Disappointing day for Mitsubishi. The Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart crews of FranÃ§ois Delecour/Dominique Savignoni and Jani Paasonen/Arto Kapanen hold 16th and 17th positions respectively after the opening leg of the Rally of Great Britain, ...
Disappointing day for Mitsubishi.
The Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart crews of François Delecour/Dominique Savignoni and Jani Paasonen/Arto Kapanen hold 16th and 17th positions respectively after the opening leg of the Rally of Great Britain, the final round of the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship. British Super 1600 Rally Champions Justin Dale/Andrew Bargery were forced into a heart-breaking retirement after just three stages.
The Rally of Great Britain kicked off last night with a spectacular start in the heart of Wales' capital city, Cardiff. Father Christmas was one of the stars of the show and the world's most famous seasonal visitor left his sleigh and reindeer behind as he abseiled onto the start ramp, marking the start of the event. Reigning World Rally Champion Richard Burns also marked the beginning of the festive season by switching on the city's Christmas lights, to the delight of thousands of rally fans and late-night shoppers. The 85 competing crews then proceeded through the city and out to the docks where they thrilled a capacity crowd of 15,000 when they raced head-to-head round the 2.45 kilometre purpose-built super special stage, ahead of the first full leg of forestry competition today. Despite intermittent rainstorms yesterday, the day dawned dry with temperatures around 13 degrees as the crews headed west for five stages in the forests before returning to the city this evening for another blast around the super special.
François Delecour and Dominique Savignoni have escaped the day unscathed, and rest and relaxation prior to the start of the event seems to have paid off for François, the Frenchman in less pain today after his Rally Australia accident. The team has also made some modifications to his racing seat, easing the discomfort further.
"Generally it's not been too bad today; yesterday I wasn't sure how I'd cope but I've really only had a bit of pain," commented François. "I've been sitting slightly off-set as it's more comfortable, but by the time we'd finished the last forest stage I was feeling very very tired. We've had no problems with the car, but it's still quite sideways in these conditions and traction is not so good. Tomorrow the long stage (SS8) will be very difficult. Some of it is new and maybe my notes are not as good as they might be."
Team-mates Jani Paasonen and Arto Kapanen are matching François' pace and the Finnish Lancer Evolution WRC2 crew are just a handful of seconds adrift in 17th position. "Now I have added another experience to my list and now I understand why people say this rally is so difficult." said Jani. "There's so much mud on the stages and the level of grip changes so much. You can brake for a corner and sometimes the grip is there and other times it's like being on ice. In that respect, it's quite like Australia was. We nearly had a very big moment in stage five. In the first corner it was very very slippery and even though I braked, the car just seemed to speed up. We went up a bank, stalled the engine and maybe lost up to 10 seconds. It's certainly not an easy rally for a first-timer!"
Justin Dale and Andrew Bargery, competing in the Lancer Evolution WRC2 for the first time, suffered a heart-breaking roll in the opening stage of the day, and although they nursed the car back to service, close examination revealed a damaged roll cage and they were unable to continue. "I had felt it was going well; I wasn't pushing too hard and the car felt good, but in a slow left corner at the end of a straight the sun came out from behind the trees and I just couldn't see a thing," said Justin, who had been matching the pace of François and Jani on the first three split times. "I missed the braking point, we slid off the road and the car rolled and hit a tree. The radiator was also holed, so although we could continue we had to keep stopping in stage three to top up the water levels. Back in service the team could see that the roll cage was damaged by the impact and we couldn't continue. It's deeply disappointing, not just for us but also the team."
Adding to the drivers' comments, Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart team manager Derek Dauncey said: "We're obviously very disappointed to lose Justin however we were encouraged that his split times showed he was comfortably on the pace. These conditions can catch anyone out, as we've seen with other crews today. The conditions have been tricky and there's a long way to go; anything can still happen over the next two days."
Unsurprisingly, Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) has assumed the lead, the Finn setting fastest time in each of today's forest stages to claim a 48.3 second advantage over second-placed Petter Solberg, despite a couple of near offs. Solberg (Subaru) is however in the thick of a battle with young Estonian Markko Martin (Ford), both the young drivers vying for honours and their first win at World Championship level. At the conclusion of 135.03 competitive kilometres, the pair are split by just 2.7 seconds. Carlos Sainz, who has yet to announce his 2003 plans, holds fourth in a second Focus and the Spaniard has a comfortable advantage over fifth placed Harri Rovanpera. The Peugeot driver has had a trouble-free run but incurred a 10 second penalty for jumping the start of stage five. A close sixth position is held by Tommi Makinen, the Subaru ace losing time with a spin in the opening stage of the day. Colin McRae has climbed from 17th to seventh throughout the day, the Scot losing over a minute in the first stage of the day when he overshot a junction and the Focus got stuck in the mud. Richard Burns suffered a similar fate, the Peugeot driver going off in SS3 and damaging the exhaust pipe and turbo. He has climbed from 12th to eighth, but victory for either of the local favourites looks to be off the cards. Even so, they are split by a mere 1.9 seconds guaranteeing a great fight for the British fans. Sebastien Loeb first competed in this event in 2000, but the Frenchman's experience is limited to two-wheel drive machinery. He held seventh going into the penultimate stage, but was overhauled by McRae and Burns and slipped to ninth overnight. Mark Higgins, driving a fourth factory supported Focus, has put in a fine performance during the day, running as high as eighth before dropping to 10th. However, the Welshman incurred a 10 second penalty for leaving service late before the final stage, dropping him to 11th and behind the lead Hyundai of Freddy Loix.
Still to come...
The second leg of the Rally of Great Britain starts from Cardiff at 06:00 hrs and takes the crews to the north-west of the city for a total of six stages and 117.04 competitive kilometres. The route is the shortest of the three legs however the first stage is the longest of the event (54.69 km) and one of the longest in the whole Championship. After five forestry stages, the crews return to Cardiff for the third and final run at the super special stage.