Round six of the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship, Rally Argentina, got underway last night when 68 cars crossed the ceremonial start ramp in a carnival atmosphere in the centre of Carlos Paz. The rally started in earnest this morning as crews...
Round six of the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship, Rally Argentina, got underway last night when 68 cars crossed the ceremonial start ramp in a carnival atmosphere in the centre of Carlos Paz.
The rally started in earnest this morning as crews headed up into the mountain roads to the north and west of Cordoba for nine competitive stages. The roads presented drivers with a tricky blend of fast, smooth and sandy roads with narrow, rock-strewn tracks.
Weather conditions were overcast and cool, with a mixture of dry and damp stages in the morning. By end of the day however patches of dense fog played a major part in the action and levels of visibility changed minute by minute. As expected, thousands of spectators lined the rally route, but the number on SS1 was deemed unsafe and the stage was cancelled.
At the end of the first day of competition, Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm leads the rally with 555 Subaru World Rally Team driver Tommi Makinen pushing hard in second. Richard Burns is third with Tommi's Subaru teammate Petter Solberg six seconds behind in fourth.
With the 555 Subaru team providing the only real challenge to the Peugeots today, both Tommi and Petter are eagerly anticipating a re-match on tomorrow's leg which is a complete repeat of today's.
SS1 0833hrs Capilla del Monte - San Marcos Sierra (23.02km)
Despite stopping stage access at 0430hrs this morning, thousands of spectators had already made it to the roadside on SS1. The crowds were so large along the opening 4kms that organisers cancelled the stage for safety reasons. Crews drove directly to SS2.
SS2 0904hrs San Marcos Sierra - Cuchi Corral (26.97km)
Current championship leader Marcus Gronholm was quickest through the first competitive stage and opened up a slender six-second lead over 555 Subaru World Rally Team driver Tommi Makinen who was second. Tommi's team-mate Petter Solberg was third, Harri Rovanpera fourth and Richard Burns fifth. Although weather conditions were grey, cloudy and threatened rain, the stage was completely dry. Dust clouds, kicked up by leading cars caused visibility problems for many competitors, especially when they hung in the air in areas sheltered from the wind. There were no retirements, but Carlos Sainz got off to a difficult start when the power-steering on his Ford Focus failed eight kilometres from the finish - the Spaniard suffered a similar problem on the first leg in Cyprus. After the single stage, crews headed back to the service area at La Cumbre.
SS3 1054hrs Cosquin - Villa Allende (19.19km)
Regarded by many to be the most spectacular stage of the event. The route started with a five kilometre uphill section from Cosquin, followed by a long descent towards Villa Allende. The final section was extremely fast and twisty with numerous hairpins and bridge crossings to tackle. Once again Peugeot and Subaru held all the places in the top five. Gronholm was fastest, with Burns second, Makinen third, Rovanpera fourth and Solberg fifth.
On the overall table, Gronholm extended his lead over second-placed Makinen to 15 seconds. Rovanpera held third, while Burns and Solberg were separated by less than one second in fourth and fifth respectively. Hyundai driver Armin Schwarz lost around six minutes when his car left the road and broke a wheel - he dropped from 10th overall to 34th.
SS4 1207hrs Super Special stage, Pro-racing Lane A (3.44km)
SS5 1207hrs Super Special stage, Pro-racing Lane B (3.44km)
The Super-Special stage at the Pro-Racing complex near Carlos Paz is always a favourite with spectators - last year more than 40,000 turned up to follow the action. Although today's times didn't alter the overall positions significantly, Gronholm took his third consecutive win on SS4, and Makinen his first of the rally on SS5. The top five remained unchanged and there were no retirements, although with two cars tackling the stage head-to-head, there was plenty of gravel flying around, and Solberg and Makinen were among many crews who collected windscreen damage.
SS6 1312hrs Tanti - Cosquin (16.07km)
Burns was quickest and took his first win of the rally. Tommi Makinen was second for Subaru with the Peugeot pairing of Rovanpera and Gronholm third and fourth. Freddy Loix was fifth fastest in his Hyundai Accent WRC - a performance that moved him up to ninth overall.
SS7 1312hrs La Falda - Villa Giardino (9.37km)
Tight at the top - Gronholm was quickest, with Makinen 0.4 sec behind and Burns 0.6 sec further back. On the overall table, the gap between leader Gronholm and his Finnish compatriot Tommi Makinen remained consistent - at 16.5 secs it was less than a second more than after SS3. Mitsubishi's Francois Delecour became the first works-team casualty. The Frenchman's Lancer clipped a rock and rolled, but although he was able to re-join the road, the car sustained terminal suspension damage in the crash and he retired.
SS8 1513hrs La Cumbre - Agua de Oro (23.46km)
Pockets of dense fog descended onto SS8 before the start and these were to have a major impact on the times on the 23km section. Marcus Gronholm was first through and continued to dominate the event, he recorded his fifth stage-win and stretched his lead by 45 seconds. Burns was second-fastest with Panizzi third. Tommi Makinen was slowed with a gearbox glitch that restricted his car to 4th, 5th and 6th gears only. Although he was able fix the problem before the next stage, he dropped time and slipped to third overall behind Burns. Rovanpera was one of the drivers to suffer a bad dose of fog on SS8, his time was 1 minute 40 secs slower than Gronholm's and he dropped from 4th to 6th overall. Solberg put in another solid top-5 time and rose to fourth overall. Juha Kankkunen's chances of collecting points took a hit when his Hyundai slid off the road and got stuck. He did get going eventually, but lost almost seven minutes and dropped from 7th to 15th.
SS9 1605hrs Asochinga - La Cumbre (28.83km)
With more patches of dense fog swirling around the stage, SS9 proved to be another lucky-dip for many drivers and times reflected this. Hyundai's Freddy Loix was the surprise winner and there were other excellent results from Skoda's Toni Gardemeister (4th) his teammate Gabrielle Pozzo (7th) and Production cup driver Toshihiro Arai (9th) who finished ahead of eight WRC drivers in his Group N Impreza. Gronholm was second-quickest with Tommi Makinen just behind in third. The Subaru driver was 40 seconds quicker than Richard Burns and re-took second place overall. Solberg made time too and at the end of day held fourth place, just 6 seconds off Burns in third. After his accident earlier in the leg, a fuel pressure problem finally brought Armin Schwarz's rally to an end. In a last-minute drama, the engine in Gilles Panizzi's 206 WRC failed on the way to final service and he checked-in 8 minutes late. The Frenchman collected 1min 20secs of penalty time and dropped from 7th to 11th overall.
"I have to be happy with second place after the end of the first day. It could have been a little bit better without the problem we had on SS8 when we did lose quite a bit of time. But it's been encouraging too, I've had a good feeling in the car and I think I drove well in the foggy conditions. I'm not surprised by Marcus's times, - I think we can make similar or better times tomorrow on the repeated stages."
"It's been a difficult day for me. I've had a very bad stomach-ache and my feeling on the stages has been OK but not 100%. But I'm still up there and I'm happy with that - I just haven't had the chance to attack it properly. I should be ok tomorrow, it's a long day again and I have the benefit of knowing the stages better which should put me a good position."