Round 3 of the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship 8 - 11 March 2001 CHARACTER OF THE EVENT Round three of 14 in the FIA World Rally Championship, Round two of six in the FIA Teams' Cup. After two highly specialised events this year, this...
Round 3 of the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship 8 - 11 March 2001
CHARACTER OF THE EVENT
Round three of 14 in the FIA World Rally Championship, Round two of six in the FIA Teams' Cup. After two highly specialised events this year, this event is widely regarded as the first representative round of the World Championship. Held on gravel roads in Portugal, ranging from rocky sections in central Portugal to sandy stages further north, the rally provides a traditional challenge to temper outright speed with avoiding damage from potentially car breaking tracks. Fierce conditions during the winter meant that many roads were badly damaged so very little useful pre-rally testing has been carried out in Portugal this year. Nearly all pre-event testing up to now was carried out in Spain instead.
NEW THIS YEAR
There is a new headquarters location at Europarque, Santa Maria da F eira, south of Porto, but the rally route itself is essentially similar to before.
FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP NEWS
This will be the final World Championship Rally before the arrival of Citroen! All the other six registered teams are to be present. The positions in the FIA Manufacturers' series are given below. Three drivers (Tommi Makinen, Carlos Sainz and Harri Rovanpera) jointly head the FIA Drivers' series, in Group N neither of the joint leaders Olivier Gillet or Stig-Olov Walfridsson have entered: top placed contender here will be Manfred Stohl. Under the FIA rules all the competitors in Teams' Cup must take part. Here they will be headed by Henrik Lundgaard (10 points) and the veteran Stig Blomqvist (6).
NEWS FROM THE MANUFACTURERS' TEAMS
MARLBORO MITSUBISHI RALLIART (1st - 23 points)
Tommi Makinen, Car 7 and Freddy Loix, Car 8
Chief engineer Bernard Lindauer: "This will be the first chance to accurately evaluate the progress of our car, particularly after fitting the new rear suspension. For this rally we have developed this further, with new rear uprights and wishbones, designed to give more travel on the rebound. We anticipate that legs one and three, where there are often deep ruts, will provide the usual challenge for wheel travel and rideheight." New car for Makinen.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY LIMITED (2nd- 14 points)
Carlos Sainz, Car 3 and Colin McRae, Car 4
Also entered Francois Delecour, Car 17
This will be Ford's first official rally entry for the Focus WRC on gravel with Pirelli tyres. Their two days of testing in Portugal, according to project engineer Gunther Steiner, "Proved little, but at least we know we have good water-proofing!" New cars for Sainz and McRae. McRae is planning to use a mechanical, rather than electronic, gear change system.
SKODA MOTORSPORT (3rd - 6 points)
Armin Schwarz, Car 11 and Bruno Thiry, Car 12
The earlier bad weather damage is expected to lead to rough roads for the event. Schwarz said "Rough roads could be good for Skoda! I do not I think I have seen conditions in Portugal so bad for the last ten years. Our concentration on shock absorber testing might prove to have been very important." Thiry enters his fourth event for Skoda with a record to maintain. He has scored world championship points on each previous occasion!
HYUNDAI CASTROL WORLD RALLY TEAM (4th - 5 points)
Kenneth Eriksson, Car 9 and Alister McRae, Car 10
Welcome to the second-generation Accent WRC. Full details will be announced at a launch on Tuesday evening before the event in Porto. Alister McRae had a high speed accident in testing last week in Spain in a brand new car. Fortunately neither he nor test codriver Ian Grindrod were hurt, but the car was destroyed. The official name for the new car is unusual, it is called WRC2.
SUBARU WORLD RALLY TEAM (5th - 4 points)
Richard Burns, Car 5 and Petter Solberg, Car 6 Also entered Markko Martin, Car 18 and Toshihiro Arai, Car 19
First time since Sweden 1996 that Subaru has entered a four-car team! First appearance for Japanese driver Arai in a works specification car. Will Arai and Australian codriver Glenn Macneall be ready for the rally? They have recently been processed by the Prodrive 'Human Performance' advisers. Both driver and codriver are expected to appear in a new slim line style! New cars for Burns and Solberg.
PEUGEOT SPORT (0 points)
Marcus Gronholm, Car 1 and Didier Auriol, Car 2
Also entered Harri Rovanpera, Car 16
Three car team. Third driver Rovanpera has been told "No team orders but, please, finish ahead of non-Peugeot drivers!", said team manager Jean-Pierre Nicolas. Each team driver has had two days testing, the cars have no technical novelties. A total of seven 206 WRCs have been entered, more than ever before. All four privately run cars will be in identical specification. "This will provide a good comparison between the drivers..." added Nicolas. Latest Peugeot driver to enter the world series is Kris Princen, winner of the recent Boucles de Spa. Special note: Nicolas won this rally as a Renault Alpine driver in 1971, 30 years ago.
AUTOMOBILES CITROEN (0 points)
FIA inspection for the Xsara T4 World Rally Car homologation was due this week. Homologation is due to be issued on 1st March. Philippe Bugalski and Jesus Puras have been busy this week testing in Spain, ready for Puras' entry at the Mediterraneo European Championship all asphalt rally near Alicante, on 3rd March. This will be the first competition appearance of the definitive version of this car. Bugalski and Puras are then to contest Portugal as part of their on-event experience programme with Saxo Kit Cars.
OTHER TOP RUNNERS IN PORTUGAL
The inclusion of this event as the second round of the FIA Teams' Cup guarantees a strong international second-level entry of drivers with World Rally Cars. On the entry list are no fewer than nine Toyota Corolla WRCs - all of which are privately run! Part-time official driver Gilles Panizzi this time drives a Peugeot for HF Grifone. TTE were testing this week at Arganil, with one day for each of the drivers they are supporting. Teams' Cup leader Henrik Lundgaard is on new ground: "I have never rallied in Portugal before, Halkidikis was my only previous all-gravel event. That day of testing for me was very important." The Allstar drivers Hamed Al Wahaibi and Frederic Dor have each done two days testing near Fafe. Reason for Al Wahaibi's late retirement in Sweden, when lying second in Teams' Cup, was due to clutch problems which blocked the gearbox, the originating cause still not known.
Main news from Group N: codriver Daniel Stillo is fully recovered from the illness which forced him to withdraw from Monte-Carlo and will make his first event as Gabriel Pozzo's codriver, in Portugal. The Italian driver Gianluigi Galli will not start. His competition licence has been suspended by his national federation until 26th March following illegal recceing carried out in Sweden.
2This is Tommi Makinen's 100th entry on a World Championship Rally. In this period of time he has won no fewer than 21 world championship rallies and gained four World titles. He is the ninth driver to reach this level of experience. His first World Rally appearance was in 1987, when his challenge for the lead in Group N ended with a spectacular accident. He is currently the longest serving member of any team, now in his seventh season with Mitsubishi.
The Saturday schedule was recently brought forward by 30 minutes to enable all the Championship drivers to tackle the last stage in comparable conditions, before the onset of dusk in potentially dusty air.
Last weekend the weather changed for the better. Finally the sun was seen in North Portugal again but earlier this week more rain arrived... Nobody knows what it will be like for the rally! In the past weeks the local authorities have been repairing the roads. All the roads have been made passable in time for the start of reconnaissance and work is now in hand to make them in as good quality as possible before the event.