The Hyundai World Rally Team crews made a good start to Rally Australia, the tenth round of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship, with Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer bringing their Hyundai Accent WRC"s to overnight parc...
The Hyundai World Rally Team crews made a good start to Rally Australia, the tenth round of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship, with Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer bringing their Hyundai Accent WRC"s to overnight parc ferme in ninth and 13th positions respectively.
Australia's round of the world series is traditionally a hot, dry and dusty event and crews are used to a road surface covered in ball bearing-like gravel with high temperatures. With the event now almost two months earlier, the springtime weather has made conditions less familiar and more unpredictable.
After a spectacular opening ceremony last night in front of 12,000 fans at Gloucester Park, Perth's trotting track, crews were greeted by overcast skies and light drizzle to head into the opening stages of the leg. Although the weather improved throughout the day, the morning drizzle was enough to ensure the ground was damp and roads either became more slippery as the ball bearings compacted and polished or more rutted for crews running further down the field.
Freddy Loix and co-driver Sven Smeets ran trouble-free throughout day one setting a number of top ten stage times which kept them ahead of the two Fords of Duval and Hirvonen and both Skodas. Their only complaint was a slight lack of top-end power in the middle group of stages.
Feeling confident Freddy said: "The stages in the early afternoon were difficult because of the ruts. We changed the shocks in service before the last group of stages and there was an immediate improvement - I felt much more confident with the handling and we changed the mapping on the differentials which helped too. It meant we could keep the pressure up on Didier (Auriol), Hirvonen and Duval so I think we have a good road position for tomorrow."
Thinking back to recent years Freddy added: "Tomorrow will be interesting for me because the last two times in Australia I haven't got to the second day. Two years ago my Mitsubishi broke down and last year I put the Hyundai on it's roof so I'm feeling very positive to have got this far. Now I want to get to the end in a good position with good points."
Armin Schwarz and Manfred Hiemer had a trickier day as Schwarz complained of handling difficulties but the German pair had a solid drive nonetheless. "We are still struggling with the rear suspension and the rear differentials are requiring more pressure to lock than usual," said Schwarz. " We're going to be the first car on the road tomorrow and even if we get some showers I don't think it will make a big difference on the stages. I can't drive the car any faster because at the moment I'm not confident enough to be able to push harder."
News from our rivals
The opening leg of the rally saw only three retirements compared to last year's 14 by the end of leg one. The only lead driver retiring was three-time Rally Australia winner Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) who reduced his chances of a fourth consecutive victory when he had an off-road excursion on Murray North II dropping 17 minutes. Lying 20 minutes behind the rally leader, the Finn has now withdrawn. Carlos Sainz rolled his Citroen Xsara mid-air, also during SS8, and remarkably escaped unharmed and undamaged to continue through the stage and lost only a few seconds in the process. Markko Martin (Ford), Sebastien Loeb (Citroën) and Tommi Makinen (Subaru) all made the same mistake in SS3 taking a wrong turning at a junction that required a donut in a nearby car park to rejoin the route. Toni Gardemeister (Skoda) is reported to be experiencing some pain in his left arm as a result of overcompensating for a recovering broken right wrist.
Sebastien Loeb (Citroën), on only his second outing in Australia, leads by a slim four-second advantage over Subaru's Petter Solberg and Richard Burns lies 39 seconds adrift in third. Tommi Makinen (Subaru) holds fourth ahead of Rally Finland winner Markko Martin (Ford).
The second leg features 124 kilometres over two large groups of stages on clay and gravel pine-surrounded roads east of Perth in the Mundaring environs. Crews start at 07:30 and reach overnight parc ferme at 19:58 local time. Perth is GMT+8hrs.