Round four of the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship, the Spanish Rallye Catalunya, began at 1900hrs last night when cars crossed a ceremonial start ramp in the holiday resort of Lloret de Mar. But the real competitive action started this morning...
Round four of the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship, the Spanish Rallye Catalunya, began at 1900hrs last night when cars crossed a ceremonial start ramp in the holiday resort of Lloret de Mar. But the real competitive action started this morning at 0530hrs when 68 crews left parc ferme and made their way to the central service point at the Port Aventura theme park two hours south near Tarragona. Drivers started the leg in championship order - with 555 Subaru World Rally Team drivers Tommi Makinen and Petter Solberg running third and tenth respectively.
Leg one comprised six twisty, abrasive asphalt stages and a competitive distance of 177 kilometres - the longest leg of the rally. The weather was dry, clear and sunny, with temperatures in the high 20's centigrade.
After a dominating win two weeks go on the Corsican tarmac, Peugeot's Gilles Panizzi led the field once again in Spain. He won all of the day's stages and holds the overnight lead by 26 seconds, his teammate Richard Burns is second and Citroen's Philippe Bugalski third. Sebastien Loeb lies fourth and Marcus Gronholm fifth - completing an all French-manufacturer top-five.
The 555 Subaru World Rally Team's Petter Solberg had a day of mixed fortunes. He began by setting third fastest time on SS2 but was troubled with brake problems for much of the leg, which prevented him from driving to his true potential. One example came on SS3, where split-times showed him equal with World Champion Richard Burns for much of the 48km section, but a brake pedal problem 10km before the end cost him the fight. However, even with these setbacks he set top-ten times all day and holds overnight sixth place.
Team-mate Tommi Makinen also had his fair share of setbacks. Tommi lost time with a gearbox glitch early on, but on the final stage he slid off the road and into a ditch. He managed to get back on the road and finish the stage, but the incident cost him around two minutes. He holds overnight 12th place and will start tomorrow's stages fourth on the road.
SS1 0825hrs Riudecanyes 1 (12.66km)
Fastest Time: n/a
The first stage of the day was cancelled by rally organisers due to the volume of spectators lining the route. Crews drove through the stage as a road section and then continued straight to SS2.
SS2 0905hrs Pratdip 1 (27.65km)
Fastest Time: Panizzi (Peugeot) 16:37.8
A classic Rallye Catalunya stage. It started on a fast and open road which became narrower and twisty. The Peugeots dominated, with Gilles Panizzi, Richard Burns and Marcus Gronholm filling the top three spots. However, 555 SWRT driver Petter Solberg impressed on his Pirelli's by equalling Gronholm's time and sharing joint third. Citroen's Sebastien Loeb and Philippe Bugalski completed the top-six with Tommi Makinen seventh. Citroen's asphalt expert Jesus Puras suffered a brake problem and was unable to make the top twenty. Carlos Sainz appeared to be adjusting to stand in co-driver Marc Marti (Luis Moya is recovering from injuries sustained in a testing accident) and finished the stage eighth, just ahead of his Ford team-mates Markko Martin and Colin McRae.
SS3 1133hrs Escaladei 1 (48.05km)
Fastest Time: Panizzi (Peugeot) 29:17.6
The longest of the event at over 48km and a wider road than the first two stages, SS3 featured a real mixture of road characteristics. It was another good stage for the Peugeots and Citroens. Panizzi scored his second stage win of the day with Burns closely behind. They were followed by Bugalski and Loeb with the Ford's of McRae and Sainz rounding off the top six. Kenneth Eriksson of Skoda had a power steering problem and Hyundai's Armin Schwarz suffered a puncture. It was a difficult stage for the 555 SWRT drivers. Tommi Makinen encountered a gearbox problem and Petter Solberg had problems with the feeling of his brakes for much of the stage. 10km before the finish things took a turn for the worse for the Norwegian when his brake pedal became loose. Nevertheless the pair finished tenth and seventh respectively. In the service that followed Tommi's car received a new gearbox and Petter's a complete pedal box. Petter picked up a ten second penalty for checking out of service one minute late.
SS4 1418hrs Riudecanyes 2 (12.66km)
Fastest Time: Panizzi (Peugeot) 8:32.4
Stage four was a repeat of the cancelled stage one. The stage was open and fast at the beginning but featured plenty of tight and twisty sections later on. It was another Peugeot sweep with Panizzi taking his third consecutive win. Burns was second, Gronholm third, Loeb fourth and Bugalski fifth. Petter Solberg finished sixth, followed by the Ford trio of McRae, Martin and Sainz. Tommi Makinen was tenth. Mitsubishi driver Alister McRae lost almost a minute when one of his tyres slipped off the wheel rim.
SS5 1458hrs Pratdip 2 (27.65km)
Fastest Time: Panizzi (Peugeot) 16:44.2
Panizzi continued to dominate the event and claimed another win on the repeated SS2. Elsewhere, Peugeot's French compatriots Citroen had another boost on the 28km test. Philippe Bugalski, driving a Xsara WRC battled Burns for second place and took it by 2.6 seconds. Gronholm took fourth place behind his team-mate and Loeb finished fifth in another Xsara. The Subaru's of Petter Solberg and Tommi Makinen took sixth and seventh followed by Sainz and McRae. Freddy Loix brought his Hyundai into the top ten for the first time, finishing 1.6 seconds slower than Colin McRae. After the stage Tommi Makinen had moved up to ninth overall while Petter Solberg remained sixth.
SS6 1726hrs Escaladei 2 (48.05km)
Fastest Time: Panizzi Peugeot) 29:19.6
Escaladei 2, a repeat of stage three, nearly didn't happen when a forest fire caused gravel crews to halt their recce through the stage. However, the fire was eventually put out, and the stage went ahead with an eight minute delay. It was business as usual for Panizzi who scored his fifth consecutive win. Bugalski was second and Burns third. Loeb was fourth, closely followed by Colin McRae who scored his best result of the day in fifth. Marcus Gronholm was sixth followed by Martin and Sainz. Petter Solberg finished ninth but held sixth overall. Bad news though for Tommi Makinen. His Subaru left the road on a slippery corner and dropped into a ditch, although he managed to get back onto the road and complete the stage, the incident cost him around two minutes and dropped him from ninth to 12th. Citroen's Thomas Radstrom retired when broke a rear wheel of his Xsara WRC.
Tommi Makinen: "It's been quite a tough day. The car didn't feel too good at the start and we have had a lot of things to deal with. 40km into the last stage we slid on some gravel, the car went sideways and the rear spun out. There was a little damage to the front, and on the road section to service he engine got very hot. We managed to stop and find some water and filled the radiator. We have to now hope that the engine is okay - it did get very hot on the way back but it now we are leaving service and it seems okay. The incident on the stage was very frustrating, we had the corner marked as a clear but I suppose there was gravel from the cars in front and we just hit it. Overall it has not been one of my best days, I haven't been at 100% but tomorrow we will do what we can"
Petter Solberg: "It's been impossible to do any better today - maybe we could have been fifth in front of Marcus - we haven't had a clear run without any problems. It's been a long day and it's been very hard work. I've had to drive through the problems but it's been good learning. We're changing some small things in the notes for tomorrow. I don't have any experience of the stages but nothing is easy! I have to come through the rally, and hopefully we will have a bit more luck tomorrow. Some of the stages will be a little bit easier, we just need to start and see how it goes."
Technical Talk -- Brakes
Brakes are one of the most critical components on a tarmac event like Catalunya. 555 Subaru World Rally Team Principal Engineer, Pierre Genon, explained the pressure they are put under. "As there is a lot of grip, you push the brakes quite hard so there is a lot of energy to dissipate in the brakes. There is a lot of heat being generated and the stages are long, especially on the first leg. It is important that the temperatures do not keep going up and down and that they stabilise quite quickly. If the temperature keeps increasing the brakes will end up fading and losing power and performance."
The 555 Subaru World Rally Team use Alcon brakes on the World Rally cars. Andy Burton, Alcon's on-event technical adviser explained the Catalunyan challenge: "Running on tarmac means energy levels absorbed by the Alcon brakes are considerably greater than those experienced during rallies on other surfaces. Often, disc temperatures will reach extreme levels of up to 900ºC (road car discs would not survive much above 600ºC, at which point cast iron is starting to glow red). Alcon's tarmac pads are specially manufactured to offer possibly the highest temperature capability of any pad currently available. Their unique formulation gives phenomenal bite and braking power, even at temperatures at which other tarmac rally pads either fade or start to deposit heavily on the discs, which can give rise to a loss of performance and consistency."
* Front: 366x32mm curved vane, 24 groove brake discs mounted to aerospace grade aluminium mounting bells. 6 piston, 6 pad, monobloc (single piece) calipers featuring titanium pistons to give maximum strength at low weight and water-cooled to help reduce fluid temperatures by between 100-150ºC. Special Alcon compound brake pads
* Rear: 304x24mm curved vane, 6 groove brake discs mounted to aerospace grade aluminium mounting bells. As with the front calipers, titanium pistons are used but are air cooled to maintain optimum operating temperature. Special Alcon compound brake pads
Leg 2 starts tomorrow at 0800hrs when cars leave Lloret de Mar parc ferme. Saturday's leg comprises six special stages covering a total competitive distance of 112 kilometres. It will take the same format as today's stages, with three stages being run in the morning, then repeated in the afternoon. The top fifteen placed drivers at the end of today's leg will run the stages tomorrow in reverse order. The service area will change for leg two and three and will be located in the town of Manlleu, 84 kilometres north-west of Lloret de Mar.