Thursday, 08 March 2001 The world's top rally drivers face a stern test on the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the TAP Rally of Portugal, which starts near Porto this evening. The event is traditionally the first 'normal' ...
Thursday, 08 March 2001
The world's top rally drivers face a stern test on the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the TAP Rally of Portugal, which starts near Porto this evening. The event is traditionally the first 'normal' gravel rally of the season but heavy rain has left many of the stages coated in thick mud, making conditions treacherously slippery. The high water levels are so serious that the rally organisers have been forced to make alterations to some of the service areas. Three drivers - Tommi Mäkinen, Carlos Sainz and Harri Rovanperä - start the event tying for the lead of the World Rally Championship, but some of pre-season favourites, like reigning champion Marcus Grönholm, Colin McRae and Richard Burns have yet to score. With 16 official manufacturer entries and one of the most demanding Rally of Portugal routes in recent years, even scoring a point could prove difficult.
Mitsubishi (1st - 23 points)
Technical: The Lancer Evolution remains largely unchanged, as Mitsubishi works behind the scenes on its forthcoming World Rally Car. However, the Ralliart team expects the heavily-revised rear suspension, first used in Monte Carlo, to be even more beneficial to the car's performance on the rougher Portuguese gravel. Ralliart recently signed Ferrari Formula One engineer Ed Wood to assist Chief Engineer Bernard Lindauer in the preparation of the Lancer World Rally Car.
Sporting: Mitsubishi reverts back to its two-car line-up after running three Lancers in Sweden. Accordingly, Freddy Loix is nominated for manufacturers' points alongside Tommi Mäkinen. Four-time world champion Mäkinen is celebrating his 100th appearance at World Championship level.
Tommi Mäkinen said: “Time seems to be running very fast - it's difficult to imagine that this is my 100th world championship event. It'll be a hard one, too - ideally we'd have opted for a mud tyre but conditions weren't as bad as this when we had to make the decision. All we can try to do is make more cuts in the tyres we've got and try to open them up and find some grip. I've certainly never seen conditions as tricky as this in Portugal before.”
Ford (2nd - 14 points)
Technical: The Focus is largely unchanged in specification, although Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae will use brand new cars, the lightest gravel specification examples yet. This will be the first time that lightweight, titanium uprights have been used by Ford on gravel roads. Sporting: Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae are nominated for manufacturers' points, with Francois Delecour fighting for drivers' points only.
Colin McRae said: “It's going to be a really difficult event. The conditions are the worst I've ever seen here. It's so slippery it's a bit like Indonesia.”
Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson said: “I think we're going to have a split of conditions - 50 percent will be mud and 50 percent will be hard rocks. It can be really easy to take a wheel off in those situations. But all three of our drivers have won this event before - it's going to be a lottery, but we're optimistic.”
Skoda (3rd - 6 points)
Technical: Both Armin Schwarz and Bruno Thiry have new Octavia WRCs at their disposal, although the technical specification of the cars remains largely unchanged.
Sporting: Armin Schwarz and Bruno Thiry will drive the team's two Octavia WRCs as usual. Schwarz's example suffered a fire during yesterday's shakedown test, when its hot exhaust burnt through oil pipes to the differential. Francois Delecour, the next driver on the stage, stopped to offer assistance and Schwarz was able to extinguish the flames. Skoda mechanics repaired the car yesterday afternoon.
Armin Schwarz said: “It's going to be a hard event. We had some problems during our test for this rally so I haven't quite found the set-up I want from the car yet. But conditions are unbelievable - everything from deep mud to hard rocks. Hopefully the strength of our car will give us an advantage.”
Bruno Thiry said: “We worked hard on the Octavia's set-up during the shakedown, changing roll bars, springs and differential settings to get a good balance. We've got a strong car but we're still going to need luck to stay out of trouble in these conditions.”
Hyundai (4th - 5 points)
Technical: Portugal marks the debut of Hyundai's Accent WRC2, a heavily revised evolution of the car which first appeared last year. The team's engineers have changed around 85 percent of the car, concentrating on suspension travel, engine response and aerodynamic tweaks. The cars will use an electronically-controlled front differential on gravel for the first time.
Sporting: Kenneth Eriksson and Alister McRae will drive the two Accents as usual.
Kenneth Eriksson said: “Hopefully this new car will close the gap to the top crews. I've got big expectations of what it can achieve but this will be a hard rally to start its career. I first came to Portugal in 1985 and I've never seen the conditions so difficult. It'll be an extremely difficult event.”
Alister McRae said: “The new car's a definite improvement but it'll take us a few events to learn how to get the best out of it. It won't happen overnight but I think we should be able to fight for more points positions now.”
Subaru (5th 4 points)
Technical: Richard Burns and Petter Solberg will use brand new Impreza WRC2001s in Portugal. The technical specification of the car is largely unchanged.
Sporting: Subaru enters four cars in Portugal. Richard Burns and Petter Solberg will be nominated for manufacturers' points, leaving Markko Martin and Toshihiro Arai to fight for drivers' points only. The event is Arai's first as an officially-entered Subaru works driver.
Richard Burns said: “The stages are extremely slippery and you can't predict where the grip actually is. With that in mind, we're going to be relying a lot on our gravel crews to give us the right information.”
Markko Martin said: “I've only driven for about three hours on gravel this year so I'm learning the whole process again. The conditions don't really help that, but my target is a finish and experience so I guess I'll just have to be patient.”
Peugeot (0 points)
Technical: Chief engineer Michel Nandan reports that the three works Peugeot 206 WRCs will start in basically the same technical specification that they used in Sweden last month. However, Peugeot has modified the cylinder head bolts that caused Marcus Grönholm's engine failure in Sweden, and introduced different transmission bearings after that part failed on Didier Auriol's car on the same event. Peugeot is also the only factory team to have nominated a mud tyre in its selection.
Sporting: Reigning FIA World Rally Champion Marcus Gronholm is nominated for manufacturers' points, along with 1994 title-holder Didier Auriol. Grönholm gave the team a scare by damaging his car's steering on a tree stump at yesterday's pre-event shakedown. Swedish Rally winner Harri Rovanperä gets his second chance in a 206, and Peugeot is hoping that he will deny Grönholm's and Auriol's rivals points by posting another strong finish. Peugeot's fourth driver, Gilles Panizzi, will tackle this event in a 206 run by private Italian team Grifone.
Marcus Grönholm said: “This is going to be a really hard event. The stages are in very bad condition, with deep mud and bad ruts everywhere. It's hard to judge how much grip you've got and I think a lot of people will be caught out.”
Harri Rovanpera said: “If I have a good feeling with the car, then I don't see any reason why I can't fight for victory here. But I'm really not thinking about victory - I just want to take this event stage by stage.”
Citroen (0 points)
Technical: With the World Rally Championship debut of its Xsara T4 only weeks away (it happens on the next round, Rallye de Catalunya), Citroen sends two 1600cc, front-wheel drive Saxo kit cars to Portugal. The French manufacturer is aiming to give its drivers as much experience of the series' events before it expands its campaign in 2002 and beyond. Sporting: Citroen has drafted in its Swedish driver, Thomas Rådström, as a last-minute team-mate to Philippe Bugalski. Spanish champion Jesus Puras had been scheduled to partner Bugalski but discomfort after two recce accidents forced him to withdraw. Rådström had completed the reconnaissance anyway, but he wasn't confirmed in the second Saxo until lunchtime yesterday.
Thomas Rådström said: “It's strange. On the last rally I was in one of the biggest cars (he finished second in Sweden in a guest appearance for Mitsubishi), and here I'm in one of the smallest! T hey're both red but I think that's about all they have in common! It's a pity that Jesus can't take part here but it's a good opportunity for me to get a look at the stages in these conditions.”
The Rally of Portugal is the second round of the FIA Teams Cup for privateer crews. Reigning European champion Henrik Lundgaard and Finn Pasi Hagstrom are both likely challengers for the category spoils, along Janusz Kulig. Hamed Al Wahaibi's participation was in doubt after he damaged his Subaru at yesterday's shakedown. But Prodrive readied another Impreza at its Banbury headquarters and it was air freighted to Portugal. It reached pre-event scrutineering with only minutes to spare, but the Oman driver will start as planned. Other private entries likely to feature strongly include local drivers Pedro Chaves, Rui Madeira and Adruzilo Lopes in a Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus and Peugeot 206 respectively. Former British champion Tapio Laukkanen uses a Toyota Corolla again, and young Swede Daniel Carlsson will aim to broaden his experience in a similar machine. In the Group N class for more standard machinery, reigning category World Champion Manfred Stohl faces up to old rival Gustavo Trelles.
Many teams are expected to have to make extra cuts in their tyres to cope with the unforeseen muddy conditions. Although Pirelli and Michelin have options for all surfaces, teams have to nominate two patterns in advance and only Peugeot (Michelin) included a mud tyre in its final list.
1 Makinen Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 3:46.9 2 Gronholm Peugeot 206 WRC 3:47.9 3 Rovanpera Peugeot 206 WRC 3:51.0 4 Sainz Ford Focus RS WRC 3:52.9 5 Loix Mitsubishi Carisma GT 3:54.7 6 Martin Subaru Impreza WRC 3:54.7 7 Burns Subaru Impreza WRC 3:56.5 8 Thiry Skoda Octavia WRC 3:56.9 9 Auriol Peugeot 206 WRC 3:57.5 10 Laukkanen Toyota Corolla WRC 3:58.5
Leg 1, Super Special, Thursday 8th March (3.20 km)
SS 1 18:30 Baltar 3.20 km
Leg 1, Friday 9th March (141.68 km) SS 2 08:36 Vizo 1 11.84 km SS 3 08:57 Fafe / Lameirinha 1 15.16 km SS 4 09:54 Vieira / Cabeceiras 1 26.68 km SS 5 11:51 Vizo 2 11.84 km SS 6 12:12 Fafe / Lameirinha 2 15.16 km SS 7 13:09 Vieira / Cabeceiras 1 26.68 km SS 8 15:25 Amarante 18.44 km SS 9 15:55 Mondim de Basto 22.08 km SS 10 18:30 Lousada 3.80 km
Leg 2, Saturday 10th March (177.36 km) SS 11 08:55 Oliveira do Hospital 1 24.78 km SS 12 09:58 Arganil 1 14.27 km SS 13 10:26 Gois 1 19.62 km SS 14 12:55 Oliveira do Hospital 2 24.78 km SS 15 13:58 Arganil 2 14.27 km SS 16 14:26 Gois 2 19.62 km SS 17 16:10 Tabua 14.71 km SS 18 17:05 Mortagua 21.38 km SS 19 17:40 Aguieira 23.93 km
Leg 3, Sunday 11th March (57.90 km) SS 20 08:30 Ponte de Lima Este 23.49 km SS 21 09:06 Ponte de Lima Oeste 23.26 km SS 22 10:10 Ponte de Lima Sul 11.15 km