Loix keeps points in sight for Hyundai in thawing Sweden. Hyundai World Rally Team crews Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer drove with determination through the second day of the Swedish Rally, bringing their Accent WRC"s...
Loix keeps points in sight for Hyundai in thawing Sweden.
Hyundai World Rally Team crews Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer drove with determination through the second day of the Swedish Rally, bringing their Accent WRC"s to overnight parc ferme in ninth and 13th positions overall.
Snowfall was expected overnight but did not materialise which was unfortunate for most who prefer the more intense winter conditions. The first stage of the day, the 43.69km Granberget, which was a repeat run of special stage three, was icy but no snowfall and milder temperatures of about -2°C meant the roads were starting to thaw. For Armin Schwarz, who was first on the road, this made tyre choice more difficult.
Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets had a mixed day and a progrssive morning was flattened somewhat by a difficult afternoon. They made changes to the suspension set-up of their Accent WRC" at the start of the leg in preparation for the 43.69km Granberget stage. Preferring the settings with which he finished leg 1 however, Loix reverted to that set-up before leaving service for the following group of two stages.
The Belgian climbed to seventh position by special stage eight but Colin McRae (Citroen) powered his way back from an overnight position of 13th to steal Freddy's seventh position from him. Admitting to a few bad decisions on the afternoon's set of stages, the Belgian found it difficult to set competitive times but confidently defended his ninth position nonetheless.
Freddy said: "I made a big mistake on tyre choice this afternoon, especially for the last two stages and I also made a mistake by putting the corner lights on - whenever we touched a snow bank it just took so much speed off the car."
Looking ahead to the final day of the event, Freddy added: "I'm not going to make any major changes this evening. The handling is ok but I will be worried if the conditions get worse - if the gravel comes through, our lack of power will be a handicap. The best thing for us will be a hard frost but we'll give it all we have tomorrow anyway."
Running first on the road, Armin Schwarz and co-driver Manfred Hiemer were unfortunate in having to sweep the roads leaving a cleaner and quicker line for those behind with less surface snow. They found the stages very slippery as the ice thawed and became slushy and were unable to find any grip for much of the day and as a result, also unable to set any real competitive stage times.
"For the last three stages we tried some changes on the suspension to see if we could get better grip. We went for a harder setting on the compression but to be honest it was a disaster and it didn't work, especially in the longer of the stages," said 39-year-old Schwarz. "But we tried our hardest and had a clean run - we just didn't get the times. Tomorrow we'll change the settings back and look at one or two other things to try and improve our chances but it has just been a frustrating day."
Hyundai privateer Jussi Valimaki, who was nominated for manufacturer points on this event, saw his rally come to a disappointingly premature end. Jussi commented on his first WRC event with the Hyundai Accent WRC": "On the first stage this morning - the long one - we were in sixth gear about 30km into the stage and we heard a little bang from the transmission and we had no more drive. We called our engineer but the clutch drive was broken so we couldn't do anything about it.
"But I was driving carefully as I wanted to get a good set-up with a good diff mapping before I tried to really set competitive times. And if you look at the split times for SS7 they were quite good. My main problem was that during testing and on Arctic rally we only used snow tyres and this is the first time in my life I have used Michelin ice tyres and I was not used to the way the car handles with these tyres on ice and that's where my inexperience shows - my diff mappings weren't right for those icy conditions.
Jussi was philosophical about his performance in Sweden: "I drove as I wanted to and I am happy with my performance. It was an honour that the World Rally Team trusted me enough to collect points for them and I'm sorry I wasn't able to, but that's rallying. Now I'm looking forward to New Zealand, my first gravel event, as it is a bit like roads at home that I have grown up on."
News from our rivals
Leg two saw a bizarre accident on SS8 when Jusso Pykalisto (Peugeot) rolled his car in the stage, only for fellow Finn Harri Rovanpera (Peugeot), who was the next car through the stage, to drive into him, badly damaging the front suspension and both cars had to retire. Only nine cars managed to run the stage competitively and a decision by the rally officials awarded notional times equivalent to the fastest time set, to Gronholm, Makinen and Burns and the rest of the field a time equivalent to the slowest time recorded - the decision for which was based on the drivers' performance in the rally to date.
Rally leader Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) dropped a few seconds on the opening stage of the day when his wheel alignment was affected after hitting a rock at the start, although he still managed to set third fastest time. As in leg one, many drivers dropped valuable seconds spinning, stalling or hitting snow banks - Tommi Makinen (Subaru) hit a snow bank in SS7; Carlos Sainz (Citroen) stalled on the start line of the same stage; Janne Tuohino (Ford) hit a snow bank in SS8 and swerved into another in SS9 to narrowly avoid a moose. The thawing conditions also made tyre choice more difficult and Petter Solberg (Subaru), Janne Tuohino and Mikko Hirvonen (both Ford) were all guilty of heading out on the wrong tyres.
Reigning World Champion Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) holds the lead 38.8 seconds ahead of his nearest rival Tommi Makinen (Subaru) in second. Richard Burns (Peugeot) is 22.1 seconds adrift in third with Markko Martin (Ford) in fourth and Colin McRae (Citroen) stormed his way through the field to fifth.
The third and final leg covers the five remaining stages totalling 120.75km, three of which are repeat runs of stages used earlier in the rally - SS13: Sågen (SS1), SS14: Rämmen (SS2) and SS16: Brunnberg (SS5) - the last of those being the stage which was eventually cancelled on leg one. The rally is completed with a classic rally stage, the 39.85km Hagfors, just south of the service park base, before surviving crews reach the Karlstad finish ramp at 17:05.