Loix & Schwarz boost Hyundai points rally The Hyundai World Rally Team crews of Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer drove confidently home on the most spectacular event of the season to finish Rally Finland in 10th and 12th...
Loix & Schwarz boost Hyundai points rally
The Hyundai World Rally Team crews of Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer drove confidently home on the most spectacular event of the season to finish Rally Finland in 10th and 12th positions overall, taking three points for the Korean manufacturer. Hyundai's third crew Jussi Valimaki/Jakke Honkanen were sidelined by suspension damage on the second stage of the last day.
Belgian crew Freddy Loix and co-driver Sven Smeets drove well on a relatively trouble-free rally. They spent much of the first day fine-tuning their Accent's set-up to improve the handling. A faulty spark plug that caused a misfire in the repeat run of Ouninpohja on leg two set the pair back about 20 seconds but repairs at the end of the stage soon rectified the problem. With a better feeling in the suspension, the pair set a number of excellent stage times on some of the toughest and fastest classic Finnish tests while many other crews on the leaderboard were falling by the wayside.
"We're here at the end with points - that's the most important thing and I'm really pleased for the whole team that we could do this," said a smiling Freddy Loix. "It's been quite a boring day today because we have been protecting our points but it was more exciting yesterday running at the front of the field and working to keep ahead of the Ford of Duval."
"It's especially good for me because this year we haven't done that much distance on gravel. We had some bad luck on earlier events so to come here to Finland and achieve this tells me I still know how to drive," said the Belgian on reflection. "That gives me a good feeling for going to Australia as we have moved forward with the suspension which shows a real improvement in some areas. I hope now we can do some serious development work to really give the car a push forward and allow us to expect better results as the year goes on."
Lack of stability on leg one meant Armin Schwarz and Manfred Hiemer made a somewhat cautious start to the rally as it affected Schwarz's confidence making it difficult to attack the stages as much as he would have liked. Unfortunately overheating brakes for much of the second leg plagued the German pair but as they improved the suspension they were able to set more competitive times, recording a ninth fastest by the final stage of the day. While team-mate Jussi Valimaki and Francois Duval (Ford) suffered from the conditions on leg three, Armin and Manfred benefited from their misfortune by being promoted into a point-scoring position.
"We had no really serious problems with the car throughout the rally and all the team worked very hard to help us get this result," said Schwarz. "But Manfred and I are happy to have got to the finish of what is the fastest event of the calendar and to come away with a manufacturer point. For all of us it's better than last year when we worked just as hard but got no points. For me this is a good success."
Although Jussi Valimaki considered that this was a difficult rally for him and co-driver Jakke Honkanen, the Finnish crew had an excellent drive and were unlucky to retire only one place away from a points position. Day one saw Jussi drive his Accent WRC" to sixteenth place, a perfect position from which to attack on leg two in dry conditions as he was running down the order. He and Jakke were forced to drive some sections without brakes but the pair still managed to set a time just outside the top ten on a repeat run on the 33.24km Ouninpohja classic to end the day in 13th. Unfortunately the final day dealt an unlucky blow as a stone which was not marked in their pace notes caused suspension damage, ripping the front left wheel off and launched them into a ditch.
Explaining what happened, Jussi said: "It was a very fast left over crest and there was a big stone inside the corner that was not in our notes. We landed with the left front wheel on it and a bolt from the lower arm broke. I pulled the handbrake and spun on the road so we didn't hit anything. The strange thing is that Francois Duval did exactly the same thing and landed right next to us. It was unlucky as in that situation you could have just got a puncture or damaged the rim but we were unlucky that it was the suspension that was damaged.
Despite being disappointed to have not finished his home event with what was set to be his best result yet in the Accent WRC", Jussi was optimistic about his performance: "We tried a lot of different things as I was not always 100% confident. The first day was much better for me as I had a better feeling, even though my times on the second day were better. We reverted to the set-up we had on Exide Rally and then we changed the diff mapping a bit on the final day and it felt much better, although in the end we weren't able to take advantage of that. It was a difficult rally because I am still learning a lot about the Accent but we have some good information to take to the next rally. And next time we will be more careful when making our notes."
News from our rivals
The final day saw relatively few problems and only one leading retirement other than Valimaki. Francois Duval (Ford) left the road for exactly the same reason as the young Hyundai driver, causing the same damage. Carlos Sainz (Citroën) hit something on the opening stage of the day affecting his wheel alignment and a broken rear left damper on the stage following caused him to lose time, drop to fourth and make way for Petter Solberg (Subaru) into the top three. Markko Martin (Ford) had an excellent drive to victory, becoming only the third Non-Nordic driver to take top honours in Finland on a podium that hasn't included a Finnish driver for the first time since 1959. Martin's win also records a 200th victory for Michelin. Petter Solberg (Subaru) took second position after a close battle with Richard Burns (Peugeot) who finished only 1.2 seconds behind in third.
The tenth round of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship takes crews to the other side of the world for the last longhaul rally and the penultimate gravel rally of the season for Rally Australia. Based out of Perth in Western Australia, the rally runs from 4-7 September.