Hyundai ready to fight for fourth spot in championship. Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team crews Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets, Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer and Juha Kankkunen/Juha Repo are raring for battle and seeking to take the initiative as they ...
Hyundai ready to fight for fourth spot in championship.
Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team crews Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets, Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer and Juha Kankkunen/Juha Repo are raring for battle and seeking to take the initiative as they return to Europe for the final round of the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship next week, the Rally of Great Britain.
Following Rally Australia where Hyundai's Czech competitors Skoda inherited a point as a result of the exclusion of Tommi Makinen (Subaru), the Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team head to Cardiff on equal points with Skoda and Mitsubishi and all three teams are ready to battle it out for the fourth position in the manufacturers championship.
Juha Kankkunen, who has won the Rally of Great Britain on three occasions and finished on the podium a further seven times, clearly brings an enormous amount of experience to the team for the final event of the year. It is a rally that the Finn enjoys and based on recent performance, he has the chance of a good finish in the Welsh forests.
"The development work we have done makes me optimistic about this rally because the car is performing well, handling well and will suit the conditions. The roads are good and they are not rough so you can do well if you have a properly set-up car," said Kankkunen. "It's a pity the rally isn't anything like it used to be when we went to the north of England and had some really long stages, but it is still a special rally -- it sees some of the harshest weather and the most competitive driving and I have always enjoyed it -- especially on the three occasions I won it!"
German team-mate Armin Schwarz is looking forward to one of his favourite events in the championship and the German has achieved a number of good finishes. "It was the first WRC event I did and it really is a drivers rally," said Schwarz. "Knowledge does help a lot, it can be quite fast and a real challenge. The fog isn't so good as visibility is really restricted which can be difficult when you are travelling at the speeds we reach, and even harder if there are any new roads or parts of roads, considering you only pass through the stage two times during the recce."
The forest roads of Wales can become very muddy with the amount of rainfall that is commonly experienced throughout the event, which introduces tyre concerns different from the previous few rallies. "All of the stages on Rally GB are really muddy. On the special stages which are repeated the roads can get very rough on the second time through, exposing a lot of rocks," explained Armin. "The tyres need to be a strong compound that will last while running on the rocks but for mud you would choose a softer compound with extra grooves - then the difficulty can be that you might rip the tread blocks off so tyre choice can be difficult."
"And like the tyres, the suspension needs to be set-up to adapt to both variations in surface -- it needs to be soft enough for the mud but tough enough to withstand the rocks in the mud," explained Armin. "Last year (when I was with Skoda) we were fighting with Hyundai on Rally GB. This year we are again fighting with Skoda and also Mitsubishi so that gives even more reason to be motivated to do well."
Freddy Loix may not have as much experience as his two team-mates but it is a rally that he and co-driver Sven Smeets like. They have driven competitively in the Welsh forests before and finished fifth in 1999, and based on the speeds the Belgians have been setting in recent events, they clearly have the potential for a good result on the final round of the championship.
"Rally of Great Britain is one of the best events in the calendar although the weather can be some of the worst. It is fast rally and the roads generally smooth and the British rally fans are amongst the most enthusiastic in the world -- and considering the weather they are some of the most dedicated!" said 31-year-old Loix. "My aim is to have exactly the same set-up as I had in New Zealand and Australia and we have managed to set some fantastic stage times on those two rallies so there's no reason why we shouldn't be able to keep doing that. I think the stages in Wales will suit us, especially the twistier ones where the car's balance is first class and I would like to be able to get some more points for Hyundai to round the year off."
According to Juha Repo, co-driver to Juha Kankkunen, "The main thing that makes this rally tricky is the weather. We have some of the worst weather of the Championship in Wales in November and you have to be prepared for all possibilities.
"We often have fog which makes visibility difficult, especially if it is getting dark. We have had visibility reduced to as little as 10-20 metres in the past so you have to make sure your pace notes are very accurate. Rain can also reduce visibility and both rain and fog require a lot more concentration but it is more safe than Australia for example, as there are no big trees by the side of the road. If you go off the road in GB you're more likely to go into a ditch.
"There are only seven stages on the rally this year and all of them are repeated. The roads can get more slippery at the cutting points where mud and dirt gets brought onto the road -- that also happens at the braking points when the wheels lock as more of the harder road gets brought to the surface so there are lots of small stones.
"The gravel crews also need to be very careful with giving us information to add to the notes. Logs are often left at the side of the road from forestry work and there are tree stumps which can end your rally quickly -- if there is heavy rain or fog reducing visibility, then it is important they are noted. You can also have heavy frost in the higher stages so the gravel crews need to tell us if there is any ice -- as we are not allowed to use studded tyres we really have to be careful with ice."
The rally opens with a run of the superspecial stage in Cardiff Bay for the thousands of fans who brave the weather conditions. Leg one proper takes crews north west of Swansea central service for 134.13 competitive kilometres over six special stages, concluding with another run of the superspecial stage. Leg two heads north east of Swansea covering six timed tests over 120.16 kilometres, again concluding with a final run of the superspecial stage in Cardiff. The final four special stages on leg three are situated east of Swansea before surviving crews reach the Cardiff finish ramp at 16:50. Cardiff is GMT.