Thrilling finale grings success for Hyundai's season. A confident drive by Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team crews Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Juha Kankkunen/Juha Repo on the Rally of Great Britain brought the team and the Korean manufacturer a...
Thrilling finale grings success for Hyundai's season.
A confident drive by Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team crews Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Juha Kankkunen/Juha Repo on the Rally of Great Britain brought the team and the Korean manufacturer a successful end to the season with a secure fourth place in the Championship.
Despite the fact that the 2002 Drivers Championship and Manufacturers title were tied up, there were still battles to be won on the final round of the season. For the Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team, the fight was on until the last kilometre for fourth position in the Manufacturers Championship and although challengers Mitsubishi were out of contention by the end of leg two, Czech rivals Skoda were still hot on the heels of Hyundai ready to pick up any available points.
Hyundai's 'Fast Freddy' lay in a points-scoring position overnight with four-time World Champion team-mate Juha Kankkunen right behind him. As Armin Schwarz was sidelined by an exhaust fire on day two of the rally, the responsibility lay with Juha and Freddy. The two crews battled to stay in contention confidently setting competitive stage times, fully aware of the importance of points on this final round of the season. The high rate of attrition on Rally GB helped Loix and Kankkunen establish themselves in the position needed by the team, so the plan for the final stage was to go fast but steady. It paid off and Loix's one point was enough to achieve the team's goal.
"I'm delighted for the team," said an elated Loix, "and I don't care about losing by one tenth of a second to Harri (Rovanpera). I could have fought with him for the position but it could have all gone wrong and that would have been stupid. I didn't come here to fight with the Peugeots. I came here to lead the team home and to get the points for fourth place in the Championship. I took it very carefully on the final stage of the rally to make sure of that that!"
World rally legend Kankkunen -- usually a man of few words -- was also pleased with the team's result. "We did the best we could today and fourth place in the Manufacturers Championship was the most important thing. This was one of the easiest Rally GBs that I can remember, difficult in places but the weather made it so much better."
At the end of his final rally for the Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team, Juha was philosophical. "It has been very enjoyable to drive with the team this year and getting the result on Safari was especially good. I'm happy for Freddy on this event but even more so for everyone in the team."
All the Hyundai crews set some outstanding stage times throughout the season, clearly demonstrating the speed and level to which the Accent WRC" has been developed over the year. But 31-year-old Loix has possibly shone the brightest with incredible performances on a number of rallies. Following an accident in Monte Carlo, the determined Belgian tackled the snow of Sweden with a broken foot -- a third fastest time promoted him up the leaderboard and he spent most of the rally in fourth overall before retiring on the final day. The Belgian was not deterred and, despite recuperating, proved he could still live up to his nickname, setting fastest stage times in Argentina, Greece and Australia -- the one in Greece permitting him to run in a podium position of second overall before a rock stopped him in his tracks. His efforts were finally rewarded with a point for the team in New Zealand.
Thinking about the year just gone, Freddy said, "I think it's clear that this season we didn't get all the results we deserved. For example in Argentina, Cyprus, Greece and Sweden we were in the top six but were sidelined by minor problems, and then of course I made some silly mistakes like in Australia. But I am really happy to have gone to GB and finished so well."
Juha Kankkunen may not have set the same speeds as younger team-mate Loix but the four-time World Champion was the most consistent driver through the season scoring six of the team's ten points. With 23 years of world rally experience and 23 world rally wins to his credit, the Finn has without doubt brought a level of expertise to the team unrivalled by most and he is a driver with whom both Loix and Schwarz have enjoyed working, both benefiting from a few useful tips on the way. Juha scored the team's first point of the season in Sweden and another in Argentina. Hyundai's debut on the demanding African terrain was clearly boosted by the three-time Safari winner whose sheer grit and determination gave the team a hard earned two-point boost, and a good run on the roads of New Zealand which are not dissimilar to those of his homeland, rewarded the team with a further two points.
German team-mates Armin Schwarz and Manfred Hiemer did not have luck on their side on Rally GB and on a number of other rallies throughout the season but the pair have still brought home points for the team. Taking time to settle into the car at the beginning of the year, Armin proved he was still a force to be reckoned with in Cyprus where treacherous weather conditions challenged most competitors and despite those conditions Armin stood his ground and took his first Hyundai point. Like team-mate Loix, Armin set some excellent stage times throughout the year, most notably a second fastest time in Greece en route to another manufacturer point, as well as top five stage times in Sweden, Cyprus and Deutschland.
"This year hasn't been very kind to us," reminisced Armin. "We've had some highlights and some lowlights. Now I'm looking forward to doing some more testing to prepare for a new season and a clean slate to work from. Next year we have an even bigger challenge -- to keep hold of our fourth place."
At the beginning of the season Team Principal David Whitehead stated that the team's aim was to be the fourth manufacturer in the World Rally Championship and that goal has now been achieved. "I'm delighted for the entire team that we have realised our original objective. Personally I'm chuffed to bits! I'm very proud of what Freddy and Juha have done on this event and I think it is a justification of our speed and performance throughout the season. I think it's fair to say that we were the fourth manufacturer in terms of the way we have gone this year," said David.
Assessing the team's progress over its third season at the top level of the sport, David added, "Freddy has really shown the potential of the car and it's particularly nice that he has brought home the final important point. Armin has worked hard all year but has suffered terrible misfortune. Despite that that he has been a great asset to the team's progress and in bringing home valuable manufacturer points."
In closing David added, "It's been a privilege to have Juha in the team. He has brought a wealth of experience to the development programme and at times his contribution has been immense, for example, achieving a points finish on our very first Safari Rally. We're very sad that Juha will not be joining us as we move forward next year."
News from our Rivals
Subaru young-gun Petter Solberg finally achieved the result he deserved with a fantastic drive in Great Britain which not only gave him his maiden WRC victory but also landed him second place in the Drivers Championship. But credit must be given to his nearest rival, rising Ford star Markko Martin who was within seconds of also taking his first WRC win but was eventually outshone by the 27-year-old Norwegian Solberg. The final leg of Rally GB saw 2001 World Champion Richard Burns' hopes crushed after going off the road on the penultimate stage of the rally, leaving British hopes within the hands of Scot Colin McRae on his final outing with Ford. Citroen youngster Sebastien Loeb also retired with broken suspension.
The first round of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship is the traditional season-opener, Rallye Monte Carlo running from 24-26 January, based out of the affluent tax haven Monaco, and is the only round where crews can be faced with any combination of tarmac, snow and ice in the stages of the French Alps.