Peugeot driver Marcus GrÃ¶nholm has assumed a strong position in the final round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally of Great Britain, which began in earnest from its host city, Cardiff, this morning. The Finn's 206 WRC set fastest...
Peugeot driver Marcus Grönholm has assumed a strong position in the final round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally of Great Britain, which began in earnest from its host city, Cardiff, this morning. The Finn's 206 WRC set fastest times on all of today's forest stages to build up a lead of almost 50 seconds, although Grönholm's cause was helped when his close rival and team-mate Richard Burns slid off and damaged his similar Peugeot's exhaust on only the second stage this morning. The opening day of the event has been held in a strange blend of weather conditions, with clear blue skies overhead and soaking-wet, muddy and slippery roads in the Welsh forests. As a result, Burns was not the only top driver to be caught out - his fellow countryman Colin McRae slid off on this morning's opening stage, while MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi retired in the same test after he was unsighted by the sun (low in the sky in Wales at this time of year) and slid down a bank.
Technical: Marcus Grönholm's 206 WRC has been reliable today. Harri Rovanperä's car suffered from a suspected clutch problem on this morning's second stage, but Peugeot mechanics changed the offending unit at the following service. The Finn then suffered a jump-start penalty on SS5, when a small piece of the handbrake lever came loose and he nudged the car forwards as he was trying to prevent it from falling into his footwell. Richard Burns' car has been reliable in general, but he lost power when he slid off on the day's second stage and flattened 206's exhaust. He also suffered a loss of differential pressure on the road section immediately after SS5.
Sporting: Marcus Grönholm set fastest time on this morning's first stage, just half a second clear of his team-mate Richard Burns as the expected battle between the pair began to take shape. But it suffered a setback on the next stage, as Burns slid off under braking and flattened his car's exhaust. The Englishman lost well over a minute because of the resulting lack of power but he still fought his way back up the field to arrive in Cardiff this evening in eighth. Grönholm, meanwhile, continued to set the pace and he set fastest times on all of the day's forest stages to build up an advantage of almost 50 seconds. The third Peugeot driver, Harri Rovanperä, lost time with a small clutch problem and then a 10-second jump-start penalty, caused when a piece of his handbrake came loose at the start line of SS5. The Finn also spun in the day's last forest stage but he started the Cardiff superspecial in fifth overall. Peugeot's fourth entry, Gilles Panizzi, lies outside the top 10 after a steady drive today.
Quotes: Marcus Grönholm said: "I've been driving at a normal level of attack today, so I'm quite pleased that we've ended up with such a good advantage. Obviously this morning it was quite close between us and Richard and then he had his problem, so now we look quite comfortable up front. But there's a long way to go yet and as we've seen today, this is the sort of rally where you can slide off very easily, so we have to keep concentration."
Richard Burns said: "I just braked a little too late for a corner after a fast approach. We put all four wheels off the road and the car ended up on top of a bank. The exhaust was damaged so we'd no power - in fact, even getting back onto the road was a struggle. Then we lost a lot more time going through the rest of the stage."
Technical: None of the three nominated Focus RS WRC02s have encountered any serious mechanical problems today.
Sporting: Colin McRae's hopes of securing a fourth win on this event took a serious blow on this morning's first stage, when the Scot slid wide at junction and got stuck in mud. He dropped to 10th as a result, but recovered to arrive in Cardiff this evening in seventh, closely-matched with his local rival Burns. The Ford challenge has been spearheaded by Markko Martin for much of today - after his fastest time in last night's superspecial, the young Estonian has held a top three position throughout today's forest stages and he ended the serious mileage in third overall, battling with Subaru's Petter Solberg. Ford veteran Carlos Sainz has maintained a watching brief behind his younger team-mate today, and despite concerns about one of his tyre choices for SS5, the double world champion kept his Focus in fourth this afternoon. Ford's fourth entry, former British champion Mark Higgins, holds a top-10 placing overnight despite suffering from poor road conditions thanks to his lower starting position.
Quotes: Colin McRae said: "We can keep pushing but unless Marcus has a problem, I don't think anyone's going to stop him from winning here. For us, it's more a question of just trying to keep the car on the road." Markko Martin said: "I've been a bit surprised that some of the other guys haven't gone quicker, but we're obviously setting reasonable times and the car has been completely reliable for me."
Technical: The Impreza WRC2002 of Petter Solberg has been reliable today. The similar car of Tommi Mäkinen showed a smoking turbocharger after the day's first two stages, although Subaru estimated that this had not cost him performance. However, the turbo was changed at the first available service as a precaution.
Sporting: Petter Solberg hasn't been entirely satisfied with all of his tyre choices today but the Norwegian has, once again, been the top non-Peugeot on the timesheets. He's enjoyed a fight with fellow young star Markko Martin for second overall and Solberg made the position his by a handful of seconds as they arrived at this evening's superspecial in Cardiff. Team-mate Tommi Mäkinen had a spin and a half-spin on the day's first stage, but recovered to hold sixth on his return this evening.
Quotes: Petter Solberg said: "We can't touch Marcus but the best we can do is try to hold onto second overall and hope that in the tricky conditions, something might happen to him. It can certainly be that way on this event."
Technical: The Xsara WRCs of Sebastien Loeb and Thomas Radstrom have been reliable today,
Sporting: Citroen came to the Rally GB to gain experience for next year, and both Thomas Radstrom and Sebastien Loeb have adopted cautious approaches today. That didn't stop Loeb from clouting the rear of his car on this morning's first stage, but the young Frenchman still arrived back in Cardiff this evening in ninth. Team-mate Thomas Radstrom has been slower, and he lies on the edge of the top 20.
Quotes: Sebastien Loeb said: "The biggest problem I'm finding is that the road conditions change from corner to corner. You can have good grip at one section and then come over a crest and there's nothing - you could just slide straight off. My aim here is to get experience and try settings for the team, so I'm determined to get round."
Technical: The Accents of Freddy Loix and Juha Kankkunen have enjoyed good reliability today, although the windscreen washer on the Belgian's car failed during this morning's opening stages. Their team-mate Armin Schwarz has also been happy with the mechanical strength of his car, but he has suffered intercom failure on two different stages.
Sporting: Four-times world champion Juha Kankkunen and Freddy Loix have upheld Hyundai honour today, although neither has managed to break into the top 10. The pair were separated by just a handful of seconds (in the Belgian's favour) entering tonight's closing stage in Cardiff. Their team-mate Armin Schwarz lost time with intercom failures but he is less than half a minute further adrift.
Quotes: Juha Kankkunen said: "It's been going fine for me today. The conditions are quite difficult when we're having second runs through the stages, because the loose gravel gets cleared off the road and you get a mixture of ruts and polished hard rock, which is very slippery."
Technical: The Octavia WRCs of Toni Gardemeister and Roman Kresta have been reliable today. Kenneth Eriksson, however, suffered differential problems on this morning's opening pair of stages and then he lost his
brakes completely in SS6. Sporting: All three Skoda drivers have reported a lack of grip in the slippery conditions today, particularly on the second run through Trawscoed this afternoon, Kenneth Eriksson lost time with differential problems but he and team-mate Toni Gardemeister entered the closing forest test separated by just a second, albeit outside of the top 10. Brake problems in that stage dropped Eriksson back, however. Young Czech driver Roman Kresta has found the Welsh terrain especially challenging, and he lies on the fringes of the top 20.
Quotes: Toni Gardemeister said: "It's been really hard work today because the roads have been so slippery that you just feel you've got no grip at all. I don't know if everyone else is having the same problems but when Kenneth and I have had clean runs, the gap between us has been very small so I don't think the package can go much quicker than this."
Technical: The Lancer Evo WRC of Francois Delecour has been reliable today. However, his team-mate Jani Paasonen suffered a broken clutch on the road section from SS5 to service. The Finn was able to reach his Ralliart mechanics without penalties, though. Mitsubishi's last-minute replacement for Alister McRae, Justin Dale, was forced to retire after the second stage this morning when accident damage was found to have kinked his Lancer's roll cage.
Sporting: Mitsubishi lost its last-minute replacement for Alister McRae this morning, when Justin Dale was caught out by the low sun in the sky and rolled his Lancer. He reached service, despite having to stop and fill a damaged radiator with water at every opportunity in SS3, but when Ralliart mechanics examined his car they discovered too much damage to the roll cage for him to continue. Francois Delecour has competed with heavy strapping across his chest - a legacy of his Rally Australia accident - but the Frenchman has kept his Lancer in the top 20. Team-mate Jani Paasonen has had a couple of overshoots and one two-wheel moment but he entered this evening's superspecial less than 20 seconds behind Delecour.
Quotes: Justin Dale said: "I'm totally gutted. I just came to a fairly slow left-hander after a long straight and the sun appeared through the trees and totally blinded me. Obviously we knew the bodyshell was quite badly damaged but we did everything we could to overcome the broken radiator - we stopped at every stream possible in the second stage to top up the water. To make it back to service in time and then realise that the cage is too badly damaged is really disappointing."
There has been plenty of thrilling competition in the Junior World Rally Championship category of the event, with four different leaders in the first four stages. MG driver Gwyndaf Evans led after last night's superspecial, but Finn Janne Tuohino charged in his Saxo to grab the advantage on this morning's first forest stage. Junior WRC title hopeful Daniel Sola then claimed the top spot in SS3, before suffering a puncture and dropping nearly a minute. That allowed Tuohino back into the top spot, ahead of the other title aspirant Andrea Dallavilla, who has survived punctures on two separate stages. British challengers Evans and Niall McShea remain in contention, however, and Sola has already started to fight back.
World MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi failed to complete a single forest stage, meanwhile. On his debut in the FIA World Rally Championship, the Italian put the back wheels of his Peugeot 206 WRC off the road in the opening stage this morning and even after he managed to find some spectators, he was unable to regain the stage. His car was totally undamaged in the incident and once it had been towed onto the road, navigator Carlo Cassina was able to drive it back to service.
15/11/2002 TODAY STATISTICS
STARTERS: 85 crews (65 Group A and 20 Group N) started this morning.
RETIREMENTS: Dale (GB), and 10 other drivers
Friday 1 November
The second part of Leg 1 started from Cardiff at 05h15 and covered 622.54km, including 132.58km on six special stages.
Saturday 2 November
Leg 2 starts from Cardiff at 06h00 and covers 508.39km, including 117.04km on six special stages. The first car is expected to arrive in Cardiff at 20h30.
WEATHER FORECAST: More cloudy with heavy showers.