Forty-six of the original 69 starters left Perth this morning in bright and sunny conditions to begin the last day of Rally Australia, the penultimate round of the 2002 World Rally Championship. The day comprised just four stages based around a...
Forty-six of the original 69 starters left Perth this morning in bright and sunny conditions to begin the last day of Rally Australia, the penultimate round of the 2002 World Rally Championship.
The day comprised just four stages based around a central service point at the town of Bannister, 112km south east of Perth. The action took place on the forest roads around the Sotico pine plantation, and in their dry condition, the high-speed stages featured plenty of loose gravel to catch out the unwary.
After a further 105 competitive kilometres Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm crossed the podium back in Perth this evening as winner with Finnish team mate Harri Rovanpera second and 555 Subaru driver Petter Solberg third. The result was Peugeot's ninth maximum points haul of the season, and consolidated Marcus' position as 2002 Drivers' Champion*. Francois Duval and Juha Kankkunen were the two leading retirements of the leg, but the rally had one last sting in its tail, when the Subaru of fourth-placed Tommi Makinen was excluded for being under the regulation minimum weight.
The Australian round of the Group N Production Cup was won by Toshihiro Arai and Tony Sircombe in a Subaru Impreza.
SS21 0900hrs Bannister Central (5.63km)
Fastest time: Rovanpera (Peugeot) 3:22.4
The first of two stages before service was a short, high-speed dash over a loose gravel surface and featured the famous 'Bunnings' jumps. With a 24-second gap between himself and second place, Harri Rovanpera was immediately on the attack in his Peugeot. The Finn was quickest, with Carlos Sainz second and Marcus Gronholm third. 555 Subaru drivers Makinen and Solberg were fourth and fifth fastest respectively, which kept Makinen secure in fifth overall, but reduced the gap between Solberg and the chasing Rovanpera to 19.3 seconds.
SS22 0918hrs Bannister South (28.65km)
Fastest time: Rovanpera (Peugeot) 16:07.3
The longer stage of the opening group was another high-speed test through the pine plantations of the Southern Timber Company. Rovanpera was quickest, with Gronholm second, followed by the Subarus of Makinen third and Solberg fourth. Rovanpera's winning time was enough to move him 5.7 secs ahead of Petter on the overall table into second place. Makinen too was on the move, the Finn promoted to fourth when Carlos Sainz rolled and dropped a minute. In the accident Sainz's Focus sustained bodywork, windscreen and turbo damage, but he was able to continue and reached the Sotico service area for a 20-minute refresh ahead of the penultimate stage.
SS23 1132hrs Bannister West (34.57km)
Fastest time: Rovanpera (Peugeot) 17:09.2
The high-speed stages of leg three seemed to suit the Peugeot drivers especially and on the second longest test of the leg Rovanpera went fastest, followed by Gronholm then Solberg and Makinen. Ford's 21-year-old Belgian Francois Duval crashed five kms from the start and retired. Duval, who had been sixth overall and locked in a fierce battle with team-mate Markko Martin, was evacuated by helicopter to hospital as a precaution, although his injuries were limited to severe bruising.
*Subject to FIA confirmation
SS24 1240hrs Bannister North (36.84km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 19:15.7
Marcus Gronholm kept his cool to win the final stage and clinch his third consecutive Rally Australia victory. With Rovanpera second, Peugeot secured their fifth consecutive 1 - 2 win of the year. Just 22 seconds behind Harri, 555 Subaru driver Petter Solberg took the last podium place. The last stage saw the retirement of Juha Kankkunen in the sole remaining Hyundai. A lack of engine oil pressure in the Accent WRC brought it to a standstill 18kms short of the finish line. Rally organisers later judged that the Impreza WRC of Tommi Makinen was under the permitted minimum weight. Makinen had finished the rally in fourth place overall, but was excluded.
Petter Solberg: "I'm very happy, it's a really good result, I hope we can get on the podium like this more often. We have to work hard now, too often the silver cars have been in front of us this year and I hate that! I'm delighted with the podium, especially after what happened in New Zealand, and I'm hungry for more."
Tommi Makinen: "I don't understand what happened, it's a great shame that we've come so far on the event only to finish it like this. There was certainly nothing deliberate involved and we'll have a good look into the incident to find out what happened. That's just the way it goes sometimes and you have to accept it."
Team Principal David Lapworth: "Looking specifically at Petter's performance, I think he did an excellent job. On this occasion and on these types of fast, open stage the Peugeots seem to have the edge, and despite his best efforts, Petter couldn't make the second place stick. But we can take some clear development objectives from our performance here and we will keep refining the car.
As far as the exclusion is concerned, the judgement came as a big disappointment to Tommi and the team. Scrutineers weighed each car several times today and there seems to be a big variation between the figures they recorded for Tommi's car. After SS22 the car was weighed by scrutineers at 1260kgs (versus a minimum weight of 1230kgs) and after SS24 1271kgs. After SS23 the car was weighed at 1222kgs, and the only change was the removal of the spare wheel - an item that weighs less than 20kgs.
The rules in this area are very clear, and we know that the cars are likely to be weighed at the end of every stage, so we clearly believed that the car was at its correct weight throughout the event. We will be making our own investigation into this situation.
However, in the interests of the sport, we have decided to accept the judgement and will not appeal the Stewards' decision."
The Next Event
The final round of the 2002 World Rally Championship starts on November 15th, when crews leave the Southern Hemisphere and travel to Wales for the Rally of Great Britain. Based in Cardiff, the gravel event is as famous for its tough stages through the forests of south Wales, as the wintry weather that can make the conditions even more treacherous.