BRC

Rally of Wales Volkswagen notes

Volkswagen hopeful after Welsh Rally battle Volkswagen's 1996 British Rally Championship campaign enjoyed an encouraging start March 22-23, with the team's Flying Finn drivers Tapio Laukkanen and Jouko Puhakka setting some stunning stage...

Volkswagen hopeful after Welsh Rally battle

Volkswagen's 1996 British Rally Championship campaign enjoyed an encouraging start March 22-23, with the team's Flying Finn drivers Tapio Laukkanen and Jouko Puhakka setting some stunning stage times in their Sony, Revolution Wheels and Pirelli-backed Golf GTI 16Vs on the first round of the series, the Rally of Wales.

Indeed Laukkanen proved himself virtually the only man capable of touching the championship-class victor of the rally, Gwyndaf Evans (Ford). The 26-year-old Finn tied with the fleet Welshman on times on two of the first day's special stages and was a consistent top-three runner throughout. Alas Laukkanen retired from second place with engine problems early on the second leg of the rally.

Said Tapio: "I damaged an oil cooler on some rough ground on the very first stage of the rally. We fixed it of course, but I think the engine sustained some damage and it let go on the 10th stage. I am very disappointed to have gone out, but at least we put up a good show and the signs are excellent for the rest of the season."

Team-mate Puhakka -- making his British rallying debut -- surprised many championship regulars with his pace. With no experience of forest stage rallying, limited testing time in his Trigard-liveried Golf GTI, and having not rallied a two-wheel-drive car for 10 years, even he did not expect to be so competitive. Said Jouko: "I have never been so nervous as I was before the start of this rally, but I have enjoyed it tremendously. It was tough having no experience of the stages, but the car is great to drive and I'm sure I can go quicker once I learn more about how it behaves."

Puhakka used the Golf's revolutionary seven-speed 'sequential-shift' gearbox to good effect, rarely dropping out of the top five championship contenders during Friday's stages. A minor ignition fault early on Day 2 cost him around nine minutes, but Puhakka fought back to eighth in the drivers' championship stakes by the finish in Chester and put Volkswagen into fifth place in the manufacturers' title race.

Overall winner in Wales was Alister McRae (Ford), with Evans heading home the contenders for the British Championship. Mark Higgins (Nissan) was second in the 2-litre division, and Jarmo Kytolehto (Ford) third.

Among the many casualties of the gruelling 360-mile Rally of Wales was the third car in the Volkswagen team, that of Ashley Blenkhorn (Louth). Said 26-year-old Blenkhorn: "It was a real disappointment -- a fuel line came adrift and, though we fixed that easily, petrol had flooded the engine and burned a hole in a piston. I'm not too disappointed, though, and I think we still have a good chance for amateur-class honours this year. The car felt great while it was going."

The team's next outing is on the Pirelli International Rally, second round of the Mobil 1/Top Gear RACMSA British Rally Championship, at the end of April. Steve Bagnall, manager of Volkswagen's rallying partner team, SBG Sport of Daventry, said: "We've had our problems in Wales but we've also shown what we can do. I'm confident that the Pirelli International will see Volkswagen challenging for a win."

Further backing for the Volkswagen team comes from Teboil, Siimesvaara and Brian James Trailers.

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Series BRC
Drivers Mark Higgins , Alister McRae , Gwyndaf Evans