After the carnival atmosphere of last night's Langley Park Super Special stage, 69 crews left Perth City parc ferme at 0700hrs this morning to begin the first full day of action on the penultimate round of the 2002 WRC - Telstra Rally ...
After the carnival atmosphere of last night's Langley Park Super Special stage, 69 crews left Perth City parc ferme at 0700hrs this morning to begin the first full day of action on the penultimate round of the 2002 WRC - Telstra Rally Australia.
Today's leg took drivers 107kms south of Perth HQ to seven high-speed gravel stages based around a central service halt in the town of Dwellingup, before a return trip to the Langley Park stage in the evening. After ferocious storms and high winds on Thursday night, stage conditions were damp and muddy in places, although intermittent rain and sunny periods kept the overall picture inconsistent. The damp conditions lessened the sweeping problems usually associated with running early over the Australian gravel, but instead switched the emphasis to selecting a tyre in service that would give the best overall performance through groups of very different stages.
At the end of today's leg Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm holds the overall lead of the rally, with 555 Subaru Team driver Petter Solberg second and Ford's Carlos Sainz third. Gronholm's Finnish teammate Harri Rovanpera is fourth, with the second Subaru Impreza of Tommi Mäkinen rounding off the top five. There were notable retirements from Richard Burns, Freddy Loix, Armin Schwarz and Francois Delecour.
SS1 1842hrs (Thursday 31st October) Langley Park Super Special 1 (2.20km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 1:28.7
Fresh from his two stage wins at New Zealand's Manukau Super Special, 555 Subaru team driver Petter Solberg was on top form again last night and was fastest through the Langley Park head-to-head test. Cheered on by around 10,000 spectators, the short-circuit expert, who was Norwegian rallycross champion in 1995 and 1996, blasted round the stage ahead of second-placed Marcus Gronholm and Richard Burns who was third. There were no major upsets for the leading WRC drivers, although a jump-start from Francois Delecour cost the Mitsubishi driver a 10-second penalty.
SS2 0943hrs Harvey Weir (6.97km)
Fastest time: Loix (Hyundai) 4:00.7
The first proper stage of the rally presented drivers with a damp, but drying, road surface which was muddy in places. The heavy conditions made the handicap of an early road position less pronounced and Gronholm and Rovanpera in the Peugeots shot into an early lead, although both were overhauled by overnight leader Petter Solberg who pipped Gronholm by 0.4 sec. That looked to be the end of the story, until Hyundai's Freddy Loix, running 13th on the road, took 0.7 secs off Solberg's time with an astonishing drive and took the stage win - his first of the year.
SS3 1006hrs Stirling West (15.89km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot)
Marcus Gronholm was fastest through the high-speed stage, which runs through the Stirling pine plantation. Intermittent rain kept the clay and gravel road surface damp and the Finn gained more than two seconds on Petter Solberg to take the overall lead. Solberg was second-fastest on the stage, ahead of Gronholm's Peugeot colleagues Burns (third) and Rovanpera (fourth). Elsewhere in the WRC entries Kenneth Eriksson dropped around 30 seconds when a brake-pipe broke on his Skoda Octavia, and Colin McRae lost time when he overshot a junction.
Australia marks the Ford debut of McRae and co-driver Derek Ringer, who last worked together at Subaru in 1996.
SS4 1101hrs Murray River 1 (20.44km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 12:15.0
World Champion elect Marcus Gronholm won his second consecutive stage and extended his lead on the overall table to 8.9 seconds ahead of second-placed Petter Solberg. The Subaru star was fourth quickest, with Burns third and Carlos Sainz 1.5 sec behind Marcus in second. Colin McRae was fifth, with Tommi Mäkinen sixth. In the changeable conditions Mäkinen had elected to run a different tyre to Solberg on the opening three stages which was well suited to drying conditions, but as the roads remained slippery he struggled to find grip and was unable to push to his full potential. After SS4 crews drove to Dwellingup for a 20-minute service.
SS5 1300hrs Brunswick (16.63km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 9:08.7
Gronholm again. A good performance from the Finn who at the pre-event press conference said he expected it would be hard to motivate himself to push for victory. Richard Burns was second with Solberg third. Burns had enough of an advantage over the Subaru driver to move into second overall which made the leaderboard Peugeot, Peugeot, Subaru. With a different set of Pirelli's fitted to his Impreza, Mäkinen was instantly more competitive and broke into the top five stage times. Overall he moved from seventh to sixth place, leapfrogging Freddy Loix and lining up Harri Rovanpera as the next target. Kenneth Eriksson's miserable day continued, the Swede collected a 10-second penalty for a late-start and struggled with transmission problems that had affected his car all morning.
SS6 1334hrs Stirling East Reverse (38.93kms)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 22:44.9
The second-longest stage of the event saw Gronholm double his winning margin over Burns to 20 secs. Carlos Sainz was second fastest with a revitalised Mäkinen just behind in third. Burns and Solberg were fourth and fifth - the pair separated by 0.1 sec. On the overall leaderboard, things were tight. Burns held second, with Solberg 0.7 secs behind in third and Sainz 0.9 secs further back in fourth. Mäkinen meanwhile had closed the gap on fifth-placed Harri Rovanpera to 2.3 secs. After a promising start, Freddy Loix' rally came to a premature end when his Hyundai left the road 6kms from the start line. Although Freddy and co-driver Sven Smeets were unharmed, their Accent WRC was too badly damaged for them to continue.
SS7 1553hrs Murray Pines South (11.98km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 6:29.5
Gronholm fastest, with Solberg second and Rovanpera third. But the main story of SS7 concerned three top-10 retirements. First to go was Richard Burns. The Englishman's Peugeot succumbed to a clutch problem 3km before the finish line. Armin Schwarz was the next casualty of the pine plantation stage, the engine in his Hyundai expired 8kms from the start line. Finally, the stage was stopped after an accident involving Francois Delecour's Mitsubishi. The Lancer went off the road and although Francois suffered nothing worse than bruising, after being attended to by doctors on the scene, his co-driver Daniel Grataloup was air-lifted to hospital with a fractured ankle, pelvis and bruising to his right lung. As a precaution he will spend the night in intensive care, although fortunately his condition is not considered critical. The stage was stopped following the accident and rally organisers allocated a representative time to the remaining competitors.
SS8 1612hrs Murray River 2 (20.44km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 11:47.8
Gronholm recorded his sixth consecutive stage win, with Solberg second and Sainz third - a finish order which exactly mirrored the overall leaderboard. Rovanpera and Mäkinen set exactly the same time to tie the fourth-quickest position. Colin McRae had a lucky escape when his Ford left the road and slipped into a ditch, the Scot managed to get the car back onto the stage with the loss of around 10 seconds.
SS9 1929hrs Langley Park Super Special 2 (2.20km)
Fastest time: Rovanpera (Peugeot) 1:28.3
Rovanpera first, McRae second and Gronholm third, on the second pass through the Langley Park Super Special Stage. The stage times made no difference to the overall top-10.
Petter Solberg: "It's not a bad day, we had a very difficult tyre choice to make for the middle group of stages, but things have been working very well and it's great to be in second overall. Marcus is going very quickly, that's just how it is. I can go a little bit quicker tomorrow and that's just what I plan to do."
Tommi Mäkinen: "It's pleasing to be in the top five and we've been having a good fight with Harri all day. Our road position for tomorrow is going to be alright, but I've been experimenting with the set up today - it was behaving very well at shakedown, but I believe the changes we'll make this evening will make things even better for leg two."
Team Principal David Lapworth: "I'm very pleased with the way things have gone for Petter and Tommi. We've had a clean run through the stages and for Petter to be so well placed is a great result for him. Today's weather and the varying surfaces within groups of stages have given us some tricky tyre choices, but if you look at the overall picture I think we made the correct decisions. Our objective for leg one was to get Tommi and Petter advantageous road positions for the coming days, and as a team I think we've started very well."
Technical talk -- Super Special Perth
* Telstra Rally Australia features the most impressive Super Special stage in the World Rally Championship. Based in the heart of Perth City, the 2.2km circuit is specially constructed each year in Langley Park on the bank of the Swan River
* Building the track and the spectator facilities this year took five weeks and involved nine groups of contractors. Dismantling is a far easier job and is expected to take just 10 days
* Although based in the open parkland, cars don't compete on the grass. Instead the track is made of 15,500 cubic metres of sand and 4,500 cubic metres of clay. The track is built up in the middle to incorporate a jump and tunnel
* Facilities for spectators include three grandstands with a total seating capacity of 7,000, 64 private viewing suites and total of 3,000 square metres of carpet underfoot
* The rally complex also hosts the Langley Park service area, which is entirely undercover. Housing service bays for the 69 competitors involves 9,000 square metres of tenting and 3,000 square metres of scaffolding
Starts at 0700hrs when crews leave the Perth Parc Ferme and drive 46km east to the day's central service point in the town of Chidlow. From there they'll tackle the longest leg of the rally, which comprises 11 stages and 147 competitive kilometres. The day finishes with a third and final sprint around the Langley Park Super Special.