ROVANPERA THIRD IN THE MITSUBISHI LANCER WRC05 Rovanpera sets fastest stage time and two third-fastest times Galli maintains competitive pace to hold ninth overnight After the opening leg of Wales Rally GB, the 12th round of the FIA World...
ROVANPERA THIRD IN THE MITSUBISHI LANCER WRC05
Rovanpera sets fastest stage time and two third-fastest times
Galli maintains competitive pace to hold ninth overnight
After the opening leg of Wales Rally GB, the 12th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 crew of Harri Rovanpera and Risto Pietilainen are on the provisional podium, in third. Team-mates "Gigi" Galli and Guido d'Amore have been easing themselves into the pace in their first competitive outing in Wales but have set competitive times to lie ninth overnight, following the exclusion of Toni Gardemeister whose car was under weight this evening.
"A very good day, very satisfying", said Isao Torii, Head of Mitsubishi Motor Sports. "Harri showed a good performance from the outset, with a fastest stage time early this morning. He has been constant and stable all day and had no major technical problems. Gigi made a small mistake in the first stage, but otherwise he's showed progress during the second loop of stages this afternoon and gradually closed the gap to his rivals. Tomorrow hopefully he can do the same. Everything is on the right track and we hope to keep the momentum until Sunday".
After last night's ceremonial start outside Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, HQ for Wales Rally GB, the action kicked off in earnest this morning from the service park in Swansea, 70 kilometers to the north-west. The first leg, to the north and east of Swansea, covered two identical loops of three stages totaling 136.74 competitive kilometers, the longest day of the event. In contrast to yesterday's persistent rain, blue skies and clear conditions were a welcome sight in Brechfa and the Vale of Neath Forests, where all today's action has been played out.
In an event where he has traditionally run well, Harri Rovanpera was on the pace from the outset, the Finn fourth fastest in the opening stage. In the 18.56 kilometer Trawscoed stage, however, the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 driver, co-driven by Risto Pietilainen, was the pace-setter and set fastest time by three seconds. The Finns have never been out of the top six all afternoon and are just over 10 seconds adrift of second position.
"Today has been fantastic for me and very good for the team on the mechanics home event, every stage has been going well", said Harri. "The only problem we have had is a suspension link failure in SS5 but we were able to fix it for the final stage. All the stages this afternoon have been very slippy, especially the last one even though it was completely dry. Everyone in the team has worked very hard so I am happy to have a good result at the end of the first day. I need to keep my concentration for the whole weekend, because I'm sure there will be a big fight ahead".
Team-mate Gigi Galli lost time in the first stage this morning when he overshot a junction and stalled the engine, however the Italian was fifth fastest in the following stage to climb four places up the leaderboard. This afternoon he has increased the pace over the repeated stages and was fifth, eighth and third fastest in the second Lancer WRC05. He holds ninth overnight, in a very close battle for a position in the top six.
"I am pleased with the day, which has gone accordingly to plan, but this rally is harder than I thought", said Gigi. "The main thing about the event is the grip; sometimes it's slippy and other times not, but I think tomorrow's stages are more twisty and the surface a bit more predictable. We are trying, step by step, but doing these stages in a rally car is something quite different to the recce".
Adding to the drivers' comments, Roger Estrada, Principal Rally Engineer, said: "We have shown good performance today and apart from one small issue with Harri's car this afternoon, we've had no problems. Even then, he didn't drop time. Both drivers are happy with the set-up and overall performance and we've made the right choice of tire all day. This afternoon the compound was maybe a bit soft, but as overall decisions, they have been right".
Saturday takes the crews to the north-east of Swansea for another seven stages totaling 103.86 competitive kilometers before returning to Cardiff for an all-new 1.1 kilometer special stage in the world-famous Millennium Stadium, host to numerous international sporting events.
News from our rivals
World Championship leader Sebastien Loeb has once again established himself at the head of the leaderboard, despite an uncharacteristic penalty for leaving service late earlier in the day. However three-time Rally GB winner Petter Solberg is hot on his heels, just 9.9 seconds adrift after today's six special stages. Behind Rovanpera in third, Marcus Gronholm has climbed into fourth after a fine drive this afternoon. The Finn had led the event after the opening stage, but dropped time in the following two with brake problems. Francois Duval and Christopher Atkinson in the second Citroen and Subaru respectively round off the top six. Colin McRae, on his one-off return to the series for Skoda, held ninth earlier in the day but dropped to 13th overnight, suffering poor road conditions in the second loop of stages.
MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION DRIVERS POISED TO ATTACK
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution drivers made a good start to Wales Rally GB and five hold top ten positions overnight among a strong field of Group N contenders. The leading Lancer Evolution is that of youngster Stuart Jones, the 20-year-old fifth overall in the category.
The first leg was the longest of three, with two loops of three stages in the forests north of the service park base in Swansea and a total of 136.74 competitive kilometers. Competitors headed into the stages today blessed with bright sunshine but after heavy rain on Thursday, conditions were expected to be muddy. Sure enough, the opening stages were very slippery but the sun soon dried the roads to a harder and faster surface.
FIA PWRC Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution driver Riccardo Errani is far from familiar with the British stages having only completed one stage before on the sole occasion he started the event four years ago. As a result he is taking the event steadily, focusing on reaching the finish, but is enjoying every step of the way.
"I'm driving very carefully today. We have had a problem with the clutch all day which isn't working properly. I think the engine oil has leaked into it", explained Errani. "But the stages are absolutely beautiful; they are fast, great for driving and maybe better than New Zealand, and we all know how much everybody likes driving them!"
Leading the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Group N challenge and lying fifth in Group N overall is British youngster Stuart Jones. Although he is not registered for the FIA PWRC, he is currently training under the UK's MSA Elite program; the 20-year-old is thoroughly enjoying the benefits but promises there is still more to come.
"We have made the wrong tire choice all day so they have been going off after only a few miles into each stage. I know that with the right tire compound we would have been more competitive today. But I really enjoyed the second run through the stages this afternoon and I know tomorrow we should go better as I have driven the roads quite a lot on club rallies", said Jones.
Local favorite David Higgins, also driving a privately-run Lancer, made an excellent start to the rally taking the Group N lead after the opening stage, but stopping to change a puncture on stage two pulled the Isle of Man driver down the order to 28th, from which he fought his way back to 10th position after setting a string of competitive times throughout the remainder of the day.
"We dropped a few minutes on the second stage today when we had to change a front left puncture, which is a real pity as we were quickest on stage one. I think we'll need a lot of luck for a win now but I'm happy with our pace this afternoon; the car is feeling good and we only have to make minor changes tonight", said Higgins. "We have another repeated set of stages tomorrow; most people seem to make up time the second time through so I prefer to try and take a bit of an advantage on the first run".
Leg two takes crews to the Crychan Forest for another set of three repeated stages, 60 km north-east of Swansea and the day is rounded off with a spectator friendly indoor stage run over 1.1 km, created specifically for Wales Rally GB at the Millennium Stadium. The leg covers 103.86 kilometers of competition.