This will be the Rally of Turkey's debut in the FIA World Rally Championship, and of the manufacturer drivers present on this third round, only Citroen's Sebastien Loeb has seen the stages before - albeit at the wheel of a Saxo. Loeb arrives back...
This will be the Rally of Turkey's debut in the FIA World Rally Championship, and of the manufacturer drivers present on this third round, only Citroen's Sebastien Loeb has seen the stages before - albeit at the wheel of a Saxo. Loeb arrives back at the rally's base in Kemer as leader of the championship, following his round one win and a points-scoring finish in Sweden earlier this month.
Loeb will have an advantage over his rivals, but what he has in experience of the rally, he gives away in years of experience to the majority of his fellow championship competitors. Few have more experience than Loeb's team-mate and fellow championship leader Colin McRae. This will only be the Scotsman's third outing in a Xsara WRC, but his speed over the first two rallies of the year indicate that he's already feeling comfortable in his new surroundings. Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm and Richard Burns are joint third ahead of this first all-gravel round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
The stages run high above the Mediterranean coastline and the central service area in Kemer. The average height of the stages is around 1,200 metres. Recent heavy rain and snow has damaged some of the roads, forcing the organisers to re-grade some of the stages. The rally is expected to offer similar terrain to Cyprus, although the average speed is likely to be higher than the island event.
The Rally of Turkey is also the second round of this year's FIA Junior World Rally Championship. Winner of the opening round Brice Tirabassi will lead the crews away in his Renault Clio.
Citroen Total (1st - 24 points)
Technical: Citroen conducted rough road testing in Portugal and France prior to this event. Colin McRae and Sebastien Loeb have brand new Xsara WRCs, while Sainz has the car which Thomas Radstrom drove in Finland last season.
Sporting: Citroen has maintained its grip on both the drivers and manufacturer's championship title races. Sebastien Loeb competed here last season but neither Colin McRae - with whom the Frenchman shares the lead in the driver's championship - or Carlos Sainz sampled these stages before. McRae and Sainz should have the edge on their younger team-mate as they have considerably more experience on this rough style of rally. McRae is an acknowledged master of the rough rally, winning both the Acropolis and Safari rallies last season. All three drivers took part in the testing in the run up to the event.
Colin McRae said: "The state of the stages really depends on the weather. If it rains then I could see quite a few rocks being pulled out and the road getting quite cut up. This is my first gravel event in the car, so I'm still learning about it - but I'm feeling more confident all of the time."
Sebastien Loeb said: "I've done five of the stages on the rally, which is a plus - but it was in a Saxo Challenge car, not the same as a World Rally Car. It's great to be still leading the championship, but I'm not sure what this will mean for running first on the road, with the loose gravel around it won't be ideal." Carlos Sainz said: "I still haven't driven the car enough on gravel. Okay, we did some testing before the rally, but you could always use more time driving."
Marlboro Peugeot Total (2nd - 22 points)
Technical: There are no major changes to the specification of the Peugeot 206 WRCs, which started today's shakedown test in Cyprus Rally specification.
Sporting: Marcus Gronholm arrives in Turkey on the back of a commanding win in Sweden - his third victory on the championship's only snow rally. Gronholm and the 206 WRC are likely to be a potent force on this style of event, the Finn showing how comfortable he is on this style of rally by winning in Cyprus last season.
Richard Burns starts Rally of Turkey working with a new engineer in the Peugeot team. The Briton admitted that his relationship with Jean-Charles Odon (his previous engineer) hadn't worked at 100 per cent. Burns is in a confident mood ahead of round three of the FIA World Rally Championship, having enjoyed his best ever start to the championship - he is joint third. Conversely, Harri Rovanpera's start to 2003 hasn't been great. The Finn wasn't competing in Monte Carlo and then crashed out of Sweden.
Marcus Gronholm said: "This rally is okay, but I don't really understand why we need another round of the world championship like this - with similar conditions to those in Greece and Cyprus, but okay we will see what we can do."
Richard Burns said: "The decision to change the engineer was made by the team - we are all in this together. I know how well the relationship can work, so I knew this one wasn't working 100 per cent smoothly. I am looking forward to this event, it's a bit of an unknown quantity, but I'm happy with the car and everything right now."
Ford Motor Company (3rd - 15 points)
Technical: This will be the final time the Ford team runs three Focus RS WRC02s. From the next round onwards, only Mikko Hirvonen will drive the '02 car, with Markko Martin and Francois Duval moving on to the all-new 2003-specification car. There have been no developments to the Ford for Rally of Turkey, but Ford is the only team among the Michelin runners to have selected the narrow ZE pattern of tyre for this event.
Sporting: Markko Martin holds a strong fifth place in the championship, just two points adrift of the leaders, after enjoying his best start to the championship yet. Martin - and his team-mate Duval - go well on this style of events. Both drivers led the Cyprus Rally at some stage last year. Duval has a new co-driver (Stephane Prevot) for this rally, and is in need of a finish to boost his confidence after crashing in both Monte Carlo and Sweden. Hirvonen will be looking for a finish to gain more valuable time behind the wheel of his Focus.
Markko Martin said: "Shakedown has gone very well for me. I made lots and lots of changes to the car, but I'm happy with it now. The stage we've just used wasn't so much like the stages will be in the rally, but it was good to get an idea of what's coming."
François Duval said: "I prefer loose surface rallies, so this should be good. This could be a good rally for me, being a young driver I don't have the same experience that some of the others in the championship do. As for my new co-driver, we tested together already and I don't see any problems in us settling down together."
Mikko Hirvonen said: "I started at shakedown this morning with the car set up the same as Markko's - which is what I always do. Since then, I've made a couple of changes and made the car better for me. The stage was quite rough in the end, and we lost a little time when we broke something on the steering. It wasn't a big problem, though."
555 Subaru World Rally Team(4th - 11 points)
Technical: This is the first loose-surface event for the new shape Subaru Impreza WRC2003. The team's test driver Pasi Hagstrom has spent seven days in Spain testing the car, although there are no major developments for the car.
Sporting: Tommi Makinen enjoyed a strong run on the last round of the championship, eventually finishing second behind Gronholm. His team-mate Petter Solberg was steady through the first two legs, struggling to find a car set-up which he was happy with. On the final day of the rally, Solberg settled down and was much happier with the car, posting fastest time on the final test of the event.
Petter Solberg said: "I haven't driven on gravel since Rally GB, not even in testing - so this is going to be an interesting event. I like these rough, tight and twisty style of stages, so I'm really looking forward to this event - especially as nobody really knows too much about it."
Tommi Makinen said: "Pasi was happy with the car when he tested it, so I am happy. The shakedown stage this morning wasn't so good at the finish, it was a little too rough - rougher than the stages will be anyway."
Hyundai World Rally Team (5th - 3 points)
Technical: The Accent's engine and suspension have received some attention since the last round of the championship in Sweden, although the drivers still haven't conducted a full pre-event test. The misfire which slowed Armin Schwarz's car in Sweden, has been traced to a faulty spark plug.
Sporting: The Hyundai Accent WRCs of Armin Schwarz and Freddy Loix will continue to run in their interim colour scheme - as the team still awaits the announcement of its title sponsor. Both drivers are more upbeat about this rally then either of the previous two rounds, as both point out that the slightly twistier rallies seem to suit the car better than the faster events such as Sweden.
Armin Schwarz said: "As Turkey is classes as a long-haul rally, nobody is allowed to test on the event, which is not going to make things easy. This being a new rally does even the chances out for everybody a little bit more, but it would have been nice to have tested for the event."
Freddy Loix said: "This will be a good rally for us. I like new stages, if you look at the times from the Acropolis Rally last season, then you can see that it was on the new ones where we went quickest. "
Skoda Motorsport (6th - 2 points)
Technical: The Skoda team spent four days testing in Spain prior to this event, but there are no major changes to the Octavia ahead of the Rally of Turkey.
Sporting: This will be Didier Auriol's first event in an Octavia WRC on gravel. While he made a good start to 2003 in Monte Carlo, Sweden was not so good for the Frenchman. He admitted he wasn't happy with the car and struggled to match the times set by team-mate Toni Gardemeister. Gardemeister finished round two in eighth place, but had run in the top six overall earlier in the rally.
Didier Auriol said: "I like the challenge of this type of rally, with the narrow roads. If I have the feeling in the car, then I can attack from the start and making the points at the finish is possible. It would be very difficult for us to talk about the win or the podium."
Toni Gardemeister said: "We want points here. The first group of stages should be best for us, but over the last couple of seasons we have seen that the rougher rallies like Acropolis or Safari - and now Turkey do suit the Octavia quite well."
Brice Tirabassi leads the competitors in the FIA Junior World Rally Championship away in his Renault Clio, following his win on the opening round. The second-placed driver in Monte Carlo, Kosti Katajamaki, was excluded from the results following a technical problem with the rear brakes on his Volkswagen Polo. Fiat Punto driver Marcos Ligato is now second in the standings. Official Peugeot driver Gilles Panizzi starts the event in a factory-specification 206 WRC, run by Bozian Racing.