Summary Round three of the 2002 World Rally Championship, the Tour de Corse, got underway this morning at 0800hrs when 61 cars crossed the start ramp in the coastal town of Ajaccio. Ahead of them lay five competitive stages on the mountainous...
Round three of the 2002 World Rally Championship, the Tour de Corse, got underway this morning at 0800hrs when 61 cars crossed the start ramp in the coastal town of Ajaccio.
Ahead of them lay five competitive stages on the mountainous tarmac roads in the countryside to the north-east. Today's weather presented drivers with some tricky conditions. It started dry and bright, but as the day went on clouds gathered and heavy rain fell on the final stage (SS5)
French tarmac specialist Gilles Panizzi won four of the day's five stages, and despite a slow time in the rain on SS5, he holds the lead of the rally tonight.
Together with Panizzi, 555 Subaru World Rally Team driver Petter Solberg was the other sensation of the day. A string of top-three finishes saw him third overall by SS3, and although a spin on the fourth dropped him down to sixth, he remains in a strong position to fight for a better position tomorrow.
Petter's teammate Tommi Makinen had a trouble-free day and concentrated on getting more familiar with the Impreza on tarmac and developing his driving rhythm. Nevertheless, the Finn holds an excellent fourth place tonight and with more of the rainy stages he prefers in prospect tomorrow he is well placed too.
SS1 0856hrs Cuttoli - Peri (17.72km)
Fastest Time: Panizzi (Peugeot) 11:33.3
Peugeot's tarmac expert, Gilles Panizzi, was quickest on the opening stage of the rally with Subaru's Petter Solberg in hot pursuit just behind in second. Marcus Gronholm was third and Richard Burns fourth. Tommi Makinen was fifth but was slowed a little due to an administrative error - his pace notes marked the end of the stage some 100 metres before the actual finish line... Weather conditions were fine, but although the road surface was largely dry there were still some damp patches under the trees. Hyundai works driver Tomasz Kuchar became the first retirement of the event - the throttle of his Accent jammed open and heavy use of the brakes caused them to catch fire.
SS2 0944hrs Ocana - Radicale (28.64km)
Fastest Time: Panizzi (Peugeot) 7:26.1
Same top three - slightly different order. Panizzi was quickest again, but this time Gronholm was second and the leading Subaru of Solberg third. Once again Burns and Makinen were fourth and fifth respectively. As the temperature rose, so the road dried and there were fewer damp spots on the second stage. After the finish line, crews returned to Ajaccio and the central service.
SS3 1155hrs Petreto - Ampaza (36.73km)
Fastest Time: (Panizzi) Peugeot 23:45.0
The longest stage of the rally saw Panizzi make it three wins in a row, while Petter kept the pressure on with another third top-three result. But the surprise of the stage came from works Citroen driver Philippe Bugalski. After an unremarkable first couple of stages the Frenchman lived up to his tarmac-ace reputation by finishing second in a privately entered Xsara WRC. Bugalski, who was down in 17th place overall after SS1, moved up to 7th. By the end of SS3 Panizzi retained the overall lead by a margin of 13 seconds from Gronholm in second. Petter was two seconds back in third. After the stage crews headed back to Ajaccio for a 20-minute service ahead of the final two stages of the day.
SS4 1404hrs Cuttoli - Peri (17.72km)
Fastest Time: Panizzi (Peugeot) 11:33.0
A Peugeot 1, 2, 3. Panizzi kept himself in the lead with his fourth consecutive win, Gronholm was second and Burns third. But after such an encouraging start to the rally there was a set-back for Petter Solberg when he spun his Subaru soon after the start line. His car suffered damage to its front bumper and left-hand rear suspension. The rear wheel struck a rock face side-on and the force broke the trailing link on the left-hand side. The wheel was knocked out of alignment and he lost around 50 seconds - dropping from third to sixth overall.
SS5 1452hrs Ocana - Radicale (28.64m)
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 7:57.8
All cars left service before SS4 on dry tyres, but the start of SS5 was marked by a heavy rain shower that drenched the road and altered Peugeot's fortunes. Marcus Gronholm took the win, but Burns and Panizzi could only manage 11th and 12th places in the slippery conditions. Ford's Carlos Sainz was second, with his young teammate Francois Duval third. Armin Schwarz seemed to enjoy the wet surface and was fourth for Hyundai. Petter Solberg and co-driver Phil Mills made some roadside repairs to their Subaru after SS4, and strapped the rear suspension so it was as straight as possible. Even driving with this penalty Petter beat all but five of the works-team drivers and made it back to service in one piece.
Petter Solberg: "On stage four we hit some gravel and spun, it wasn't a big impact but we had to take things steady for the rest of that one. I tried to drive cleanly through SS5, just accelerating on the straights, but the car was not so nice to drive. Overall I've had a very good day but I would have a bigger smile on my face if I hadn't gone off. We expect it to rain tomorrow morning and hopefully we can get back some time there, but for the moment we're still in the points."
Tommi Makinen: "OK, at least we're here at the end of the day. The last few years have not been so good for me. Although I'm quite happy it's not been so easy. I've made some little mistakes and on the long stage I found it quite difficult just getting to know the new car and the new tyres. We're in a good position for tomorrow it could be quite interesting with the rain."
Technical talk - Homologation and the Impreza WRC2002
* Each WRC manufacturer can homologate one new version of their World Rally car each year. For the 555 Subaru World Rally Team the latest evolution of it's Subaru Impreza WRC, the 2002, is making its debut in Corsica.
* The Impreza WRC2002 is an evolution of last year's car and features a number of subtle modifications designed to enhance its performance. Most noticeably the car has a revised front splitter fitted with a flexible lip that helps it generate more downforce. Under the skin however there are other changes including a new flywheel, throttle body, exhaust manifold and a modified turbo-charger.
* The final homologation process took place on February 27th when two FIA inspectors and a neutral observer visited the team's UK base to inspect the new car. As part of the compliance process they were shown 20 WRC2002 cars in kit form which they checked against the WRC regulations.
* Engines and ancillary components (like turbo-chargers) are also subject to the annual homologation process.
* Once a new car and engine have been homologated and used on a WRC event, manufacturer teams are prevented from using earlier homologated cars or engines in the championship.
* Other parts like transmissions, brakes and suspension units are referred to as 'variant options' and are subject to a different homologation process. The FIA homologate new 'VO's, as they are known, four times during the year and typically each team will put forward a batch of new components each time. Once homologated, teams are free to use the new parts in competition, or swap them for the previous units.
Starts at 0800hrs when crews leave the overnight Parc Ferme in Ajaccio. After a 20-minute service at the complex near the city's airport they will travel out into the hills for seven more special stages. Comprising 150 competitive kilometres, leg two is the longest of the rally and begins with a re-run of the 36km Petreto stage.