WRC

Telstra Rally Austalia preview

Telstra Rally Australia www.rallyaustralia.com/ Round 13 of the FIA World Rally Championship 1-4th November 2001 The scrap for honours in the FIA World Rally Championship is set to intensify further on the penultimate round, the Telstra Rally ...

Telstra Rally Australia
www.rallyaustralia.com/
Round 13 of the FIA World Rally Championship
1-4th November 2001

The scrap for honours in the FIA World Rally Championship is set to intensify further on the penultimate round, the Telstra Rally Australia, which started in Perth this evening. Six drivers will start the event with at least a mathematical chance of lifting the title, while four makes still have the possibility of winning the manufacturers' series.

Ford's Colin McRae and Mitsubishi driver Tommi Mäkinen share the lead in the drivers championship, but neither is likely to be the first car on the notoriously slippery forest stages near the host city tomorrow morning. Like many previous events this season, position in the running order is expected to play a crucial role, since the Australian roads feature a tricky ball-bearing like surface that gets swept clean by every passing car. So to prevent the overnight leaders from being hampered by this the following day, seeded crews will be allowed to choose their position on the road. For tomorrow's opening leg, the championship front-runners will be able to nominate their preferred place first and they are likely to opt for positions outside the top ten.

FORD (1st - 83 points)

Technical: Ford has introduced no major technical changes on the Ford Focus RS WRC01s for this event.

Sporting: Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae are nominated for manufacturers' points, with François Delecour eligible for drivers' points only. The event marks Sainz's 150th start at world championship level, and McRae's navigator Nicky Grist celebrates his 40th birthday today. Ford recently confirmed that both Sainz and McRae will stay in 2002, while also revealing that Estonian Markko Martin will drive the third Focus WRC on all 14 rounds. Australia will be Delecour's last event for the team - Mark Higgins will replace him in the squad for the next round in Great Britain.

Quotes: Colin McRae said: "We know that we can win the title here but before that happens, there are a lot of quick drivers who'll be pushing very hard that we have to beat. We're still in a good position in the championship with Tommi, since we have a small points advantage, but the plan here still has to be to push as hard as possible from the start and see where that gets us."

Carlos Sainz said: "We need to score points for Ford and make sure that we're ahead of Peugeot to increase the team's lead in the manufacturers' championship, but I still have a chance of the drivers' title too and I'd like to improve my position in that. I enjoy this event even though the roads are quite narrow and the trees are very close!"

PEUGEOT (2nd- 76 points)

Technical: Peugeot enters four official cars in Australia. All are fitted with three electronically controlled 'active' differentials, but Didier Auriol's example has a six-speed gearbox (the French driver's preferred option) instead of the more widely-used five-speed unit.

Sporting: Peugeot has nominated its two Finnish drivers, Marcus Grönholm and Harri Rovanperä, for manufacturers' points in Australia. 1994 world champion Didier Auriol will therefore be nominated for drivers' points only. The French team is also running a fourth car for its regular asphalt expert Gilles Panizzi as he continues to build up experience of loose-surface rallies.

Quotes: Marcus Gronholm said: "I think we have quite a good chance here. Of course, our poor championship position means that we will struggle a bit with the loose gravel on the road because we'll have to start higher up the running order. But I had a really good feeling with the car here during our test - it was perfect."

Harri Rovanperä said: "The car was good in the testing and I quite like the stages here, so all we can do is try. I think the championship leader will just pick the last possible road position, so the championship order will basically be reversed on the first day. That would put me about fourth or fifth from the end which wouldn't be too bad."

MITSUBISHI (3rd - 67 points)

Technical: The Lancer Evolution WRC makes its debut on gravel in Australia, but Mitsubishi has had precious little time to set the car up for loose surfaces. Ralliart managed two tests in Europe before a five-day test in Australia. Tommi Mäkinen's Lancer is a brand new car, but this had been planned before his accident in Corsica anyway.

Sporting: Tommi Mäkinen and Freddy Loix are both nominated for manufacturers' points. Mäkinen is being navigated this weekend by Timo Hantunen, a veteran Finnish co-driver who accompanied the four times world champion much earlier in his career. Hantunen is substituting for Risto Mannisenmaki, who recently underwent a back operation after the pair's accident in Corsica and is not expected to return to the WRC until January at the earliest. Mitsubishi recently confirmed that François Delecour and Alister McRae will be its nominated drivers in 2002.

Quotes: Tommi Mäkinen said: "Risto is making a good, quick recovery even though his operation usually needs two months to completely clear. Fortunately I know Timo from before and his style is very similar to Risto's, so I don't think having a different navigator will make a big difference to our performance. I'm obviously still thinking about our win here last year before we were excluded - the aim is to do the same result, but this time the car is homologated^Å"

Freddy Loix said: "I only had one day of testing here for this rally and while we were able to do some basic work on the suspension and so forth, the fine-tuning of the differentials and transmission takes much longer and we just haven't had a chance to do that. It's going to be a tough rally for me with so little experience of this car on the loose."

SUBARU (4th- 55 points)

Technical: Subaru has introduced no major technical changes to its gravel-spec Imprezas since New Zealand. Petter Solberg has a brand new car at his disposal, however.

Sporting: Richard Burns and Petter Solberg are nominated for manufacturers' points, leaving Toshihiro Arai (navigated by local co-driver Glenn Macneall) eligible for drivers' points only. The Japanese driver didn't get off to a good start at yesterday's pre-event shakedown - a small accident left his mechanics with work to do before the start.

Quotes: Richard Burns said: "If you look at the last two years then I've got the best record on the final two events of the top three guys in the championship right now, so I think we can have some confidence of a title push. I wouldn't say that I'm any better off than Colin or Tommi just because I can't really think about 'settling' for a points finish. The bottom line is that they've got six points more than me, which I'd much rather have! I don't think it'll be easy for them here either, though."

Petter Solberg said: "It's going to be a tricky rally. The big key for me is probably the opening day - if we can get through that, stay out of trouble and then see where we are then maybe we can push. But the surface is so slippery here that you have to keep total concentration at all times."

SKODA (5th - 15 points)

Skoda is missing Rally Australia and will return to the world championship for its concluding round in Great Britain at the end of next month.

HYUNDAI (6th - 13 points)

Technical: Hyundai's Accent WRC2s will run to the same specification as in New Zealand. The team scrapped plans for a pre-event test in Australia when it became clear that swept-clean roads would not prepare them for running first on the road.

Sporting: Swedish driver Kenneth Eriksson returns to his regular Accent for this event, accompanying Alister McRae in Hyundai's nominations for manufacturers' points. McRae and navigator David Senior were lucky to escape injury in a bad accident during the pre-event reconnaissance, but both will take the start as planned.

Quotes: Kenneth Eriksson said: "I love this event and we did well here last year, but if we're running high up the field we'll have to sweep the loose gravel clear for the guys behind. The system is always going to be unfair to somebody and here it looks like it's going to be us. But we'll still be trying - it's great to get back behind the wheel after a while away."

Alister McRae said: "I think we'll probably be hampered by the seeding system, because it means we're more likely to be running first or second on the road on the opening day and it'll be hard to recover from the time we're bound to lose there. It's a shame really because the car was really good here last year and it's improved a lot since then."

CITROEN

After the debut win for the Xsara WRC in Corsica two weeks ago, Citroen is absent in Australia. The French manufacturer is currently deciding which events to tackle as part of its limited championship programme in 2002, and which drivers will form its team.

OTHER TEAMS

Outside of the manufacturer entries, two quick local World Rally Car drivers - Kiwi 'Possum' Bourne and Australian Neal Bates - can be expected to set respectable times in a Subaru Impreza and Toyota Corolla respectively. Australia is also the final round of the FIA Teams Cup, and reigning European champion Henrik Lundgaard holds a commanding 10-point advantage over fellow Toyota driver Pasi Hagstrom. The Finn could be expected to excel on the slippery Australian stages, however, and if he wins and Lundgaard fails to score then Hagstrom will be champion on a tie decider.

The Group N world championship for drivers of more standard vehicles has already been won by Argentine driver Gabriel Pozzo. If he's to celebrate his success with a class win in Australia he'll have to defeat not only his regular rivals Manfred Stohl and Marcos Ligato but also locals Cody Crocker and Ed Ordynksi, and Finns Juha Kangas and Marko Ipatti. Stohl faces a race against time to make the start, however, after he rolled at the pre-event shakedown yesterday.

TYRE FACTS

Tyre suppliers Michelin and Pirelli provide a number of options for their teams. Michelin (Mitsubishi, Hyundai and Peugeot) offers the Z for clear, hard ground, the ZA for damp or slightly loose surfaces and the ZE for soft, damp or loose gravel roads. Pirelli (Ford and Subaru) brings two types of tyre - the K for hard and compact surfaces and the KM for soft, loose gravel - although both options can be cut by hand in cases of extremely deep or soft soil.

-FIA/wrc-

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