Thanks to a start-to-finish victory this weekend in Argentina, Colin McRae has at last got his 2001 World Rally Championship points score off the ground and secured his first win since the Acropolis Rally last June. A string of five fastest times...
Thanks to a start-to-finish victory this weekend in Argentina, Colin McRae has at last got his 2001 World Rally Championship points score off the ground and secured his first win since the Acropolis Rally last June. A string of five fastest times in the first five stages saw the Ford driver pull away from his chasers on Day 1. That early charge gave him sufficient breathing space to control from in front and stay clear of Richard Burns (2nd, Subaru), the only driver to come anywhere close to matching the Scot's pace. Carlos Sainz (Ford) overcame severe back pain to clinch a comfortable 3rd, while many of the main championship contenders fell victim to the rally's unusually high attrition rate.
Before travelling to South America, Colin McRae and Richard Burns both knew that only a top performance in Argentina would allow them to keep their respective world title chances alive. That thought clearly gave them wings this weekend for, after the first full day of action, the two British stars were sitting pretty on top of the leaderboard, the Ford driver enjoying what would prove to be a decisive edge over his Subaru rival.
The following day saw the pair trade fastest stage times on a blow-for-blow basis to pull further and further clear of the pack as Sainz already began to concentrate on defending his third place. It has to be said that a podium finish for the Spaniard was practically a feat in itself given the sometimes excruciating pain he had suffered during the rally as a result of a disc pressing against his sciatic nerve.
Going into the rocky, punishing stages of the final leg, McRae's margin over was a seemingly safe 37 seconds. But the Subaru driver, who won in Argentina twelve months ago, was determined not to give up the chase without a fight and proceeded to reduce the gap to as little as 21 seconds. However, that was as close it would get and as the champagne corks popped at the finish ceremony McRae was able to put his frustrating start to the year well and truly behind him.
As it turned out, the three drivers on the podium in Cordoba were practically the only top runners to boast a trouble-free rally. In their wake, their opponents were either delayed or eliminated by a catalogue of problems. Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi-Michelin) came through Day 1 relatively unscathed and still in reasonably close contact with the leading trio. But the Finn was in trouble first thing next morning when a drive-shaft problem cost him around a minute and a half, dropping him to 6th place. A radiator leak momentarily checked the World Championship leader's fight back up the field, but a couple of fastest stage times helped him claw back to 4th to claim three extra points and stay clear at the top of the Drivers' points table.
A consistent if uneventful run from Petter Solberg (Subaru) ensured 5th place for the Norwegian while the final championship point went to Freddy Loix (6th) whose contribution helped Mitsubishi-Michelin hold on to the lead in the Manufacturers' championship.
The only Hyundai-Michelin driver at the finish was Alister McRae who took the flag in 9th position behind François Delecour (7th, Ford) and Toshihiro Arai (8th, Subaru). The winner's brother survived a dramatic rear-end fire on Day 1 to put valuable extra miles on the latest evolution Accent WRC's clock and it looked at one moment as though the Korean firm would see both its cars reach the finish. Unfortunately, McRae's Swedish team-mate Kenneth Eriksson was forced out when he lost a wheel on the penultimate test, the infamous "Giulio Cesare" stage.
For the World Champion Peugeot-Michelin squad, this year's Rally Argentina was nothing short of a disaster with not one of the three factory 206 WRCs making it to the end! Despite a fastest time courtesy of Marcus Grönholm on the final day, the French team never looked happy in South America and its three drivers suffered what seemed like an endless series of problems.
Harri Rovanperä was on a plane home to Finland as early as Friday evening when he was eliminated with suspension damage incurred crossing one the rally's countless water-splashes, while the opening leg also saw Grönholm and Didier Auriol slowed by unidentified transmission gremlins. These were partly resolved overnight thanks to a revised active differential mapping, but the Frenchman promptly suffered turbo failure first thing on the morning of Leg 2.
Later the same day, his Finnish team-mate was delayed when he lost his power steering and both cars were eventually sidelined for good on the last leg; Grönholm was first to go after cooking his clutch following an off four stages from home, Auriol joining him on the retirements list after sustaining terminal front suspension damage... on "Giulio Cesare".
Finally, Skoda's trip to the Andean foothills ended in drama when the Czech firm's Engineering Director was badly hurt in a freak accident on Day 2. Jens Pohlmann was swiped in parc ferme by an out-of-control water-tanker that was on its way to a fire at the end of SS12. It was confirmed on Sunday that the German suffered a broken pelvis, five broken ribs, a broken shoulder blade and various internal traumas and latest reports described his condition as serious but stable. The same incident also brought the team's rally to a premature end when the truck landed on its side on top of both Octavia WRCs. Bruno Thiry, who was about to fire up his car at the time, narrowly escaped injury when he instinctively threw himself onto the co-driver's seat!
Michelin's partners plagued by problems in Argentina
RARE OCCASIONS… With the exception of Freddy Loix, Michelin's WRC partners suffered a long list of mechanical problems that rapidly eliminated them from the fight for victory. On the rare occasions that the main title chasers had an untroubled run, their times were frequently close to, level with or better than those of McRae and Burns. While the fight between the British pair was at its fiercest, Mitsubishi-Michelin's Tommi Mäkinen posted two consecutive fastest times on SS15 and SS16, while Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot-Michelin) was quickest on SS17 and a mere 1/10th of a second slower than McRae on SS12.
TYPICAL… Once again, Argentina threw a broad mix of conditions at the teams. Apart from some light drizzle on Day 1, rain held off for the event but fog did prove a problem during the opening stages and ground temperatures ranged from a chilly 2°C to 22°C. Meanwhile, stage surfaces varied from sand to more compact gravel and even rocks, notably on Day 3.
ON TOP… Michelin's four WRC partners present in Argentina made different pattern choices for the South American round. Hyundai: Michelin Z and Michelin ZA. Mitsubishi: Michelin ZA and Michelin ZE16. Peugeot: Michelin ZA and Michelin WB. Skoda: Michelin Z and Michelin ZE16. As it turned out, all drivers used either the Michelin ZA or the Michelin Z re-cut into a "ZA" throughout the event, mostly in the "8" compound, more rarely in the "9" compound.