Ford driver Markko Martin leads the ninth round of this year's FIA World Rally Championship - the Neste Rally Finland - after a dramatic day that saw the retirement from the lead of Peugeot driver Marcus Gronholm. His team mate Richard Burns moved...
Ford driver Markko Martin leads the ninth round of this year's FIA World Rally Championship - the Neste Rally Finland - after a dramatic day that saw the retirement from the lead of Peugeot driver Marcus Gronholm. His team mate Richard Burns moved up to second and Citroen driver Colin McRae tumbled down the order after incurring a minute's time penalty, before crashing out of the rally on SS16.More drama was added when Burns dropped time with a wheel-bearing failure on the final stage, but he got back to service safely. At the end of Leg 2, just one second covers second, third and fourth places!
Marlboro Peugeot Total
Technical: The Peugeot of Richard Burns ran without mechanical problems today, until suffering a last-minute wheel bearing failure on the final stage. Harri Rovanpera was forced to retire after going off the road on SS12. Marcus Gronholm was forced to retire from the lead after SS14, as a result of broken suspension and a lost front wheel.
Sporting: Gronholm took the lead after SS12 this morning, but lost it in dramatic fashion during SS14. The first he knew of a problem was a soft brake pedal, then the right-front wheel and suspension came off 10 kilometres from the end of the stage. With a long road section and another stage in front of him, the Finn was forced into retirement. Richard Burns moved up to second following Gronholm's retirement, but Harri Rovanpera got no further than SS12 after setting a third-fastest time on the opening stage of the day.
Richard Burns said: "I was debating whether to push like hell to win, or think of the championship. Now I suppose the most important thing is to finish the event."
Marcus Gronholm said: "I'm very disappointed to retire, as I think I could have had four Rally Finland victories in a row here. I don't know what happened, but I didn't hit anything. The brake pedal went soft, then the wheel came off. Maybe a wheel bearing broke."
Harri Rovanpera said: "I'm not quite sure what happened. We came over a crest into a slight corner and I was careful not to cut the corner after what happened yesterday. But the car didn't turn into the corner properly and we ended up on the other side of the road and into a bank."
Technical: The two Citroens of Sebastien Loeb and Carlos Sainz ran without major mechanical problems today. Colin McRae retired in an accident on SS16.
Sporting: McRae started the day in fourth place and was set to move up to third, following Marcus Gronholm's retirement. But he incurred a minute's penalty after checking in early to the time control before SS14, and tumbled down the order. His rally was over on SS16 when he crashed his Citroen Xsara. Carlos Sainz moved up to third place after benefiting from McRae's time penalty and passing the Subaru of Petter Solberg on SS15. Sebastien Loeb continued his learning process and ended up in fifth after another solid day. The only small problem he had was with his rear brakes on SS14.
Sebastien Loeb said: "It's been a good day. I've been pleasantly surprised by some of the times I've been setting, especially as there's been quite a lot of gravel on the road in my starting position."
Carlos Sainz said: "Today has been a tough and unpredictable day for everybody. Tomorrow should be a very big fight."
Ford Motor Company
Technical: Markko Martin's Ford Focus RS WRC03 suffered an electrical problem throughout the middle loop of three stages that also affected the differentials. The other Focus RS WRC03 of Francois Duval had intermittent brake problems throughout the day, but the 2002 specification Focus of Mikko Hirvonen retired after SS11 following a turbo fire.
Sporting: Markko Martin spearheaded the battle for the lead all day and ended up with over a minute's advantage following Richard Burns's problems on the final stage. Francois Duval remained under instructions to finish the rally in order to learn the roads, but he was blighted by brake problems that meant he finished 11th.
Markko Martin said: "I'm really happy to be leading by so much tonight. It was scary this afternoon when we had the electrical problem because we really didn't know what had caused it. The team did a great job in sorting that out and now we just look forward to tomorrow."
Francois Duval said: "Running first on the road today has been very difficult. It's hard to learn on roads where you don't have a clean line to follow. It's difficult to discover where you should be on the road."
555 Subaru World Rally Team
Technical: Both Subaru Impreza WRC2003s have run reliably throughout the day. But both cars have encountered problems with tyre mousse vibrations on the middle loop of stages.
Sporting: Solberg is embroiled in a three-way battle for second place together with Richard Burns and Carlos Sainz. The Norwegian is currently fourth, just 0.2 seconds behind Sainz and 0.5 seconds behind Burns. If he finishes second, it would be his second consecutive podium finish here after finishing third last year. Makinen finishes the day sixth after a steady run and is looking forward to a solid points finish.
Petter Solberg said: "It's one of the most exciting rallies I've ever driven on. Everybody will be trying hard tomorrow, but I want to be trying harder!"
Tommi Makinen said: "It's not been the easiest day for us but we are still here while several people have gone out and hopefully we can take away a good result."
Hyundai World Rally Team
Technical: All three Hyundai Accent WRC"s of Freddy Loix, Armin Schwarz and Jussi Valimaki were generally reliable throughout the day. Schwarz lost his front brakes in the morning, whereas Jussi Valimaki suffered from his brakes overheating in the afternoon. Freddy Loix broke a spark plug on SS13 but changed it before the following stage.
Sporting: All three cars had a steady run today, apart from the brake problems that affected Valimaki and Schwarz. Freddy Loix was pleased with his progress today, but brake problems dropped Schwarz and Valimaki behind former World Champion Ari Vatanen in the overall standings.
Freddy Loix said: " It was difficult with the misfire on the middle loop of stages but I really enjoyed the long stage today. Generally the car has been good today and I'm quite happy with my times. "
Armin Schwarz said: "The brakes have been giving us problems today but generally the handling is good and we've been able to set much better times."
Jussi Valimaki said: "So far I've been very happy with the way the Accent has been performing. You can always want to go faster but an all-round package is important and the Accent has been good so far for that."
Technical: Didier Auriol did not start the rally yesterday morning as a result of an old shoulder injury. The remaining Fabia WRC of Toni Gardemeister retired at the start of SS13 as a result of engine damage.
Sporting: Gardemeister started off the day in 12th place, which he held up until his retirement. His engine stalled on the start of SS13, and he could not get it going again despite the advice from his team over the telephone.
Toni Gardemeister said: "I'm disappointed we had to retire because until then everything on the car was working well. We have learned a lot about transmission and suspension settings that will be good news for Rally Australia next month.
Suzuki driver Daniel Carlsson leads the FIA Junior World Rally Championship ahead of Renault driver Brice Tirabassi, who suffered a puncture on SS13. Ford driver Guy Wilks was third after a day that has been characterised by punctures for everyone. Former World Champion Ari Vatanen has had another enjoyable day in his privateer Peugeot 206 WRC and has climbed to 12th overall overnight. Marcus Gronholm's protégé Juuso Pykalisto has ended the day ninth after a trouble-free second day on his first rally in a 2003-specification Peugeot 206 WRC. Ahead of him is his Peugeot-driving Finnish compatriot Sebastien Lindholm.