Solid start for Hyundai in slippery Welsh forests. Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team crews Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets, Juha Kankkunen/Juha Repo and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer made a good start to the Rally of Great Britain, the final round of the...
Solid start for Hyundai in slippery Welsh forests.
Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team crews Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets, Juha Kankkunen/Juha Repo and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer made a good start to the Rally of Great Britain, the final round of the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship, to bring their Hyundai Accent WRC"'s to overnight parc ferme in 10th, 11th and 13th positions overall respectively.
While the winner of the Championship has already been decided, there is still a battle on for fourth position in the manufacturers championship. Hyundai and rival manufacturers Mitsubishi and Skoda all entered the Rally of Great Britain on equal points and the next two days of competition in the Welsh forests are more important than ever.
Four-time Rally GB winner Juha Kankkunen quickly settled into the rhythm demanded by the famous muddy forest roads and had a trouble-free run throughout the day, despite the difficult conditions. Overnight downpours left the day's stages treacherously wet to which many crews fell prey, but Juha and his team-mates maintained a steady competitive pace to keep a comfortable lead ahead of all Mitsubishi and Skoda crews.
"The car was good today and we only did a routine service this evening. The main thing is that it has been very slippery everywhere -- it's been one of the slipperiest Rally GBs I have ever seen. As the rain stopped, the mud was polishing the surface making it more slippery as every car passed and very tricky in the braking points and under the trees in the forest," explained Kankkunen. "If the conditions are similar tomorrow I think we can benefit a little bit from our road position."
Freddy Loix and co-driver Sven Smeets, who have the least experience of the Hyundai crews in the British stages, started strongly setting an eighth fastest time on the opening stage of the day, promoting them to ninth overall. Condensation inside the car made visibility difficult for Loix, however, and he dropped a few seconds on the second of the first two stages.
The afternoon's stages were repeats of those in the morning and as predicted, were in a worse condition, but the Belgian was not deterred. "I've been happy with the car today in general and I really hope the re-seed tomorrow will give us a little advantage," said Freddy. "Today we have been driving in the muck the other boys left behind -- hopefully tomorrow they'll have to drive in ours."
Despite keeping ahead of experienced team-mate Kankkunen, Loix explained how important experience is on the final round of the Championship. "To be honest this rally and Deutschland are the two most difficult rallies for me. I have only been here three times and only finished once. Our notes are good but with these stages I think you have to know a bit to really attack. Our position should be good and I am just aiming to keep going as hard as I can. Juha is not far behind me and I would really like to stay ahead of him. Of course it goes without saying that we all need to stay ahead of the Mitsubishis and Skodas!"
Armin Schwarz, who considers the Rally of Great Britain among is favourites, also set competitive stage times but was hindered slightly by a faulty intercom system. The difficulty began during the opening stage when the intercom stopped working and co-driver Manfred Hiemer had to resort to using hand signals through the second stage of the day, until repairs could be made in service.
Armin explained, "It was difficult without the intercom and Manfred had to fix it again in the car this afternoon so I think we lost a little bit of time throughout the day. But once fixed the car was good. Tomorrow we will have to see if we get any advantage -- there's a long stage at the beginning of the day but we'll have to see what conditions the weather brings overnight to know how much of an advantage we will have from our road position."
News from our rivals
The rally started badly for the local heroes when Colin McRae (Ford) overshot a junction on the opening stage of the day and rival Richard Burns (Peugeot) damaged the turbo pipe on SS3 -- both lost time and dropped down the order as a result. Leg one also saw the retirement of the British new recruit of Mitsubishi, Justin Dale who was on his first outing in the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC. Dale rolled on the opening stage of the day and while the car only appeared to only have cosmetic damage, he was unable to continue after it was discovered the roll cage was damaged. The slippery mud also affected Tommi Makinen who spun on a couple of occasions throughout the day and Ford youngster Mark Higgins landed heavily after a jump damaging the car's handling causing a small collision with a tree. Harri Rovanpera (Peugeot) also experienced clutch problems throughout the day, and Kenneth Eriksson (Skoda) was hindered by faulty windscreen wipers and faulty brakes which made any real progress difficult for the Swede.
Recently-crowned 2002 World Champion* Marcus Gronholm led throughout the day in search of his sixth win of the season and his nearest rival Petter Solberg (Subaru) lies 48 seconds adrift in second. Estonion Markko Martin leads the Ford pack in third, only 2.7 seconds behind Solberg, with Carlos Sainz (Ford) in fourth and Harri Rovanpera (Peugeot) in fifth.
Leg two of the rally takes crews north and east of the Swansea service park for 117 kilometres of competition over five special stages. The day opener is the 54.69km Resolfen, the second longest special stage in the Championship (excluding the competitive sections on Safari Rally) and crews again complete the day with another run of the purpose-built superspecial stage for spectators, before returning to parc ferme at 20:30hrs.
* Subject to FIA confirmation