Disappointment for Mitsubishi. Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart suffered bitter disappointment today when the team's Finnish crew were forced out of the event from an impressive fifth position. Jani Paasonen and Arto Kapanen had set a stunning pace...
Disappointment for Mitsubishi.
Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart suffered bitter disappointment today when the team's Finnish crew were forced out of the event from an impressive fifth position. Jani Paasonen and Arto Kapanen had set a stunning pace in Rally New Zealand, but hit the sidelines in the daunting 59 kilometre Parahi/Ararua stage. Team-mates François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup hold 10th position at the end of the second day of competition.
Sixty-six of the original 81 crews contesting Rally New Zealand left Auckland early this morning for the second leg of this 12th round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Today was by far the longest, both in terms of stage distance and hours in the car, the route's 10 special stages and 204 competitive kilometres equating to 17 hours behind the wheel. Based around the harbour town of Ruawai, 160 kilometres to the north of Auckland, the crews enjoyed warm and sunny weather throughout the leg, although the dry conditions emphasised the disadvantage of running first on the road, today's route always anticipated to be the worst of the three in this regard.
The Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart crew of Jani Paasonen and Arto Kapanen continued to set a hot pace in the Lancer Evolution WRC2 this morning, the Finnish pair sixth and fourth quickest through the opening two stages to maintain fifth position. "The feeling was again very good this morning but I think I pushed too hard on the first of those two stages, maybe carrying a bit too much speed into the corners and the car was sliding too much," said Jani. "On the second stage I didn't push quite as hard, eased the pace back, and the times were better. It seems to be that if I push too hard I over- drive the car. I was driving as I did in Finland - maximum attack minus - and the car works better with that approach." However, special stage 11 - the longest in the rally and the FIA World Rally Championship - proved to be decisive for Paasonen. The Finn was forced onto the sidelines from fifth overall when he went off the road just eight kilometres into the 59 kilometre stage.
"It was on a left-hand corner and we went into it a bit too fast, braked a bit late and slid wide off the road," said Jani. "We rolled about four metres down a bank and although we got the car back onto its wheels again, the radiator was damaged and we'd lost all the water, so there was no way to continue. Obviously it's a shame, but at the same time I'm happy to have set some good times. We're learning all the time with the team, and now I'm looking forward to the next rally with a big smile on my face. Australia has roads similar to here, very slippery and although I've only been once before, it's important to keep the car on a clean line. I'm really looking forward to it after the experience we've gained here and the times we set."
Team-mates François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup have had a better feeling today, however the French pair have struggled running first on the road, sweeping layers of loose gravel for the following cars. "It's very difficult being first on the road, I reckon we were losing about a second and a half a kilometre," said François, who overnights in 10th after a big fight to overhaul Armin Schwarz in order not to run first on the road tomorrow. "We've had a look at the data from Jani's car to try and understand how he drives here and you can see he was braking hard and then immediately getting back on the power, which obviously worked in these conditions. It's not been easy to catch Armin today, but that was our goal and we did it. Tomorrow we'll continue to refine the style of driving, and see what we can do."
Adding to their comments, Team Director John Easton said: "Obviously we're disappointed Jani retired after such a fantastic drive, but his stage times this morning confirmed that road position wasn't the reason for his pace yesterday. He did exactly what we told him, which was to set consistently quick times, and he exceeded our expectations in that respect and it further underlined the potential of the car. François has been very consistent today, albeit hampered by his road position, but we're pleased he got passed Armin to run second on the road on Sunday and hope he'll be able to set competitive times tomorrow."
The trio of Peugeots continued to dominate throughout the day until Richard Burns, the French manufacturer's rally leader, rolled out of the event in stage 15. Others have also fallen by the wayside and, in particular, Markko Martin's retirement assured Peugeot the World Championship (subject to FIA confirmation). Marcus Gronholm assumed the lead, now almost certain to win the Drivers' Championship, with team-mate Harri Rovanpera moving up into second position, 55.3 seconds adrift of his fellow Finn. Subaru hotshot Petter Solberg has overhauled team-mate Tommi Makinen for third position, despite hitting a post box in stage 11 and suffering a tyre vibration for about 30 kilometres. Team-mate Tommi Makinen holds fourth, the Finn dropping time with a spin in stage 15. Carlos Sainz now assumes the mantle for Ford, the Spaniard quietly inching his way up the leaderboard to fifth having found a better feeling with the car today. Juha Kankkunen flies the flag for Hyundai, the Finnish four-times World Champion sixth for the Korean manufacturer.
Still to come--
The final leg of Rally New Zealand takes the contenders back to the south for eight stages based around the inland town of Te Kauwhata, 75 kilometres from Auckland. While Sunday's route is the shortest with only 90.19 competitive kilometres, six of the stages are run in quick succession and any hint of a problem early on will undoubtedly cost heavily. The crews return to Auckland for the finish on the outskirts of the city, in Manukau, at 15:30 hrs (GMT+12).