Saturday 10th February Four drivers have fought for the lead during the today's second leg of the International Swedish Rally, second round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Carlos Sainz, Harri RovanperÃ¤, Thomas RÃ¥dstrÃ¶m and Tommi ...
Saturday 10th February
Four drivers have fought for the lead during the today's second leg of the International Swedish Rally, second round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Carlos Sainz, Harri Rovanperä, Thomas Rådström and Tommi Mäkinen have rarely been separated by more than 30 seconds, but Rovanperä fought through during the early afternoon to grab a small advantage at the top of the timesheets. Conditions were virtually perfect for the drivers, thanks to clear blue skies and high snow banks.
Technical: The remaining two factory 206 WRCs, driven by Harri Rovanperä and Didier Auriol, have performed without serious problem today. Auriol's only concern was a puncture in SS11, but Michelin's ATS mousse system was enough to prevent serious time loss for the 1994 World champion.
Sporting: Rovanperä started the day in second overall and during the opening two stages, he clawed back enough time from leader Carlos Sainz to move to within three tenths of a second of the top position. He claimed it for himself in SS9 and increased his lead further in SS10. Auriol, meanwhile, has continued to struggle with bronchitis and he wasn't able to maintain his overnight fourth position during the morning. He recovered well during the afternoon, though, to move back into a point-scoring place.
Harri Rovanperä said: "Everything's gone really well today. I'm still learning more about this car on every stage, although I'm getting closer to my limits with it. But sometimes, I arrive at corners and realise I could have braked 10 metres later. It will still be a close fight tomorrow, because Carlos and Thomas (Rådström) aren't going to give up and Tommi (Mäkinen) is coming up quickly."
Technical: Tommi Mäkinen, Thomas Rådström and Freddy Loix have reported no glitches with their Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions today. Loix in particular has been happier with his car after softening the suspension.
Sporting: Tommi Mäkinen has been one of today's main chargers, taking advantage of running further down the starting order to overhaul Didier Auriol on today's first stage, and Thomas Rådström and Carlos Sainz on the third. Rådström started the day in third overall and he has found conditions more difficult than yesterday, but the Swede still managed to pass Sainz and move into third, then inch back ahead of his four-times champion team-mate in SS10. Loix continues to run outside the top ten, accruing more mileage on the testing Swedish roads.
Tommi Makinen said: "It's been going well today, but the last long stage was run earlier in the day so it wasn't possible to make up so much time. The road is higher in the middle than its outside edges, and when the snow has been ploughed it's left a little loose snow at either side. Running fifth on the road means that it gets swept clear before I get there. It makes a difference, especially on acceleration."
Thomas Radstrom said: "We had one big moment in today's first stage, when the car slid very sideways and went along a snow bank for 100 metres. I lost confidence a bit after that. I'm still pushing but I don't know how much more I can do."
Technical: The three works Focus RS WRC01s of Carlos Sainz, Colin McRae and François Delecour have experienced no major technical problems today. Sainz's example proved reluctant to restart after he stalled at a hairpin in SS9, while Delecour suspected that his differential set-up wasn't perfect for the wider stretch of road near the end of SS10.
Sporting: Carlos Sainz has suffered the same fate that befell Tommi Mäkinen yesterday - running first on the road has forced the Spaniard to sweep clear a layer of fine snow for his rivals. Accordingly, the double world champion lost time for much of the day and dropped to fourth by lunchtime service as a result. François Delecour has been embroiled in a scrap with Didier Auriol for fifth place - and the title of top Frenchman. Colin McRae, meanwhile, might not have a chance of scoring a drivers' point after his accident yesterday, but the Scot was fastest on the first four stages today as he took full advantage of a lack of pressure and cleaner roads.
Carlos Sainz said: "I can't do anything. I'm trying my best, but I'm cleaning the road. If you look at Tommi's times yesterday he had the same problem. All I can do is keep pushing, right to the end, and hope that's enough to move me back."
Colin McRae said: "The fast times haven't surprised me so much, because the roads are definitely sweeping clean. We'll keep pushing to the end anyway."
Technical: The Subaru Impreza 44Ss of Richard Burns, Markko Martin and Petter Solberg have performed reliably today, with none of the drivers reporting any major problems. Martin found his suspension too soft for a series of jumps near the end of the day's first stage, though, and had to back off after he clouted the car's sump guard in a heavy landing.
Sporting: Petter Solberg has concentrated on building up further experience and mileage, even slowing himself down after he went 'too quickly' in SS9. The young Norwegian continues to hold a top ten position. Markko Martin has enjoyed gaining experience after suffering frustration in his first two outings for Subaru. Richard Burns started the day with no chance of even a point, but the Briton has experimented with both tyre choice and differential settings, as well as gaining experience of some new stages.
Petter Solberg said: "The time in SS9 was maybe a bit too good and I'm determined to finish the event, so I just told myself to ease off a bit and not take so many risks. There's not a scratch on the car, though, which is a positive sign!"
Markko Martin said: "I'm driving at normal speed, just having a look at the stages. The conditions have been nice, it's been great fun. Perhaps we'll push harder tomorrow."
HYUNDAI Technical: Alister McRae's Accent WRC was forced onto the retirements list when its engine lapsed onto three cylinders and then expired on the day's opening stage. But Kenneth Eriksson's example stayed troublefree until the day's last proper stage, when it lost three gears.
Sporting: Eriksson has pushed his Accent to the limit as he can no longer rely on a lower position in the running order, and the swept clean roads that go with it. He clouted a snow bank in SS7, bending navigator Staffan Parmander's door, but he still held sixth until gearbox problems intervened in SS11.
Alister McRae said: "The car went onto three cylinders, then two and a half, and the oil temperature went up to a seriously high level. It's bitterly disappointing because I was really encouraged by our speed yesterday."
Kenneth Eriksson said: "I'm taking risks to stay in touch but it's not been easy today. The gearbox problem was really hard luck, because I think we could have taken some points."
Technical: Bruno Thiry became the sole remaining Octavia WRC driver when Armin Schwarz slid off in SS8, but the Belgian became concerned by rising temperatures and dropping power outputs on the car's engine during SS9 and SS10. He's also experimented with differential settings, although he has struggled to find a compromise setting between fast and twisty stages.
Sporting: Armin Schwarz's Swedish Rally ended 9km into SS8, when the German slid into a snow bank which subsequently gave way and dragged his Octavia into a ditch. He and Manfred Hiemer couldn't find enough spectators to help them back onto the road, and they retired on the spot. Bruno Thiry continues to hold a position just outside the top ten, although he has been put under increasing pressure by Colin McRae.
Armin Schwarz said: "We decided to push hard, but lost out. We broke a wheel on a rock as we slid into the ditch but if we'd got back onto the road, I think we could have continued. It's disappointing."
Toni Gardemeister is the top privateer in eight, after his Grifone team managed to cure a mysterious engine problem this morning. He's comfortably clear of Daniel Carlsson's Corolla, although the young Swede still holds a top ten placing on only his second outing in a World Rally Car. In the FIA Teams Cup section, Pasi Hagstrom continues to occupy the leading position in his Toyota Corolla. European champion Henrik Lundgaard is becoming much happier with ice driving on his first winter rally.
Stig-Olov Walfridsson continues to lead the Group N category for more standard cars, and his task was made much easier when main rival Kenneth Backlund slid off for more than a minute earlier this morning.
Michelin's teams all opted for the French firm's GE asymmetric tyre, designed to cope with thick ice, while Pirelli's teams used the J asymmetric tyre for ice and gravel. Colin McRae, however, switched to the Pirelli's W tyre (slightly more open pattern) for the last two stages, in the belief that more gravel would start to poke through the snow and ice.