Loix sets fastest time for Hyundai in Australia. A fantastic start to Rally Australia by Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team crew Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets began with a fastest stage time on SS2, the opening stage of the day. The pair continued...
Loix sets fastest time for Hyundai in Australia.
A fantastic start to Rally Australia by Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team crew Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets began with a fastest stage time on SS2, the opening stage of the day. The pair continued to set good stage times competitive with the Fords and Subarus, and well ahead of the Mitsubishis and Skodas but sadly the day ended unhappily.
Pushing hard to improve on their seventh place and one championship point, Loix and Smeets left the road at high speed, destroying the Hyundai Accent WRC". The pair were unhurt, proving the strength of the car.
The special stages of Rally Australia are well known for their unique ball bearing-like gravel on top of a harder bedrock making the roads incredibly slippery. This usually results in the frontrunners sweeping the roads for those cars running behind but the torrential showers made conditions very different. The more cars traversed the stages, the more muddy and slippery they became making it more difficult for those cars running later on the road.
Loix said, "We had a fantastic drive on the first stage which made a really good start to the day. We were on the limit at times but I was giving it everything I had, and it paid off. The car was feeling great, especially in the twistier stages -- it was just a stupid mistake that stopped all that," said Loix.
He explained how the accident happened. "I misheard a pace note about eight kilometres into stage 6 so I approached a corner too fast and lost control and as I was pushing so hard we went off the road, bounced off a bank and hit a bank on the other side of the road and rolled. Unfortunately the car was much too damaged to keep going. I'm really sorry as I know we could have had a good result here and taken some more points for Hyundai."
Team-mates Juha Kankkunen and Juha Repo made a good start to the rally setting times consistently faster than Mitsubishi and Skoda to end the day in 12th position overall. The Finnish pair reached ninth position by SS7 but a broken spark plug dropped them a few places.
"The car has felt OK and we had no problems for most of the day. The conditions were quite difficult -- very muddy and slippery because of the rainstorms we had last night so we made small changes throughout the day to see if we could make the car feel a bit more comfortable. The stages will be better tomorrow if it is dry but we are running third on the road so we will have to see what happens," said Kankkunen.
German crew Armin Schwarz and Manfred Hiemer were contesting Rally Australia after a seven year break from the event, which required them to make brand new pace notes for the entire rally. Despite being less familiar with the stages than most of the frontrunners, Schwarz drove confidently and consistently and still set competitive stage times. Misfortune struck in SS7 however when the engine stopped and brought Schwarz's rally to an end.
Thinking ahead to Rally of Great Britain, Freddy Loix added, "The car I was driving here 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 Rally GB as I am confident of it being able to score points for us."
News from our rivals
Leg one saw the retirement of former World Champion Richard Burns (Peugeot) who stopped in special stage 7 with clutch failure. Mitsubishi's Francois Delecour had an accident in stage 7 hitting a tree and damaging the car to such an extent that the engine was ripped out. The crew were checked by a medical team and Delecour was deemed fit to return to Perth and although shaken was uninjured. Co-driver Daniel Grataloup incurred several injuries that were not critical and was airlifted to hospital in Perth. At the head of the field, Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot), Petter Solberg (Subaru) and Richard Burns (Peugeot) took turns to hold the lead with Gronholm coming out on top and 29.5 seconds ahead of Solberg. Carlos Sainz (Ford) holds third ahead of the final Peugeot of Harri Rovanpera and Subaru of Tommi Makinen, who hold fourth and fifth respectively.
Leg two of the rally takes crews east of Perth for a further 147 competitive kilometres over eleven special stages before returning to overnight parc ferme at 20.41hrs.