round before the current series enters its fourth and final quarter. The Manufacturers' championship leaders Citroën have entered two Xsara WRCs for the British classic, for Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and François Duval/Sven Smeets who together claimed an emphatic one-two result on the recent asphalt interlude in Germany. The French carmaker has twice finished Rally GB in 2nd spot: in 2003, when its efforts where essentially focused on (successfully) securing the Manufacturers title, and again in 2004 after leading until 10km from the chequered flag. This time round, the Versailles-Satory squad has prepared particularly carefully for the visit to Cardiff and will be out to finish one place higher, which would be its first success in the British event...

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: "Last year, you could hardly tell the event had moved to September! OK, it wasn't so cold but the stages were as slippery as ever. Indeed, the pleasure of competing here comes from the fast, wide stages that allow you to use all the road, with no ruts that force everyone to follow the same line. The fact that there is such little grip also forces you to drive with a great deal of finesse. With a nicely balanced car like the Xsara, the stages are really fun. It's not easy to find the ideal speed, but they're such a pleasure. For me, the rally's only down side - and I said this already last year - is that you can lose it on the Monday before the start - before you even set foot in a stage - if you get your tyre quota wrong."

Francois Duval/Sven Smeets: "You could be forgiven for thinking it was an easy rally but it is in fact very difficult. When it rains, as it often does, the stages are very slippery. Finding the ideal braking point can be delicate, and it only gets worse after the first cars have been through. If the going is dry, the stages are more abrasive. The weather can change quite quickly and calling the tyres right each time isn't easy."

Subaru

The Subaru World Rally Team will enter a three-car team on Wales Rally GB. The three Impreza WRC2005's will be driven by Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills), Chris Atkinson (co-driven by Glenn Macneall) and Stéphane Sarrazin (co-driven by Denis Giraudet). On this event Petter and Chris will be eligible to score points in the 2005 FIA Championship for Manufacturers. Chris Atkinson makes his competitive Rally GB debut, although he did complete the recce last year. This will also be Stéphane Sarrazin's first Rally GB. Rally GB is also memorable for the Subaru World Rally Teamfor a number of reasons as the team has won eight of the past ten Rally GB events included in the WRC calendar*. Its winning streak started in 1994 when Colin McRae drove the Impreza to a maiden Rally GB win, a feat he repeated the following year and again in 1997. Richard Burns later scored two victories in '99 and 2000 before Petter Solberg began his stranglehold on the event. The Norwegian has an impressive record at Rally GB. Petter scored his first WRC win at the event in 2002 and held his nerve in 2003 to win both the rally and the WRC Drivers' Championship. Solberg sealed his third consecutive victory in 2004 and now chases a fourth consecutive win in 2005. Should he take the victory, he will join a select group of only a handful of drivers to have won an individual World Championship event four years in a row. Shekhar Mehta won the Safari Rally from 1973 to 1976, while Sébastien Loeb has won Rallye Deutschland from 2002 to 2005. Tommi Makinen also won the 1000 Lakes from 1992 - 1996.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "I'm really looking forward to Rally GB. It's a very special rally for both me and the team as we have very good memories of the event. We have won the event many times - I won my first-ever rally there and then a year later the championship, so for sure I enjoy it very much. We seem to have a lot of support there too, no doubt partly because Phil is a local! This year will be different from other years though. The plan and objective is to win, but we have to be realistic. It has been a difficult season for us, and we have to hope that we have more success than we have had at other gravel events. That said, we will go out to try and win, and take whatever comes at us."

Stephane Sarrazin/Denis Giraudet: "I haven't competed in this event before, but I hope to take a step forward in terms of performance. I have some good experience now on gravel after events such as Greece and Sardinia and I will be pushing hard to get a good finish. The entry list is very competitive so it will be hard for us, but I'm looking for a top eight or ten result at least. We did well in Germany, finishing in the top ten on most of the stages, so this will be the goal at this rally. I want to set some good times, which hopefully will be possible as the team has a lot of experience here. The test in Wales will be a good opportunity to find a good balance for the car and for me to learn a bit more of the conditions in Wales. I'm looking forward to my first time through the Welsh forests!"

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "This is my first Rally GB, and I think it will be tough. Like most events this year, it will be a learning experience, although I will be looking for a strong finish. I'm pleased with the speed we've shown in previous events, so there's every chance. There are some nice stages in the event, but it could get tricky if it rains. The team have a lot of knowledge about the event, and I've got some experience of rallying in similar conditions. In the Asia-Pacific series I did last year we had lots of muddy rallies, so that may help. Then again it may well be dry this year! It's going to be a hard rally, but we've got to aim for points."

Ford

While Finland's sweeping roads remain the fastest in the FIA World Rally Championship, BP-Ford World Rally Team's drivers could find that next week's Wales Rally GB (15 - 18 September) is not far behind. Traditionally a winter event, it was reborn last year as an end-of-summer rally and while heavy weather and fog ensured conditions differed little from its usual November date, dry weather this year could see speeds soar. Both Ford Focus RS World Car pairings have plenty of experience of this 12th round of the championship. Gardemeister has started the rally seven times and Kresta on three occasions. But, like virtually all their rivals, neither has any real knowledge of summer conditions in the Welsh forests.

Toni Gardemeister/Jakke Honkanen: Thirty-year-old Gardemeister lies fifth in the drivers' standings after scoring on all but one round to date and has played the major role in Ford holding third in the manufacturers' series. "My target is to recover some lost ground after not scoring on the last round in Germany," he said. "Ford's hold on third place is quite strong but things can change quickly and we would like to strengthen that position. Second place to fifth in the drivers' championship is close and a good result in Britain is necessary to remain involved in that battle. "I have plenty of experience of this rally. In 1996 it was my second world rally and I have more experience here than anywhere else apart from my home event in Finland. I also drove in the British Championship in 1999 so my understanding of the British forests is good. Last year's event was wet and muddy but if it remains dry this year then it will be extremely fast. I think some people could be in for quite a surprise in those conditions," he added.

Roman Kresta/Jan Mozny: Twenty-nine-year-old Kresta did not compete last year, but finished eighth in 2003. "This year's route is quite similar to 2003 so there is no disadvantage from not being here last year," he said. "The weather is probably the most important aspect of the rally. If it's wet, muddy and foggy then conditions can be really difficult. If it stays dry then it's obviously much easier and it could be extremely fast because the road surface is hard. The stages are not technical but some parts are quite narrow, and the speeds are so high that it's important to be careful. "The rally has similarities with Finland. There are not as many crests and jumps but because the speeds are so high, even if you make a small mistake the time loss can be heavy. I've not been able to test in Britain so it will be important to make full use of the shakedown to finalise the set-up of the Focus. I'll begin with the set-up the team used for last year's rally and see how that feels," he added.

Peugeot

Of the five rounds still to come in 2005, Rally GB stands out as one of Peugeot's best chances to obtain a maximum points haul in its bid to retrieve the Manufacturers' title. It's also an event that Marcus Grönholm has already won, while Markko Märtin has regularly produced top performances in the British classic. Peugeot Sport knew that the recent all-asphalt Rally Deutschland was not going to be easy. Only rain could perhaps have tipped the event in the 307 WRC pair's favour, but the three-day event was marked by bright sunshine from start to finish. Even so, Marcus Grönholm and Markko Märtin put in yet another strong team result, with both drivers finishing in the points thanks to 3rd and 4th places for the Finn and the Estonian respectively. In Great Britain, the two drivers will have their sights set even higher still. As in Finland, where Marcus claimed the team's first victory of the season, they are keenly aware that the anticipated showdown in the challenging Welsh forests should provide them with a chance to showcase not only their own talent but also the potential of the 307 WRC.

Marcus Gronhölm/Timo Rautiainen: "I do like the Welsh stages," he says. "The conditions in some events can change significantly from one day or even one stage to the next, but the Rally GB stages rarely spring any surprises; they are practically always tough and extremely slippery. The event's new date could obviously change all that however. It is difficult to evaluate our chances right now of making up the gap in the Drivers' championship, but we know our car is very competitive on the loose and I have every intention of giving it my absolute best to try and win in Wales."

Markko Martin/Michael Park: "Wales Rally GB is an event I really enjoy, but I have frequently encountered problems in the past, as in 2001 and 2003 when I retired because of mechanical trouble," he points out. "I didn't have much luck last year either. That said, the stages suit my driving style and I know I can be competitive over this type of terrain. My objective is to give it my very best and I sincerely believe I have a chance of going well this time round."

Skoda

The ©koda Motorsport World Rally Team returns to gravel for the 12th round of the World Rally Championship, Rally GB (September 15-18) where the Fabia WRC 05 will be driven by the regular crew of Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha alongside Britain's Colin McRae/Nicky Grist. The return of Colin to the WRC after an 18-month absence is being eagerly anticipated by rally fans who have rushed to buy tickets to see their hero since the announcement was made last month. Colin and Nicky are the second most successful partnership in the history of the World Rally Championship. The ©koda Motorsport World Rally Team for Rally GB is also the most experienced partnership in the entry list with 257 WRC starts and 26 wins between them.

Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha: "Rally GB is special to me as it was where I made my WRC debut with Audi in 1988 and it has remained a favourite ever since."

Colin McRae/Nicky Grist: "I'm eager to get back into competing again and to do so on my home event is something very special for both Nicky and myself. I'm looking forward to working with ©koda Motorsport and helping to push the development of the Fabia WRC 05 along in a positive way. I'm not really thinking much about a specific result but I'd like to think that, even having been out of the WRC for a while, I can still drive a car quickly enough to get well into the Top 10."

Mitsubishi:

After tackling the varied and tricky asphalt in Germany two weeks ago, the Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports WRC team heads back to gravel in the UK for Wales Rally GB (September 15-18) and the 12th round of the FIA World Rally Championship. The team will once again field a two-car entry with Harri Rovanperä/Risto Pietiläinen and "Gigi" Galli/Guido d'Amore behind the wheel of the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05s. Harri Rovanperä has contested Rally GB no fewer than nine times and the Finn has always had a good run through the British forests. His most notable results include a victory in the World 2-Liter category in 1997 and sixth overall in 1998. He was on the podium the following year, in third position, and went one better in 2001 when he claimed second overall. Last year he finished sixth.

Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen: "I like this rally and have good memories from the old times, when the weather made conditions so difficult and the rally was much longer; then, it was very interesting!" said Harri Rovanperä. "Now the event is much shorter and has the type of stages I really enjoy. Hopefully the weather will be good and, for the tires, as long as we have either dry or wet conditions, then the choices are quite clear. But, I think we have good Pirelli tires for this event anyway. Basically we will run the same car as Finland, with finalized settings from our recent test. I'm quite confident we can push hard in GB".

Gigi Galli/Guido D'Amore: "For me, I will have the same attitude I had in Germany, nothing more, nothing less", said Gigi Galli. "It will be a case of being patient, learning, gaining experience and seeing how our pace compares. I think the stages are quite good, but for sure the rally is fast and I think quite difficult. I will do my best".

-rallyenewsletter-

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team