At the end of Leg 1, Petter Solberg holds fifth place overnight. The Norwegian has been locked in an exciting battle with ex-World Champions Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae and going into Leg 2 the three are separated by less than 7 seconds. His ...
At the end of Leg 1, Petter Solberg holds fifth place overnight. The Norwegian has been locked in an exciting battle with ex-World Champions Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae and going into Leg 2 the three are separated by less than 7 seconds. His team-mate Tommi Makinen holds overnight eighth, and with more than 260 stage kilometres to go he's aiming for a strong finish in front of his home crowd.
SS1 (Thursday 7 August) 1900hrs Killeri Super Special 1 (2.06km)
Fastest time: Martin (Ford) 1:18.6
Rally Finland got off to an electrifying start with a head-to-head battle between the sports biggest stars on the horse-trotting track at Killeri, on the outskirts of Jyvaskyla. In front of a capacity crowd, and in dry but cool conditions, the drivers completed two loops of the short 1.3km circuit, and gave spectators a preview of the action to follow over the next three days. In an extremely tight contest, where less than a second separated the fastest seven, Markko Martin took the stage win with Marcus Gronholm second and Subaru's Petter Solberg third.
SS2 0900hrs Jukojarvi 1 (22.31km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) & Martin (Ford) 10:50.8
The first proper stage of the event, a new day and a sharp wake up call for some of the leading WRC drivers. Although split-times showed he was the fastest through the early part of the stage, local hero Harri Rovanpera hit a rock 8km in, broke a bolt in his Peugeot's front right suspension and spun into a tree. He completed the stage, but dropped over twenty minutes to the leaders and with one more stage to run before service, it was likely that the he would lose more time before attention could be received. Skoda driver and past Finland winner Didier Auriol failed to even restart the event due a shoulder injury that had been causing him considerable pain and had forced him to drive last night's super special one-handed. Un-phased by the stages numerous junctions, crests and flat out sections, Subaru driver Petter Solberg completed the test third-fastest, while Tommi was ninth, despite hitting a rock in the road and losing a chunk from the rim of his car's front-right wheel. Markko Martin and three-times Finnish victor Marcus Gronholm set exactly the same time to share the stage win.
SS3 0931hrs Kruununpera 1 (20.17km)
Fastest time: Martin (Ford) 9:12.4
With damp sections reducing the amount of dust on the smooth gravel roads, front-runner Richard Burns, competing in his one hundredth WRC rally, was able to post the fourth fastest time, 2.8 seconds behind Colin McRae in third. Markko Martin took the stage win with an average speed of 145kph, while local boy Gronholm was second, much to the delight of the eager Finnish crowds. With his Peugeot still slowed by suspension problems, Harri Rovanpera limped to the finish and dropped another two and a half minutes to end the test more than 24 minutes behind the leaders. Petter was fifth fastest to remain in third overall. After the finish, crews returned to the Paviljonki complex for the second service of the day.
SS4 1148hrs Valkola (8.42km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 4:25.4
As rain began to fall, the short Valkola test demanded the ultimate in precision driving. Run mainly on narrow forest tracks lined with pine trees, the smooth gravel stage included a tricky, hairpin junction and numerous fast bends. There were no leading WRC retirements, although Markko Martin lost valuable seconds when he slipped off the road into a ditch allowing Gronholm to snatch the stage win and move within striking distance of the Estonian's overall lead. At the finish just one second separated the pair. Burns was second fastest and McRae third. With his Peugeot having been repaired in the previous service, Rovanpera was back on the pace and shared the sixth fastest time with Petter Solberg. Tommi Makinen and co-driver Kaj Lindstrom finished tenth after suffering an intercom problem 3km in. The duo switched to the road setting straightaway and Kaj had to shout the pace notes for the rest of the test. From then on, the pair switched to a back up system. After the finish crews completed the 28.82km road section to the start of SS5.
SS5 1231hrs Lankamaa (23.47km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 11:26.0
Another stage win for Gronholm, this time on the tricky Lankamaa test. Completing the stage 0.7 seconds faster than team-mate Burns, the Finn charged through the narrow roads to snatch the overall lead and end the test with a 2.7 second advantage. Martin was third quickest and Sainz fourth. Subaru driver Solberg hit a rock and collected damage to his car's anti-roll bar and front cross-member. Nevertheless, the Norwegian still managed to post the fifth fastest time, ahead of Rovanpera, McRae and Loeb. He later made roadside repairs before contesting the remaining two stages before service. Running past the farm of rally legend Juha Kankunnen, the stage's route highlighted the importance of local knowledge and Finnish non-WRC regulars Pykalisto, Lindholm and Valimaki continued to post competitive times, ahead of more experienced WRC crews.
SS6 1322hrs Laukaa (11.82km)
Fastest time: Martin (Ford) 5:46.1
Regarding this as his 'home' event, Estonian Markko Martin set a cracking pace and came right back at Gronholm to take his fourth stage win of the event, and move to within a second of the Finn's overall lead. Cheered on by the hundreds of fans who had gathered near the test's stomach churning, sixth-gear jump, Gronholm finished second fastest, with Burns third and McRae fourth. Makinen slid wide on a corner, but still moved up to seventh position overall as Pykalisto, who finished in overall eighth, struggled in the wet. Despite heavy rain, there were no retirements and after the finish, crews headed directly to the start of SS7.
SS7 1420hrs Ruuhimaki (7.57km)
Fastest time: Burns (Peugeot) 4:03.4
Including five sixth-gear jumps in succession, Ruuhimaki has traditionally been one of the most popular spectator stages of the season, and this year proved no different. Undeterred by the rain, thousands of fans lined the route to watch the drivers contest the stage at speeds of more than 175kph. For the drivers, the rain made running first on the road an advantage. As more rain fell, leading cars dragged mud onto the road making conditions treacherous for those further down the order. Burns took the stage win, with Gronholm second and Martin third. Despite finishing only seventh quickest, McRae continued to head the battle for overall fourth, yet at the finish less than three seconds separated him from Subaru's Solberg and Citroen team-mate Sainz.
SS8 1637hrs Jukojarvi 2 (22.31km)
Fastest time: Martin (Ford) 10:40.1
As Martin and Gronholm continued to trade stage wins, Martin shaved ten seconds off his earlier run through the repeated 22.31km test and clinched another win to lie just 0.8 seconds off Gronholm and the overall lead at the finish. Gronholm was second fastest, despite striking a rock in his Peugeot mid test, setting a time that was exactly matched by team-mate Richard Burns. A good run for Subaru's Petter Solberg. The popular Norwegian finished fourth fastest to move up to the same position overall, and dislodge Colin McRae to fifth. After the finish, crews moved directly to the start of SS9.
SS9 1708hrs Kruununpera 2 (20.17km)
Fastest time: Martin (Ford) 9:03.0
After stating that his only strategy on this rally is to go flat out, Martin did exactly that on the Leg's penultimate test. He recorded an average speed of 133.72kph, notched up his sixth stage win and re-took the overall lead. Finishing 3.5 seconds slower than the Estonian, Gronholm was second fastest, and dropped down to the same position in the overall standings. The duo would start the final test of the day separated by just 2.7 seconds. As conditions began to dry on the tree-lined, gravel stage, Colin McRae was third fastest to retake the overall fourth from Petter, while Loeb was fourth and Burns fifth. After the finish, crews returned to Jyvaskyla for a 20-minute service before a return to the spectator stage at Killeri.
SS10 1950hrs Killeri Super Special 2 (2.06km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 1:19.1
The second and final run through the head-to-head Super Special at the horse-trotting track brought more close racing from the WRC drivers. In front of an estimated 20,000 spectators, Gronholm gave the Finns plenty to cheer about as he crossed the line fastest, Martin was second and Solberg third. The Super Special result meant that Martin kept the overall lead of the rally, but by the slimmest of margins. Gronholm will start tomorrow just 2.4 seconds behind Martin with Burns a further 24 seconds back in third.
David Lapworth, 555 Subaru World Rally Team Principal: "All in all, at this stage in the rally I think things are very encouraging. Petter's had a good day. Without the time lost with the rock on SS5 he would probably be ahead of Colin and in an even stronger position, but for now he's done a good job and is well placed. Tommi lost a bit of time with a broken wheel earlier on, but apart from that he's had a largely trouble-free day."
Petter Solberg: "I'm happy with things so far, the car is very good here -- especially over the jumps where it's a big improvement over last year. I'm pushing as hard as I can, I know the stages quite well now and a lot of the time it's full throttle -- I can't get the pedal any further to the floor! I'm going to carry on pushing tomorrow, and I'm expecting a good fight with Colin and Carlos."
Tommi Makinen: "It's been okay, and the car has been 100 per cent reliable, but so far there have been some small problems that have stopped me getting me the best times. We had to drive about 14kms on SS2 with a damaged wheel, and have had a few mousse vibration problems since then, at more than 100kph, it's like the whole world is shaking!"
News from Pirelli
Fiore Brivio, Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager: "Our plan for today was to introduce a new evolution of Pirelli gravel tyres which have an improved construction. Both Tommi and Petter prefer this development saying that it has improved their high-speed stability. During today Tommi has selected the Pirelli KM4 on the first set of stages and then the Pirelli K4 in this afternoons tests (both with the new construction). Petter selected to sue the Pirelli K4 for all of today's tests."
Team Talk -- From the Subaru Team of '93
As the 555 Subaru team celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Impreza WRC, we spoke to Markku Alen, one of the drivers who competed for the team 10 years ago when the Subaru Impreza made its rally debut in Finland 1993--.
Q: What do you put the Impreza's success down to?
The Impreza is a very, very good package. It was very good when it started in 1993, and since then it's continued to make many successful evolutions. The team, Prodrive and Subaru all work well together, which is shown by the impressive results.
Q: Why do you think that although there are only 5 million people in Finland, they seem to dominate world motorsport?
A: I don't know. We have good people in F1 and rallying -- in all motorsports in fact. I'm not sure why, maybe it's something to do with our weather here. In the winter we can drive on the ice lakes and so we do a lot of ice racing, maybe that makes us better. There are also lots of gravel roads in Finland that people can use. I think that it must make people more confident in slippery conditions.
@#Q: What's your best memory of your rallying career?
A: My best memory is probably Portugal when I won my first WRC event, or Finland in 1976, when I scored my second WRC win. They both stand out as very good times. Rallying was a lot of fun though, it was always a fun sport and I have many good memories.
Q: It's really close at the top of the Driver's Championship, who do you think is going end up as World Champion this year?
A: Hopefully a Finn! But which one? We will see, we will see. I think that whoever wins here at the Thousand Lakes has a very good chance of winning the Championship. It's very likely to be a Finn, but ask me again on Sunday--
@#Q: Does it feel like 10 years ago that you were here with the Impreza?
A: It doesn't feel like ten years ago at all. A lot of people ask me what happened on that rally (in 1993), but the truth is that I don't know what happened at all! It was my mistake and that's all I can really say.
Leg two, the longest of the event, starts tomorrow from Jyvaskyla parc ferme. The first car will leave at 0600hrs for the first service, before travelling a 109km southwest for the first stage of the day. Competitors will contest seven stages, including the infamous Ouninpohja, (repeated), and a total of 167.92 competitive kilometres. The first stage is due to start at 0804hrs.