Sunday, 3rd February 2002 Finnish driver Marcus Gronholm has scored a dominant win on the second round of this year's FIA World Rally Championship, the Swedish Rally. The 2000 world champion was rarely troubled after he built up a substantial...
Sunday, 3rd February 2002
Finnish driver Marcus Gronholm has scored a dominant win on the second round of this year's FIA World Rally Championship, the Swedish Rally. The 2000 world champion was rarely troubled after he built up a substantial lead yesterday, and he and navigator Timo Rautiainen were able to relax in today's closing few stages to move to the top of the championship standings. Their team-mates Harri Rovanpera and Risto Pietilainen also consolidated their second position, allowing Peugeot to celebrate a maximum score in the Manufacturers' championship.
Carlos Sainz held off Richard Burns in third though, preventing the French manufacturer from scoring a whitewash of the podium placings. The Swedish roads continued to thaw in the unseasonably warm climate today, making conditions extremely difficult with patches of gravel poking through the softening ice. Organisers were forced to cancel the day's second stage due to poor road conditions, and many drivers were concerned about how effectively their tyres would retain their studs on the gravel sections. Other mechanical problems arose for some crews, including Hyundai drivers Freddy Loix and Armin Schwarz. The German retired on a road section with transmission trouble, while Loix's brave drive with a broken left foot came to an end when his suspension failed in the day's second stage.
Technical: The three 206 WRCs of Marcus Gronholm Harri Rovanpera and Richard Burns ran without problems today.
Sporting: Marcus Gronholm consolidated his strong overnight advantage today, extending his lead over Harri Rovanpera to more than a minute to score his first victory of the 2002 season. Rovanpera in turn was able to ease off in the closing stages as he finished a comfortable second. The third 206 WRC of Richard Burns started today's tests in fifth but the reigning world champion swiftly passed Freddy Loix and began to close in on third-placed Carlos Sainz. The pair entered the final stage separated by just 12.5 seconds but Sainz held on to deny Peugeot a one-two-three. The event did, however, mark Burns's first fastest times and first points for his new team.
Quotes: Marcus Gronholm said: "I'm delighted. We had a plan for this event and that was to really attack yesterday, to try and build up a lead that would allow us to relax a little today. And it's worked absolutely to that plan. I have a really good feeling with the 206 on gravel now and clearly our performance is very strong, so I'm looking forward to the next events."
Harri Rovanpera said: "I'd have liked to have really fought for the victory but we weren't so strong yesterday and Marcus pushed very hard at the right time. It's still a good result for Peugeot, though, because we've taken maximum points."
Richard Burns said: "We pushed harder than before in the last stage today, without taking massive risks, but ultimately we started today just a bit too far behind Carlos to make the attack possible. And when the second stage today was cancelled, it made things even harder. But I'm reasonably happy - it's good to get some points on the board and I feel much more comfortable and confident with the 206 than I did three days ago."
Peugeot Sport team director Corrado Provera said: "It doesn't get much better than this. We've taken our third Swedish Rally win in a row, we're already leading the manufacturers' championship and Marcus is in front in the drivers' championship. I'm absolutely delighted."
Technical: The Focus RS WRC02s of Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae have run without major problems today, although Sainz was concerned by the amount of stud loss from his tyres in the gravely penultimate stage.
Sporting: Carlos Sainz started today's stages too far behind Harri Rovanpera to challenge for second, but still within striking distance of Richard Burns and Freddy Loix in third. Loix's challenge faded quickly but in the closing stages, Sainz had to dig deep to fend off a determined charge from Burns. The Spaniard looked to have done enough in SS14 but on the following stage, many of the studs in his front tyres were ripped out by the gravel patches in the roads and he dropped 12 seconds to his rival. The pair went into the last stage separated by just 12.5 seconds but although Burns was faster, Sainz did enough to hold onto the final podium placing by just over eight seconds. Colin McRae, meanwhile, honed in on a points placing today and he went into the last test determined to overhaul brother Alister for sixth. But instead, the 1995 world champion had a high-speed spin into a ditch and lost around 20s - as a result, he finished 0.3 seconds behind his younger brother. But then fifth-placed Ford privateer Janne Tuohino checked out of final service one minute late to drop behind both McRaes and allow Colin a single point.
Quotes: Carlos Sainz said: "The last three stages weren't very nice for drivers, especially looking at the studs situation. I was really panicking a bit in the penultimate stage. In the last stage we had some split times and when we saw them we realised that we were five seconds ahead of Richard, so I took it a bit easier to make sure our studs lasted to the end. I also had a broken mousse insert in that stage so I'm pleased to get another podium finish."
Colin McRae said: "The spin was pretty spectacular - it was as big a moment as I'd like to have. It was in a fast muddy section and we got kicked out of the ruts, went into the ditch and then went around. The data logger showed we'd stopped for about 18 seconds. Obviously I'm disappointed not to get past Alister but at least we've taken a point from here - when we had the wheel problem yesterday even that didn't look possible."
Technical: The Lancer WRCs of Alister McRae, Jani Paasonen and Francois Delecour encountered no significant mechanical problems today.
Sporting: Alister McRae battled with Janne Tuohino for much of today, and although the Scot lost out to the young Finn, he then benefited from Tuohino's decision to help Ford works driver Colin McRae by dropping road penalties. As a result Alister McRae (who'd held off brother Colin by 0.3 seconds on the final stage) finished fifth, scoring two points. Team-mates Jani Paasonen and Francois Delecour continued to experiment with set-ups and eventually finished 14th and 34th respectively.
Quotes: Alister McRae said: "It's good to hold off Colin and get some points, my first for Mitsubishi. I knew it'd be a big fight in the final stage with Colin but I just tried to be committed and stay in the middle of the road. It worked, although it sounds like he had a fairly big moment! We've learnt a lot about the Lancer here in these conditions and I'm looking forward to Corsica. Granted, we weren't really competitive the last time out on asphalt but I know we've a lot of new things to try before then."
Technical: Freddy Loix's Accent had run faultlessly throughout the event but it finally hit trouble in SS14. The Belgian's car broke its front suspension seven kilometres into the stage and he was forced to retire. Team-mate Armin Schwarz was another casualty of this morning's stages - the German forgot to switch on his Accent's active differentials for the opening stage but after the team changed the front differential at the following service, he felt the car lose drive on a road section and was forced to stop. Juha Kankkunen's car has run without significant mechanical problems, however.
Sporting: Freddy Loix probably knew this morning that holding off Richard Burns would be a difficult task and so it proved - the Englishman needed just the opening stage to brush past the Belgian. But Loix still looked likely to finish in fifth place until SS14, when broken front suspension brought his event to a premature end. It was a cruel morning for Hyundai - the team elected to change Armin Schwarz's front differential as a 'nothing-to-lose' attempt to solve the transmission glitches that plagued him yesterday. But on the road section after service the German felt his car lose drive and he retired. Juha Kankkunen thus ended up shouldering the team's hopes over the final few stages and the four-times world champion finished in eighth overall to score a manufacturers' point.
Quotes: Freddy Loix said: "I'm disappointed not to finish but we had a fantastic rally and I didn't make any mistakes. Competing here has been very good for my head, because it can be difficult after an accident to decide when you should come back and now I already know that the speed is still there."
Technical: The Octavia WRC of Stig Blomqvist has run without major problems today. Kenneth Eriksson's Octavia arrived at service after SS15 with severe overheating, forcing the Swede to fill the car's radiator with water sourced from a puddle. But he reached his mechanics and they soon changed the radiator, allowing him to continue. The overheating returned during the final stage, though, and the Swedish veteran was forced to retire.
Sporting: Despite the frenetic battle at the verge of the points positions, Kenneth Eriksson appeared to have done enough to finish fifth for Skoda on his home event. But prior to the last stage his Octavia started overheating and although the team changed much of the cooling system, the problem returned in the final, long test. Eriksson tried gamely to reach the finish but he was forced to stop seven kilometres from the end of the stage. Former world champion Stig Blomqvist, meanwhile, brought his Octavia home in 15th after a steady drive.
Quotes: Kenneth Eriksson said: "The engine temperature just kept rising and we tried to keep going, but once it was over 140 degrees we lost compression and the engine just stopped. I'm really disappointed because the split times for that stage were still strong and we were right on course for a good result. But I hope I've proved on this rally that the Octavia WRC is a competitive car on the loose-surface events."
Technical: The Xsara WRCs of Thomas Radstrom and Sebastien Loeb have both enjoyed a trouble-free final day.
Sporting: Neither Thomas Radstrom or Sebastien Loeb had much to gain but pride today after a number of excursions into snow banks had dropped them outside the top ten on the opening day. But they continued to push, regularly posting times in the top ten throughout the closing stages. Loeb eventually finished 17th, while Radstrom brought his car home in 37th.
Quotes: Sebastien Loeb said: "I came here to learn but I've been quite pleased by the way I've driven. It hasn't been easy for me all rally because I've always been running somewhere near the front of the field and we've quite often had to sweep clear the snow and loose ice for the guys running further back. But I needed experience of the conditions and I've got that now."
Janne Tuohino was the top private World Rally Car driver on the event and he finished fifth on the timesheets, but he then took a ten-second penalty to enable Colin McRae to score a drivers' point instead.
There was a thrilling conclusion to the battle for honours in the Group N category for more standard vehicles. Young Swede Daniel Carlsson and Finn Juha Kangas went into the final stage separated by just a second - but Carlsson came out ten seconds to the good to claim a home victory.
In the FIA Cup for Drivers of Production Vehicles, Kristian Sohlberg led from the second stage to the finish, with Japanese driver Toshihiro Arai second and former British champion Marko Ipatti claiming the final podium place.