NETWORK Q RALLY GREAT BRITAIN - Thursday, 14 November 2002 Marcus Gronholm and his Peugeot team will both be aiming for records on the final round of this year's FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally of Great Britain, which starts with a ...
NETWORK Q RALLY GREAT BRITAIN - Thursday, 14 November 2002
Marcus Gronholm and his Peugeot team will both be aiming for records on the final round of this year's FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally of Great Britain, which starts with a superspecial in host city Cardiff this evening. Gronholm can equal Didier Auriol's record of six victories in a single season, while Peugeot is aiming to match Lancia's benchmark of nine successes in the one year.
Gronholm will face stiff opposition in his quest - not least from Britain's top two drivers, Richard Burns and Colin McRae, each of whom is aiming for his fourth victory on home soil. And with Subaru youngster Petter Solberg looking increasingly close to his first win at WRC level, and Gronholm's Peugeot team-mate Harri Rovanpera aiming for his first victory of this season in Welsh forests he knows well, there remains plenty of scope for competition in the closing miles of the season. They are likely to be held in extremely difficult conditions, with the normally-slippery Welsh forests made even more treacherous by heavy rain.
Peugeot (1st - 163 points)
Technical: Peugeot has made no significant changes to its 206 WRCs for this event.
Sporting: Peugeot sends three cars to this event, for Marcus Gronholm, Richard Burns and Harri Rovanpera. A fourth 206 has also been entered for asphalt expert Gilles Panizzi but unlike the others, he will not be nominated for manufacturers' points. Rovanpera will be reunited with co-driver Risto Pietilainen on this event, since his old navigator has now made a full recovery from an aneurism.
Marcus Gronholm said: "I won here last year but of course Richard was thinking about the championship then. It'll be interesting this time to see how we compare. The car felt good at shakedown this morning, so all we can do is wait until the Welsh forests and see how it is. I'm expecting Richard to push really hard, so we'll have to see how our own speed is compared to his before we decide whether to really attack or not."
Richard Burns said: "I don't really think there's any more hype now - people know who's going to be quick here and who's going to be fighting for victory. I've felt good with the car in testing and obviously there's going to be a fight - probably between myself and Marcus, with Colin trying pretty hard as well. I'm feeling pretty confident."
Ford (2nd - 94 points)
Technical: Ford's three regular Focus RS WRC02s - driven by Carlos Sainz, Colin McRae and Markko Martin - will all run in essentially-unchanged specification in Great Britain. The team's fourth entry for Mark Higgins, however, will use revised electronics that will eventually be installed in the 2003 model. The most visible illustration of these modifications on the Welsh-domiciled Manxman's car will be a different dashboard and gearchange indicator.
Sporting: Ford has entered its three usual drivers - Carlos Sainz, Colin McRae and Markko Martin - for the final round of the season, and all three will be registered for manufacturers' points. This will be McRae's last outing for the team before he switches to Citroen for 2003, and it could also be Sainz's last appearance in the Focus as well - he currently has no deal in place with any team for next season. Ford will also field a fourth Focus RS WRC02 for former British champion Mark Higgins. The Welsh-domiciled Manxman ran in the top six for the team on this event last year, before his entry was withdrawn following an accident involving Carlos Sainz.
Colin McRae said: "It's going to be tough for us - as we've seen in the last few rallies, it's hard to stop the Peugeots when they're working well. If I was to put on a bet I'd go for Richard - he's due a win and if he gets a clean run, he'll be very strong. But we also have a decent package and I'd like to finish my Ford career with a win, of course."
Markko Martin said: "Testing didn't go quite as planned for me - we seemed to have a lot of small niggles. But this is still one of the events in the world championship that I've got the most experience of, so I'm looking forward to it. I don't mind the rain and a bit of mud this weekend, but I'm really hoping that there's no fog."
Subaru (3rd - 54 points)
Technical: Subaru has made no major revisions to its Imprezas for this event. The team has already started testing its 2003-specification car and it looks likely to be the only manufacturer introducing a new model on next year's season-opener in Monte Carlo.
Sporting: Subaru has entered its two usual Impreza WRC2002 drivers for this event - Tommi Makinen and Petter Solberg.
Petter Solberg said: "I've got a good feeling about this rally. We did a good test and the car felt very good at shakedown this morning. I know people keep asking when my first win will come but to be honest, I'm just concentrating on doing my best and I know it will happen eventually. We've been the best non-Peugeot on a quite a few rallies recently and sooner or later, it's going to come good. I expect conditions to be difficult here this weekend and some of the stages have some very fast sections."
Tommi Makinen said: "This hasn't been the best rally for me in the past but when the conditions are really difficult, it seems we have quite a good tyre and car combination. Everyone expects Marcus and Richard to fight for the win and of course they'll be hard to beat, but I know from the past that here anything can happen."
Skoda (4th - 9 points)
Technical: Skoda's Octavia WRCs are unchanged from the specification that was used in New Zealand and Australia. The Czech manufacturer has concentrated on strengthening its cars, in anticipation of a high rate of attrition caused by multi-use of stages in the Welsh forests.
Sporting: Skoda has entered three Octavia WRCs for this event, for regular drivers Toni Gardemeister and Kenneth Eriksson, as well as young Czech driver Roman Kresta.
Toni Gardemeister said: "I think we only have one real option on this rally - to push totally flat out from the start and see where that takes us. We showed in some stages in Australia that we can have quite a good speed."
Mitsubishi (5th - 9 points)
Technical: Mitsubishi has made no major changes to the Lancer for this event, although the team has worked hard to make the car easier and more predictable to drive in the slippery conditions.
Sporting: Mitsubishi Ralliart had entered three cars on this event, but there is still no return for injured driver Alister McRae. He has been told by doctors in Australia to continue his recuperation from a liver injury for at least a few more weeks. Mitsubishi has drafted in British Super 1600 champion Justin Dale as a last-minute replacement, although he has little experience of four-wheel drive machinery and has only tackled his home round of the world championship once before, in 1996. The other two Mitsubishis will be driven by Francois Delecour and Jani Paasonen, although the Frenchman describes his own physical condition as no more than '80 percent' after his Rally Australia accident. He will be navigated by Dominique Savignoni in the Welsh forests, since his regular co-driver Daniel Grataloup will be out of action for several months after their first-day accident in Australia.
Francois Delecour said: "I have quite a lot of pain in my back and it's not nice. It's frustrating because there's no problem with Dominique but I am not feeling at my best. We'll just have to try as hard as is possible."
Justin Dale said: "The team have told me that they really want a 'banker' who can bring the car home in case others hit trouble and maybe sneak a manufacturers' point. So that's what I'm going to do. I really want to take advantage of the opportunity, take it all in and enjoy myself, without putting myself under too much pressure."
Hyundai (6th - 9 points)
Technical: Hyundai has introduced no major changes to its Accent WRC3s for Great Britain. The team has yet to fully trace the problems which hit its engines in Australia, but it is believed to be related to spark plugs and ignition.
Sporting: Hyundai sends three Accent WRC3s to Great Britain - for regular drivers Armin Schwarz and Freddy Loix, and four-times world champion Juha Kankkunen. The team recently confirmed that it will enter two Accents on next year's world championship, for Schwarz and Loix. The decision potentially leaves Kankkunen without any full-time drive, and also appears to have ruled out a chance of a Hyundai seat for Carlos Sainz.
Armin Schwarz said: "We didn't do a test for here but even at the shakedown this morning, I had quite a good feeling. The Accent handles very well and in the slippery conditions, that's ideal. Total horsepower isn't quite so important in these conditions either. This is a rally that I really like - it's difficult, tricky and hard to finish here, but that's a good challenge for the final round of the season."
Technical: Citroen's Xsara WRCs will run in their regular 2002 specification on this event, with fine-tuning to the suspension and differentials for the Welsh conditions. The team is planning to introduce a 2003 homologation in April next year, featuring major revisions to the car's engine.
Sporting: Citroen has entered two Xsara WRCs for this event, to be driven by Thomas Radstrom and Sebastien Loeb. The French manufacturer has yet to confirm if it will commit to two or three cars in next year's world championship - Loeb is already confirmed, alongside former world champion Colin McRae.
Thomas Radstrom said: "We had a good test in Wales when we found a lot of improvements with the car but as has always been the case this year, we just won't know how well we've done until the first few stages. Even this morning we were playing with the suspension and differentials and making quite a good feeling but we don't know if that's going to show on the timesheets or not. Only time will tell!"
The Rally of Great Britain is the final round of the FIA Junior World Rally Championship, and two drivers can still claim the spoils. Italian Andrea Dallavilla will start with a one-point advantage over Spaniard Daniel Sola, so either of the drivers (both of whom use Citroen Saxos) will be guaranteed the title if they win the category this weekend.
Beyond the factory World Rally Cars, much media attention will be focused on World MotoGP motorcycling champion Valentino Rossi. He has been granted dispensation from his bike manufacturer Honda to enter a Peugeot 206 WRC. It will be his first rally drive at world championship level, although he has impressed at the end-of-season Race of Champions in previous years.