Loix poised for Hyundai points on season finale. Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team crews Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Juha Kankkunen/Juha Repo continued a consistently confident run throughout leg two of the Rally of Great Britain to reach parc ...
Loix poised for Hyundai points on season finale.
Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team crews Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Juha Kankkunen/Juha Repo continued a consistently confident run throughout leg two of the Rally of Great Britain to reach parc ferme in ninth and 10th positions respectively. Team-mates Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer were sadly forced to retire.
It is well known that the Rally of Great Britain is a difficult season-closer and this year is no exception as crews simply try to survive the tricky conditions. A dramatic second day sidelined five frontrunners, including newly crowned* World Champion Marcus Gronholm who led the rally from the start - it just goes to show that even the best can get caught out.
Freddy Loix made a cautious start to the day on the 54.69km day opener, as sunlight made visibility slightly difficult. But after making some alterations to the suspension settings the 31-year-old Belgian soon picked up his pace to set a string of top ten stage times, working his way up the leaderboard from his overnight position of 11th to a potential points-scoring position of ninth.
All Hyundai attention is on points as the team strives to stay ahead of rivals Mitsubishi and Skoda. Following the retirements of both remaining Mitsubishis of Francois Delecour and Jani Paasonen, the pressure is slightly relieved, but Czech competitors Skoda, who are also on an equal manufacturer points tally, are still fighting hard to catch both Hyundais, so every second counts as they head into the longest day of the rally.
"Tomorrow I want to keep the speed that we had on the last three proper stages," said Loix. This morning we struggled a little bit with set-up and we altered the suspension settings through the day. I couldn't really understand why we lost time on the long stage this morning but now we have a compromise on the set-up that is really letting us get the times. Tomorrow's stages are going to be the trickiest for me because it has been a couple of years since I last drove them," he added. "If we can go the same as we did this afternoon then I think we will be okay. It's going to be tough keeping Harri (Rovanpera) behind us tomorrow but we will have to try to do that to make sure of the point for the team which will give us fourth place in the Manufacturers Championship."
Juha Kankkunen also ran faultlessly all day and was fairly level-pegging with team-mate Loix for the duration, picking up speed on the afternoon's tests. Juha praised the Accent WRC", appearing to be enjoying the rally he has won on three occasions in the past. "The first time through the stages today was good with lots of grip but the roads were polishing again on the second time, giving less grip. But the car ran perfectly -- it really is very well suited to this event," said the four-time World Champion.
"The conditions today were like yesterday but to be honest it's no big problem -- I really don't mind whether it is wet or dry tomorrow as our road position will help. I suppose wet conditions would make it worse for those following us!" he suggested. "My plan for tomorrow? To give it everything -- it is not a day for relaxing as there is too much distance left to take it easy."
Armin Schwarz and co-driver Manfred Hiemer saw their season come to a disappointing close as smoke inhalation as a result of an exhaust fire prevented the pair from continuing, despite their car being in a fit state to continue. The team withdrew the German crew based on medical advise from Dr. Paul Trafford, the team doctor.
Armin explained what happened, "About 6 kilometres into SS8 we heard a noise and the car suddenly filled up with smoke and fumes. We could see a fire at the rear of the car so we stopped at the side of the road. Our extinguisher wasn't enough to put out the fire so we flagged down Juha and his extinguisher did the job. I think we broke the exhaust pipe at the silencer and the bumper caught on fire, but we had to drive the rest of the stage -- almost 50km -- with a car full of smoke and fumes. It's a sad way to end the season -- I just hope next year will be kinder to us."
With only one day of the rally remaining, David Whitehead, Team Principal, commented, "It's good to see Freddy in a points-scoring position and although it will be a hard job to maintain that with the Peugeot close behind, if we can consolidate this position it would be a great reward for all the efforts and progress the team have made this year."
"We said at the start of the season that we wanted to take fourth position in the Manufacturers race and personally I don't believe that our current points total properly reflects our performances through the year. But quite clearly we are seeing a continued improvement in our performance and the cars were running faultlessly today, so I hope at this time tomorrow we can be celebrating fourth place at the end of what has been a hard season," concluded David.
News from our rivals
Special stage 10 featured most of the day's drama. Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) was the first to retire on the stage, admitting to a split second lapse in concentration, which resulted in a roll into retirement. Jani Paasonen (Mitsubishi) followed suite at exactly the same spot only seconds later, although the Finns claims to have been distracted by marshals flagging him down because of Gronholm. Francois Delecour (Mitsubshi) also retired a few kilometres further into the stage when his co-driver Dominique Savignoni, standing in for Daniel Grataloup who is still recuperating from the Australia accident, delivered a late pace note. Harri Rovanpera (Peugeot) suffered brake problems on SS10 and unable to make any repairs until after SS12, dropped down the order from fifth to 11th. With Marcus Gronholm out of the picture Markko Martin (Ford) leads the rally only 1.6 seconds ahead of Petter Solberg (Subaru) -- competition will be fierce tomorrow as both youngsters are in search of their first WRC win. Carlos Sainz (Ford) holds third position ahead of lead Brit Richard Burns (Peugeot) in fourth and Tommi Makinen (Subaru) in fifth.
The third and final leg of the rally is the longest and covers 138.50 kilometres of competition east of Swansea. The day begins with a return to the long 54.69km Resolfen followed by three stages which are all over 27km in length. Surviving crews reach the Cardiff finish ramp at 16:40hrs.
* Subject to FIA confirmation.