Following last night's Super Special Stage, seventy-seven competitors left the service area in Jyvaskyla in bright sunshine this morning to continue round nine of the 2002 World Rally Championship - the Neste Rally of Finland. Famous for its ...
Following last night's Super Special Stage, seventy-seven competitors left the service area in Jyvaskyla in bright sunshine this morning to continue round nine of the 2002 World Rally Championship - the Neste Rally of Finland.
Famous for its spectacular jumps, blind crests and some of the highest speeds in the Championship, the Rally is run on the smooth and sweeping compact gravel roads near the university town. One of the most specialised events in the WRC season, only two non-Scandinavian drivers have ever claimed victory in its entire 51-year history. It's a firm favourite with the fans and thousands of spectators lined the forest roads from the early hours this morning to watch their heroes hurtle through the scenery.
Today's action was dominated by the performance of the Peugeot team. Between them, works drivers Harri Rovanpera, Marcus Gronholm and Richard Burns won nine of the Leg's ten stages and the two Finns and Current World Champion jostled at the top of the leader board throughout the day. Burns holds the overnight lead of the rally 12 seconds ahead of Rovanpera with Gronholm 9.9 seconds further back in third. After an excellent day on the stages Petter Solberg of the 555 Subaru World Rally Team holds fourth place, and the honour of being the best placed non-Peugeot driver, while Ford's Colin McRae is 4.5 seconds back and rounds off the top-five. Petter's Subaru team-mate Tommi Mäkinen put in a good performance, but struggled to find the speed necessary to battle the leaders. He'll start tomorrow in eighth place.
SS1 1900hrs (Thursday) Killeri 1 (2.06km)
Fastest time: Burns (Peugeot) 1:16.7
It's often said that you can't win a rally on a Super Special Stage but you certainly lose one. But there were no serious upsets on SS1 yesterday evening at the first stage of the Rally. The 2.6km sprint around the horse-trotting track at Killeri saw the drivers compete two at a time in front of nearly 25,000 fans. As darkness fell in Jyvaskyla, Richard Burns was quickest, ahead of Subaru's Petter Solberg and Ford's Carlos Sainz, who tied for 2nd just 0.8 seconds behind. A steady run by Colin McRae saw him finish 4th for Ford, followed by local hero Marcus Gronholm who was 5th for Peugeot. His compatriot Tommi Mäkinen was 12th.
SS2 0906hrs Valkola (8.42km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 4:27.9
Finns Marcus Gronholm and his team-mate Harri Rovanpera seemed keen to fulfil the often quoted cliché that local knowledge is the key to success in this event and the two Peugeot drivers finished SS2 in 1st and 2nd place respectively. Putting pressure on the local-boys, Colin McRae finished 0.5 seconds back in 3rd. Richard Burns was 5th behind local driver Juuso Pykalisto - to make it a trio of Peugeot's in the top five - and Subaru's Petter Solberg was 6th. Fortunately, there was no repeat of last year's drama for Tommi Mäkinen who drove solidly through the short Valkola stage and finished 17th.
SS3 0949hrs Lankamaa 1 (23.44km)
Fastest time: Burns (Peugeot) 11:28.7
The day's first run of the long Lankamaa stage saw Richard Burns snatch his second stage win of the event - yet by a slender margin. He completed the stage just 1.7 seconds ahead of team-mate Gronholm who remained in the overall lead. The Finns continued to capitalise on their local knowledge and Pykalisto was third, Rovanpera fourth and compatriot Sebastian Lindholm, driving for Peugeot Sport Finland, 5th. In the 555 Subaru camp, Petter Solberg flew through the Finnish forests to complete the stage 9th quickest, with Tommi Mäkinen close behind in 10th - at the end of the stage they lay 6th and 12th overall. Ford's Markko Martin was 16th after picking up a bad tyre vibration shortly after the start.
SS4 1037hrs Laukaa 1 (11.80km)
Fastest time: Rovanpera (Peugeot) 5:47.0
A shorter stage - but a similar battle at the top. This time the quickest of the flying-Finns was Harri Rovanpera who clinched his first stage win of the day finishing just 0.3 seconds in front of Burns. Gronholm put in another blistering stage time to finish third but his speed wasn't enough to prevent his team-mates, Burns and Rovanpera, from leap-frogging him on the overall leader board into 1st and 2nd respectively. Less than 3 seconds separated the three Peugeot drivers at the end of SS4. A seemingly trouble-free stage for Markko Martin after his predicament on SS3 - the young Estonian completed the stage 5th quickest with Subaru's Tommi Mäkinen 7th and Solberg 12th. After the stage, the crews headed back to the Service Park at the Paviljonki complex.
SS5 1234hrs Mokkipera (13.38km)
Fastest time: Burns (Peugeot) 6:22.6
One of the fans' favourites, the Mokkipera stage provides a bit of everything the Finland Rally is famous for - high speeds, blind crests and multiple jumps. Burns raced through to secure another stage win and extend his overall lead to more than 3 seconds. Hot on his heels was team-mate Gronholm and Rovanpera 3rd as the trio continued to dominate the leader board. A consistent performance from 555 Subaru star Petter Solberg netted him 5th place on the stage and 6th, while Tommi finished 9th.
SS6 1312hrs Palsankyla (25.48km)
Fastest time: Burns (Peugeot) 13:33.0
Richard Burns flew through the Palsankyla stage - the longest of the day - to notch up his 4th stage win of the event and move 6.2 seconds clear at the top of table. Rovanpera and Gronholm continued Peugeot's good fortune and finished seconds behind to take 2nd and 3rd - despite Rovanpera suffering a puncture mid-stage. Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz finished 4th and 5th for Ford while Petter Solberg, who also picked up a puncture 6km from the end of the stage, was 6th in his Impreza WRC2002. Tommi Mäkinen put in another solid run to finish 9th - the position he held overall at the end of the stage. Bad luck for local driver Pykalisto who had put in some exceptional times earlier in the day - he retired with a transmission problem. After SS6 the teams headed back to the service area for the third service of the day.
SS7 1549hrs Ruuhimaki (8.79km)
Fastest time: Burns (Peugeot) 4:44.6
It's tight at the top! Burns continued his charge and completed the short stage just 0.2 seconds quicker than rival Gronholm to claim his fifth stage win of the day. Rovanpera was 3rd, just 0.8 seconds behind his team-mate. The fastest non-Peugeot driver on the stage was Ford's Carlos Sainz - he finished 4th after SS7 lay 6th overall, 0.3 seconds behind Subaru's Petter Solberg in 5th.
SS8 1739hrs Laukaa 2 (11.80km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 5:42.9
This time it was Gronholm's turn to claim the stage win. Cheered on by his Finnish fans, Gronholm charged through the short Laukaa section to complete the stage exactly one second faster than team-mate Burns who was second and 1.8 seconds ahead of fellow-Finn Rovanpera in 3rd. The win helped the current World Championship leader claw back some time from Richard's overall lead which, after SS8, had been reduced to 7.6 seconds. Best of the rest once again was Subaru's Petter Solberg who finished the stage 4th, more than 3 seconds ahead of the three Ford's of Carlos Sainz, Colin McRae and Markko Martin, who all finished joint fifth. Tommi Mäkinen continued his solid run and finished 10th, coming in just behind the Citroen's of Sebastien Loeb and Thomas Radstrom who were 8th and 9th respectively.
SS9 1729hrs Lankamaa 2 (23.44km)
Fastest time: Burns (Peugeot) 11:21.5
Problems for Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm on SS9. A suspension problem on the penultimate stage of the day prevented the Finn from finishing any higher than 5th - and halted Peugeots run of six successive 1-2-3 stage wins. Gronholm lost more than ten seconds, dropped down the overall leader board from 2nd to 3rd and was a full 22.4 seconds behind 2nd Harri Rovanpera at the end of the stage. Meanwhile, Burns was quickest with Rovanpera 2nd. Petter Solberg continued to charge. He finished 3rd quickest and moved up to 4th place overall - the highest non-Peugeot on the leader board. No glory for Mitsubishi and the new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution WRC2 - lack of drive caused Francois Delecour to retire, while Alistair McRae suffered with a broken damper.
SS10 2011hrs Killeri 2 Super Special Stage (2.06km)
Fastest time: Sainz (Ford) 1:17.2
Another trip around the head-to-head Super Special at the Killeri horse trotting track. There were no dramas, but Carlos Sainz ended the run of Special Stage victories the Peugeot team had enjoyed since the start of the event. As ever with the short sprint sections, the winning margin was slim, and the overall top-10 was unchanged.
Tommi Mäkinen: "For me, it's not been such a good day today. There isn't really much I can say. We have had no problems with the car or tyres, but something is missing and I've been unable to get the performance I want. All we can do now is have a look at things tonight, see if we can make any changes and hope for a better day tomorrow."
Petter Solberg: "Everything has worked well - it's not been bad at all. We've been reliable and the feeling in the car overall is good. It's OK being in the position of the best non-Peugeot driver but I want to fight with the best. I think it will be difficult to do that on this rally, they are extremely fast, but I will continue to do my best and we'll look to improve things."
David Lapworth, Team Principal: "In Finland today I think that we've seen two rallies, the battle between the Peugeots and the battle between everyone else. For us, I think this situation has been both good and bad. On one hand it's pleasing to see Petter ahead of Colin McRae after a whole day in Finland - it's certainly good to be 'the best of the rest'. But the times that Richard Burns and Marcus Gronholm have been putting in are very impressive, and we've got to look at ways to regain the advantage."
Something's missing in Rally Finland this year. The 2002 event is the first to eliminate door number boards - the large white squares stuck on the front doors of every WRC car. Instead, as part of an experiment, cars have been fitted with much smaller door numbers, which are applied near the top of the door panels. If it proves successful, this system will be used in the 2003 WRC. Here are some other interesting sticker facts.
· A team Subaru Impreza WRC 2002, when prepared for use in one of the fourteen rounds of the WRC carries a total of 130 stickers. Many of these are replaced regularly throughout the event and it's regular practice to renew stickers on the bottom of the doors and sills at each service due to stone-chip damage.
· It costs, on average, £1,000 to sticker up one of the WRC Subarus. During the 2002 season, it's likely that a total of 50 sticker sets will be required to ensure that all test and competition cars are correctly branded.
· The most valuable sticker on the car (in terms of sponsorship value) is actually one of the smallest -the in-car sticker that is stuck on the dashboard regularly makes an appearance on in-car TV footage.
· It takes one person approximately four hours to completely prepare and sticker a car. The process involves cleaning the vehicle, adding a de-greasing agent and applying the stickers with water to prevent air bubbles. A detailed drawing is used to show precisely where the stickers should be placed.
· Another two hours is required to sticker all of the spare body parts that are required for each event. This includes an extra set of doors and three bumpers per car.
Leg 2 of Rally Finland starts from Jyvaskyla parc ferme at 0600hrs. Crews will immediately travel to the first service of the day before setting out to contest the day's six stages - a total competitive distance of 176.65km - in the surrounding countryside. The first stage is due to start at 0816hrs (local).