Peugeot-Michelin: stars of the snow in Sweden For the third year in a row, Peugeot-Michelin convincingly stole the limelight this weekend in Sweden. Not only did the French team claim an impressive hat-trick win over the Varmland's snowy lanes,...
Peugeot-Michelin: stars of the snow in Sweden
For the third year in a row, Peugeot-Michelin convincingly stole the limelight this weekend in Sweden. Not only did the French team claim an impressive hat-trick win over the Varmland's snowy lanes, it also compounded its domination with an eloquent one-two result led by 2000 Swedish Rally winner Marcus Gronholm. The other 206 WRC driver popping the champagne in Karlstad was last year's victor Harri Rovanpera, while the team's Brit Richard Burns (4th) narrowly failed to squeeze Carlos Sainz (Ford) off the podium on the ultimate stage. Gronholm's triumph gave Michelin its 21st success on the Scandinavian round from the past 23 events! By monopolising the first two steps of the Swedish Rally podium this weekend, Peugeot-Michelin has given a significant kick-start to its 2002 World Championship campaign. Coming after the four points secured on the recent Monte Carlo Rally, a maximum haul of sixteen points in Scandinavia has launched the defending Manufacturers' champions to the top of the table with just two of the calendar's fourteen rounds completed.
The drivers behind the French make's one-two in Sweden today were the same ones who brought it victory in 2000 and 2001, namely Marcus Gronholm and Harri Rovanpera. This time round, the Finns profited from the clockwork reliability of their 206 WRCs to leave their opponents gasping, with third-man Carlos Sainz (Ford) finishing some 2m25s adrift, an amazing margin given how frequently this event is decided by a matter of seconds! Gronholm and Rovanpera lost no time staking their claim. By the end of the opening day, although themselves split by a mere half-second, they had succeeded in pulling out an impressive 40s advantage over Ford's Colin McRae. Clearly, the writing was already on the wall for the rest of the pack, especially since Citroen-Michelin's local star Thomas Radstrom had put himself out of contention with a time-consuming off into a snow-bank earlier in the day, while long-time Swedish expert Tommi Makinen failed to make any sort of mark before retiring just four stages into the rally.
Despite their seemingly comfortable cushion, Peugeot Sport declined to issue team orders. But the avidly awaited power struggle between the two Finns on Day 2 failed to materialise. Eager to show that he was the boss, Gronholm promptly recorded an uncompromising string of fastest times and his teammate quickly relinquished any hope of a second consecutive win. By the end of the leg, Rovanpera was himself over 50s off top-spot and wisely accepted to settle for runner-up spot.
Meanwhile, McRae's attempted Day 2 charge was thwarted when he was forced to stop and change a broken wheel on SS7. Three minutes were lost in the incident, dropping the Scot outside the top ten and leaving his Spanish teammate Carlos Sainz -- now up to 3rd -- to attempt to salvage a podium for Ford. And even that nearly failed to materialise when Richard Burns, driving the third factory 206 WRC-Michelin, failed by just 8s to snatch 3rd from the Focus driver on the final test.
Fifth place looked as though it would fall to the talented Janne Tuohino whose Michelin-shod Ford Focus had had the cheek to figure ahead of the factory cars when conditions were particularly icy early in the event. However, the young Finn was deprived of his first ever WRC points when he clocked in deliberately late at the final control to hand 6th place (and a Drivers' point) to Ford's Colin McRae. In the end, 5th place was picked up by Alister McRae who notched up his and Mitsubishi-Michelin's first points of 2002.
As indicated, the opening day featured pristine ice of the sort that Swedish Rally legends have often been made. In this demanding context, Michelin's celebrated stud/tyre package performed faultlessly to lay the foundations for its 21st win on this event. However, as the predicted thaw arrived, these textbook conditions progressively made way for a slushier mix that included increasingly lengthy patches of gravel. This gradual but inexorable shift put the emphasis on driver control and enabled a number of WRC regulars not generally seen at the leaderboard's sharp end to grab their share of the headlines. Unfortunately, two such runs were to end in frustration...
Going into the final stage, Kenneth Eriksson appeared to have a valuable points-scoring finish sown up for Skoda-Michelin. Throughout the rally, the Swedish veteran had capitalised on his local knowledge to produce a consistent run that even saw him collect a 2nd fastest stage time on Day 2. Going into the last stage he was in 5th position. Yet his efforts proved of no avail however when his Octavia WRC was forced to park up with a radiator problem just 7km from the end of the rally.
A similarly cruel fate put an end to the equally promising run of Hyundai-Michelin's new recruit Freddy Loix. Despite competing with a heavily strapped left foot that forced him to resort to crutches out of the car (the sequel of his Monte Carlo accident), the Belgian driver spent much of the rally in 4th place. But like Eriksson, his exploit was also poorly rewarded when he was stopped by suspension failure on the final morning.
Peugeot-Michelin's one-two result with Marcus Gronholm and Harri Rovanpera has brought Michelin's tyre/studs combination its 21st victory from the past 23 Swedish Rallies. This success takes Michelin's total to a record 184 WRC wins.
SAID A SPOKESMAN: "We are above all extremely pleased with the job we performed on Day 1," declared one of the 32,000 studs employed by Marcus Gronholm and Harri Rovanpera during the three-day event. "The demands made of us on the hard ice seen on Leg 1 really pushed us to our limits and I am proud to say we rose to the occasion perfectly. "After that, the textbook Swedish Rally conditions made way for a cocktail of softer ice, slush and gravel. The tyre and stud package still had an important role to play but it was the constant changes of grip that then became the real challenge. In situations like that, it's driver skill, control and experience - along with car balance and performance - that really take front stage."