Cruel end to Hyundai's Australian challenge. Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team crew Juha Kankkunen and Juha Repo made a final push on leg three of Rally Australia setting more competitive top ten stage times, until misfortune struck only 18km ...
Cruel end to Hyundai's Australian challenge.
Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team crew Juha Kankkunen and Juha Repo made a final push on leg three of Rally Australia setting more competitive top ten stage times, until misfortune struck only 18km before the end of the rally and they were sadly forced into retirement while lying in 9th position, ending the whole team's promising run on the event.
Australia veteran Kankkunen has won the event on four occasions previously and while his experience was clear to see by the competitive times he set throughout the rally, the Finn was hindered by his road position. Well aware of the damage that can potentially be caused by the demanding jumps of the Bannister pine plantation, Juha took the final stages in his stride. Unfortunately, a rapid drop in oil pressure in his Accent WRC" sidelined the Finn only a stones throw from the finish of the rally. "I don't really know what happened," said Juha. "We were just driving along and we had no warning. We lost all oil pressure quite quickly and the engine just stopped."
Sunshine greeted crews on the final day of the rally but torrential showers on the fist two days made conditions unpredictable and unfamiliar. Rally Australia has always been a hot rally with dry and dusty roads but rain put a whole new complexion on the rally this year. The stages around Perth are covered with a thick layer of marble-like stones -- in some cases up to about 10cm in thickness - and the cars running among the first few on the road take the worse punishment. They effectively sweep the roads clear of all the loose gravel to give air to the harder surface below from where cars find grip. And the more grip available, the more speed possible.
As Juha took a little bit of time making adjustments to the suspension on leg one, his overall placing at the end of the day meant that his start position was less than favourable for legs two and three. But the Finn still proved experience should never be underrated as he continued a competitive run.
"The roads here have been incredibly slippery. We started the rally in quite damp conditions and the stages weren't clearing, they were getting more muddy and slippery as each car past through," explained the four-time World Champion. "It was a bit drier on leg two and there were a few stages where it wasn't wet or really dry and we managed to set some much better times. But once it had dried out it became difficult again and conditions were much more like you expect in Australia and we were back to clearing the gravel. The balance felt great though and the car was handling very well -- it's just a pity that bad luck came our way."
Belgians Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets were the superstars of leg one setting the fastest stage time on opening speed test -- their third fastest stage time of the season. Freddy was so enjoying driving his Accent WRC" on the high speed roads that he caught himself out on SS7 mishearing a pace note and rolling off the road as a result.
Freddy was ecstatic with his fastest stage time and very apologetic for his accident. "We had a fantastic drive on SS2 which gave us a very good feeling for the stages after. I was on the limit and I was giving it everything I had but it paid off and the car was feeling fantastic -- that kind of stage really suits the Hyundai," said Loix.
"Then on stage 6 I misheard a pace note and approached a corner too fast and lost control. As I was pushing so hard we went off the road, bounced from one bank to the other and rolled and the car was much too damaged to continue. I am so sorry for the team for all the effort they put in and to have lost the chance to score more points for Hyundai," Loix concluded.
German team-mates Armin Schwarz and Manfred Hiemer made a good start to the rally but having not contested the rally for seven years, Schwarz was working from brand new pace notes, and the lack of familiarity with the stages and conditions in Australia meant he had to work a little bit harder than his more experienced team-mates. His rally was cut short when his engine stopped after gradually dropping oil pressure in SS7. And initial inspection indicated internal damage caused by a disintegrating spark plug.
"There was no consistency in the stages to start with -- you have traction one minute then there is nothing on the next corner," explained Schwarz. "The conditions were the complete reverse to how we expected on leg one as the stages were worse the later you ran on the road. This is not my favourite rally as I find its character really difficult -- the forests, the narrow roads and strange rhythm -- so it is a pity to not finish as I could really use the experience here."
Looking forward to the final round of the Championship Armin said, "This time last year we were in a battle with Hyundai for Championship points (when I was with Skoda). This year we are in a battle with both Skoda and Mitsubishi."
Freddy added, "The car I was driving in Australia is the best gravel car I have driven all year. It felt fantastic and to be honest I am going to take the same set-up to GB as I am confident we can get a good result there. Juha has won the rally about three times and Armin always goes well there so between us, and with a bit of luck on our side, would should be able to take some more points for Hyundai to finish the season."
News from our rivals
Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) continued his push to win the rally comfortably ahead of team-mate Harri Rovanpera and Petter Solberg (Subaru), who put in a great performance and was the only real challenger to the Peugeots, finished third on the podium. Tommi Makinen (Subaru) finished fourth but was deemed by scrutineers and marshals to be running under the minimum weight permitted in the WRC regulations and has, as a result, been excluded from the rally. Ford youngster Francois Duval had an unfortunate accident in the penultimate stage of the rally when their Focus hit a tree. Duval experienced some injuries and was taken to the field hospital at Sotico for checks and co-driver Fortin was unhurt.
The final round of the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship takes teams back to Europe for the Rally of Great Britain based out of Cardiff in Wales, running from 15-17 November.