WRC

Acropolis: Leg two report

Saturday, 15th June 2002 Ford driver Colin McRae holds the overnight lead on the seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Acropolis Rally, which continued today. The Scot took over the top position when his young team-mate Markko...

Saturday, 15th June 2002

Ford driver Colin McRae holds the overnight lead on the seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Acropolis Rally, which continued today. The Scot took over the top position when his young team-mate Markko Martin had to stop to change a flat tyre on the day's longest stage, and McRae enjoys a 33-second cushion over fellow Briton Richard Burns.

Yet again, the rough Greek roads have inflicted a surprisingly small amount of damage on the manufacturer entries, with only one retirement (Hyundai's Juha Kankkunen). But the re-use of stretches of road has caused concerns about tyre wear and suspension, and placed mechanical strength at a premium as several close battles in the top ten moved towards the final day.

FORD

Technical: The Focus RS WRC02s of Colin McRae and Markko Martin have all been reliable today, although Martin lost time when he suffered a right-rear puncture and had to stop to change the wheel in SS9. Sainz lost time in the day's final stage when his car's gearbox stuck and then began to select gears of its own accord. The Spaniard had to stop and change the unit back to manual mode before he could continue.

Sporting: Markko Martin started today's stages expecting a strong challenge from his team-mate Colin McRae and the Scot quickly grabbed just over two seconds from his overnight advantage in the day's opening stage. Martin fought back, though, taking nearly six seconds from McRae in SS8 to hold a lead of just under a minute at the day's second service. However, in the long Elatia stage Martin punctured a right-rear tyre and the rubber began to damage the rear of the car, so he stopped to change the wheel. The resulting time loss handed the lead to McRae (who'd passed Freddy Loix in the opening stage) and dropped Martin out of the points. He ended the day eighth and embroiled in a fight with Petter Solberg and Sebastien Loeb. McRae, meanwhile, consolidated his lead to eke out a 33s cushion over Richard Burns. Carlos Sainz lost a place to Marcus Grönholm this morning but the Spaniard in turn moved past Harri Rovanperä in the day's longest stage. Gearbox problems cost him time in the last stage of the day, but he still holds fourth overnight, albeit more than 45 seconds off a podium place.

Quotes: Colin McRae said: "Today moved things back in our direction but regardless of what happened with Markko, we're still involved in the same battle with the people behind us. We've just got to keep them behind tomorrow."

Markko Martin said: "We had about 12km to go in the long stage and I felt the tyre at the right-rear start to go down. Then the rubber was moving around - I tried to carry on for about another two kilometres but it was going to do some serious damage so we had to stop to change the wheel. We don't carry a nut gun because of weight, so we had to use the wheel brace and it took some extra time. Then when we got going again, we'd just been passed by Bruno Thiry so we had to drive in his dust."

PEUGEOT

Technical: The 206 WRCs of Richard Burns, Harri Rovanperä and Marcus Grönholm have been reliable today, although the team is to inspect Rovanperä's differentials at this evening's service after he suffered excessive tyre wear for much of the day.

Sporting: Richard Burns was determined to make quick progress on cleaner roads this morning and the reigning world champion soon moved clear of both his team-mate Harri Rovanperä and Ford's Carlos Sainz. His third position then became second when Markko Martin hit trouble, so Burns will start tomorrow's final leg 33s behind Colin McRae. Marcus Grönholm also passed Sainz and Rovanperä this morning and he closed to within 10 seconds of his team-mate, in third overall. Rovanperä lost time with tyres coming off their rims in both SS8 and SS9. He dropped to sixth as a result.

Quotes: Marcus Grönholm said: "I don't have such a good feeling here with the roads and it's easy for me to find places where I can slide wide, get into the loose gravel and lose more time. I felt more comfortable on the second runs over stages, though, and I think we can fight for second tomorrow."

Richard Burns said: "It's been going well today. I chose a different tyre compound this morning and it gave me a bit more grip, so I was really able to attack. The gap between Colin and me is quite big and it's going to be hard to keep Marcus behind tomorrow. Our aim is to secure second."

HYUNDAI

Technical: Armin Schwarz's Accent WRC3 was reliable until today's final pair of stages, when a brake calliper connector broke. Team mate Freddy Loix's car lost oil from its left-front damper in the long stage, giving the Belgian a difficult-handling car for the last six kilometres of the stage. Juha Kankkunen retired this morning, meanwhile, when the team changed the car's wiring loom in a final attempt to solve the Finnish veteran's engine problems. Upon leaving service Kankkunen reported no improvement and Hyundai elected to withdraw him. The team now suspects a problem with the engine's valves or valve seats.

Sporting: Armin Schwarz has struggled with a badly-upset stomach today, although the German put his slower pace this morning down to a tyre choice that left him short of grip. He and Loix also complained of a lack of power in places, particularly in the steep uphill section at the start of SS8. Schwarz was hit by late brake problems too and he slipped back outside the top ten to 11th, while Loix (who also lost more time with a leaking front damper in SS9) holds fifth. The third Accent driver Juha Kankkunen was withdrawn this morning when the Hyundai team elected to search for the engine problem that had blighted his efforts since yesterday, instead of risking an engine failure and a loss of crucial information.

Quotes: Freddy Loix said: "The uphill sections were really hard, because we almost had to change down to first gear and when you do that, you get lots more wheelspin and it hurts the tyres. This is still a long event, though, and we're still in with a good chance of some points."

CITROEN

Technical: The Xsara WRCs of Thomas Radstrom and Sebastien Loeb have been generally reliable today.

Sporting: Thomas Radstrom and Sebastien Loeb continue to experiment with settings on their Xsara WRCs, and although neither has reported a serious mechanical problem they have not been able to match the pace of the leading Fords or Subarus. Sebastien Loeb holds ninth in his example, while Thomas Radstrom has tried to use the car's traction control today to learn more about the Xsara's behaviour in rough conditions. He occupies 10th overnight.

Quotes: Thomas Radstrom said: "We've been experimenting with the traction control today and sometimes it's worked, but on one occasion we had the wrong differential mapping the car was actually worse. It seems like we're doing a test but it's really difficult to find a lot of these things when you're not driving on the stages themselves. I'm feeling more comfortable with each stage, though - it's good to have already gone further here than last year."

MITSUBISHI

Technical: Lancer Evo WRC drivers Alister McRae and François Delecour have reported no major mechanical problems today, although both suffered from considerable tyre wear in the final pair of (repeated) stages.

Sporting: Neither Alister McRae or François Delecour has complained of mechanical problems today, but the two team-mates have become drawn into a battle between themselves, albeit outside of the top 10. McRae held the upper hand going into the last stage but he was then slowed by the recovering Toshihiro Arai. He arrived back in Parnassos in 13th. Delecour felt he 'was sleeping' on the opening test this morning but inched ahead of his team-mate in SS12 to end the day in 12th.

Quotes: Alister McRae said: "We've pretty much gone the full circle in terms of what we can try with the set-up of this car, and we've actually ended up where we started. It's not going too badly and we seem to have found some good reliability, but obviously we need to find a bit more speed as well. I want to get back past François tomorrow, though!"

SUBARU

Technical: Petter Solberg's Impreza WRC2002 has suffered few problems today, although the Norwegian's steering wheel came loose in SS8 and he lost time while navigator Phil Mills took a break from reading pacenotes to try to find the car's toolkit and fix the problem. The other Impreza, driven by Japanese driver Toshihiro Arai, lost its power steering for the closing 20km of the day's longest stage, Elatia and he then had to stop to change a wheel on the day's closing stage. Sporting: Petter Solberg had little to gain or lose by throwing caution to the wind this morning, and the young Norwegian attacked accordingly. He set fastest time on the opening stage, but then lost a few seconds when his steering wheel came loose in SS8. He was then caught in the recovering Markko Martin's dust in SS9. His pace was enough to lift him from his overnight 17th to seventh at the end of today's action. Toshihiro Arai lost time when his power steering failed this morning and he stopped to change a puncture in SS12, but the Japanese driver still occupies 20th.

Quotes: Petter Solberg said: "I've been happy today. The car has felt good and my pacenotes have been working well, so I've been able to push quite hard and see how my times compare to the guys who are fighting for the win. It's just a shame that we had the problems yesterday, because otherwise we could be there fighting with them."

SKODA

Technical: Kenneth Eriksson's Octavia lost front differential pressure on today's second stage, and team-mate Stig Blomqvist's front differential started leaking fluid this morning as well. Eriksson then broke a shock absorber near the end of SS9, and the Swede was suitably pleased when the following test was cancelled due to safety reasons. He had to stop to change a wheel in SS11, though. Toni Gardmeister's Octavia also hit differential problems (front and rear) in the closing two stages.

Sporting: After Juha Kankkunen's retirement, Toni Gardemeister had to run first on the road today but he didn't find conditions radically different. He holds 16th overnight, despite late differential problems. Team-mate Kenneth Eriksson was troubled by a front differential problem and a broken shock absorber, and he then had to stop and change a wheel in SS11. That dropped him to 18th overnight. Stig Blomqvist has been forced to switch tyre types because the Skoda team is running low on stock of his preferred choice. That, coupled with a leaking front differential, kept the 1984 world champion in 22nd.

Quotes: Toni Gardemeister said: "I thought it would be really bad to be first on the road but in fact, it hasn't been such a big difference. Even in some places it might be better, because it's really hard and technical to keep the car in the clean line after just one car and at least now, I can attack with my own lines."

OTHER ENTRIES

François Duval's lead in the Junior World Rally Championship evaporated when his Ford Puma sheered its wheel studs this morning. The Belgian retired on the spot, handing the category advantage to Finns Janne Tuohino and Jussi Valimaki (who was slowed by an electrical problem). Valimaki inched ahead in the final two stages to lead his countryman by 8.4 seconds going into tomorrow's final leg. The Greek roads have inflicted a high rate of attrition on the front-wheel drive cars - only eight of the Junior entries are still running.

-fia-

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