Ford's Markko Martin ended the day at the top of the timesheets. The Estonian leads this fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship by 15.2 seconds from Peugeot driver Marcus Gronholm. Carlos Sainz had been on top through the second leg,...
Ford's Markko Martin ended the day at the top of the timesheets. The Estonian leads this fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship by 15.2 seconds from Peugeot driver Marcus Gronholm. Carlos Sainz had been on top through the second leg, until a misunderstanding between him and his co-driver led him to check in early to a control following the penultimate stage. The minute penalty he received dropped the Xsara driver back to third.
Gronholm's fight back was one of the stories of the day. He started the leg in sixth place and said this morning that his chances of winning this event were almost non-existent. By the end of the day it was a different story. Martin knows he's got a fight on his hands, and was concerned by gear selection problems aboard his Focus towards the end of the leg.
There was a good deal of confusion surrounding the rally throughout the day. The first two stages were cancelled due to spectators' misbehaving. The third stage was delayed for one hour and fifty minutes until the FIA safety delegate was happy with the crowds in the stages north of Villa Carlos Paz. The organisers decided to alter the route, dropping the final two stages from today and putting them in tomorrow morning.
Technical: Markko Martin was worried about a gear selection problem on his Focus through the middle loop of stages. Francois Duval's car was troubled by a slight misfire in SS19 and a brake problem in the last test of the day. Mikko Hirvonen's Focus RS WRC 02 was losing power through SS19.
Sporting: Markko Martin moved into the lead of the rally prior to SS20. He had dropped time in SS18 after hitting a bank and damaging the left-rear tyre one kilometre into the stage. Duval dropped one place to Solberg early in the day. He wasn't happy with his pace notes on some of the day's tests and admitted he had been making changes as he was competing on the stages.
Markko Martin said: "I was worried about the gearbox in the middle loop. It wasn't the same as the problem that we had with the selection yesterday, but all the same I was trying to make sure that I didn't change gear as much as I would normally have done. Marcus is closing in, sure it's going to be a big fight tomorrow."
Francois Duval said: "On the road section I noticed the misfire was there, but when we got into the stage and went into second gear it seemed to clear itself. Earlier today we broke the windscreen in the car, but I'm not sure how. On that last stage the brakes went five kilometres from the end, there was nothing -- not even the handbrake.
Mikko Hirvonen said: "Today has been okay. Running first on the road hasn't helped us much, we've been finding all of the slippery places. There are parts of the stage which are covered in small stones, they are quite bad. The water temperature was going up in stage 19, so the engine could have gone into a safe mode -- which would have explained the engine losing a little power."
Technical: Richard Burns' Peugeot 206 WRC ran without mechanical fault today, while Marcus Gronholm's car suffered a leaking rear differential for three stages. The steering rack was bent on Harri Rovanpera's car for stages 17, 18 and 19.
Sporting: Gronholm moved up from sixth place to third through today's stages, closing and eventually passing his team-mate Burns who dropped to fourth on the final stage of the day. Rovanpera has dropped back from fourth to sixth place.
Marcus Gronholm said: "I noticed a noise coming from the differential when we left service earlier this afternoon, then it started to leak oil. I don't know how much time it cost us, not much I don't think. I am still driving at 100 per cent, but we will have to see what we can do tomorrow -- maybe the win is possible."
Richard Burns said: "I felt that I drove well in the stage near to Carlos Paz, but we didn't seem to get much reward for our effort -- it's a bit demoralising. This has been a strange rally. We got up really early this morning, but never actually did anything until the afternoon."
Harri Rovanpera said: "I remember hitting one stone in the braking area for a corner half way through stage 17, after that the steering wasn't right. It feels like the rack is bent. The problem has certainly cost us time today."
Technical: Sebastien Loeb retired from the rally, sliding his Xsara WRC off the road on SS20. Carlos Sainz's car was reliable, while Colin McRae retired yesterday when his Xsara caught fire.
Sporting: Sainz dropped from the lead of the rally to third place prior to the final stage of the day. He was penalised one minute for going into a time control one minute early. The Spaniard is now 8.1 seconds behind Marcus Gronholm in second place and 15.2 seconds off the leader Markko Martin. Loeb was lying fifth when he went off the road. Neither Loeb or his co-driver Daniel Elena were injured and the damage to the car was reported to be light.
Carlos Sainz said: "The reason I booked in early for the control was because of a misunderstanding between my co-driver and myself. I thought Marc was waving me in to the control, but actually he was telling me to stay where I was. Obviously it is disappointing, but we will fight tomorrow and see what we can do. Up until then we had a good day, there hadn't been any problems and the car was -- and still is -- running fine."
Technical: Petter Solberg's car has run reliably today, while Tommi Makinen has complained of a transmission noise. The team changed the gearbox at second service today and the rear differential at the third service.
Sporting: Solberg moved past Duval early in the leg and held sixth place for the remainder of the day. The Norwegian driver admitted that given the big gap between himself and fifth-placed Harri Rovanpera, this was all he could do. Makinen has also been making up time following his time-consuming transmission problems yesterday. Makinen started the day in 19th spot, but had climbed to the fringes of the top ten by the end of the day.
Petter Solberg said: "I'm still not completely happy with the new suspension on the car, it's taken me longer to get used to it than I thought it would. It's getting better all of the time, but I'm still not as confident with it as Tommi is. Today hasn't been a bad day, though."
Tommi Makinen said: "I'm annoyed that I had to drive all three stages this morning, going flat out, then we only get a time for the third stage. Everybody else has driven that stage on tyres which are almost new, but mine were well used. The noise from the transmission was bad, but we're not sure what caused it -- so the team have been changing parts on the car through the day."
Technical: Armin Schwarz's Accent WRC3 has struggled to keep the durability of his shock absorbers through today's stages. It has also developed a differential problem, causing the rear differential to lose its effectiveness. Freddy Loix retired the team's other Accent yesterday with a broken turbo boost sensor.
Sporting: Schwarz moved up one place today. The differential problem caused him a half-spin on the final stage, while his windscreen was smashed by spectators throwing rocks on the previous test.
Armin Schwarz said: "The shock absorber problem is just the same as yesterday. If the stage is really bumpy then we can start to lose the shocks after maybe three kilometres. The problem with the differential, starts when it gets hot. It is bad in some of the corners, it's like driving a rear-wheel-drive car, we have to wait before we can get on the throttle."
Technical: Toni Gardemeister's Octavia suffered an a broken front-left driveshaft on SS16 this morning and then differential problems with the car on stages 17, 18 and 19. The shock absorbers went soft on Didier Auriol's car through the loop of the three stages this afternoon.
Sporting: Auriol maintained his tenth position today, while Gardemeister's hopes of catching his team-mate were dealt a serious blow by the transmission troubles which beset his Octavia. He remained 11th but dropped time to Auriol. The diff problem was fixed, but Gardemeister felt something had broken on the rear suspension of the car through the final stage.
Didier Auriol said: "When we had the problem with the shock absorbers going hard, the car started bouncing around so much. My arms were really aching at the end of the loop of three stages."
Toni Gardemeister said: "I am not happy at all. The driveshaft went three kilometres into the stage -- it was so annoying because I was trying like hell to catch Didier. Then the centre differential locked solid for the next three. It was so bad, in the twisty parts of the stage the car has been so difficult to drive. In the last stage the car was sliding a little bit too much."
Japan's Toshi Arai continued to lead the way in the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship. The Subaru driver enjoyed a trouble-free day and held a comfortable lead over Britain's Niall McShea. McShea's Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6 was down on power after damaging the turbo on the opening leg. In addition to that his car suffered a bent rear wishbone later in the day. Reigning Production Car champion Karamjit Singh moved his Proton Pert up the order throughout the day, ending the leg 19.2 seconds off the back of his rival.