Cardiff, 7th November 2003 - Peugeot driver Harri Rovanpera is in fifth place after the opening leg of the Rally Great Britain. The remaining factory Peugeot of Freddy Loix ends the leg ninth, while the Bozian-run Peugeot of Gilles Panizzi...
Cardiff, 7th November 2003 - Peugeot driver Harri Rovanpera is in fifth place after the opening leg of the Rally Great Britain. The remaining factory Peugeot of Freddy Loix ends the leg ninth, while the Bozian-run Peugeot of Gilles Panizzi is sixth overnight.
Conditions were unusually warm and dry in the forests of south Wales, the scene of the final round of the 2003 World Rally Championship. The dry conditions meant that the loose gravel offered even less grip than usual, and competitors struggled to stay on the road. Today's leg was the longest of the rally, with crews tackling 164 competitive kilometres over six stages.
Harri's last World Championship outing in a factory car was the Rally Australia two months ago, so the Finn took a little while to find a good rhythm. He adjusted his suspension settings after this morning's loop of stages and soon rediscovered his characteristic confidence on these tricky gravel surfaces.
Harri said: "Today has been all about finding a good feeling with the car, which took a little while longer than I would have liked. Although I'm a bit disappointed with our performance this morning, I think we have a better feeling with the car now. This is always one of the most difficult rallies of the year and there's a very long way to go."
Freddy was thrown in at the deep end, standing in for an unwell Richard Burns. In total, he racked up about half a day's testing with the 206 WRC before taking the start of the rally. His initial aim was to acclimatise himself to the car in competition, and he is now confident of a strong performance.
The Belgian commented: "I always knew that this rally was going to be difficult under the circumstances, so I am not too disappointed with our performance today. The biggest problem I had was fine-tuning the suspension to suit my style. I still found the car quite hard and aggressive, so I progressively softened it and the feeling got much better. I'm happy to already be in a points-scoring place for Peugeot, so we will see what tomorrow will bring us. "
Reigning World Champion Marcus Gronholm was forced to retire from fourth place on the second stage of the day, after hitting a log.
He said: "It was a silly mistake, as I actually had the place marked in my notes. It was a left-hand corner quite early in the stage and for some reason I ended up cutting the corner and hitting the log. It was quite high speed so I damaged the wheel straight away and I knew we would have problems. We got out of the stage slowly and would have made it back to service, but the police stopped us. It doesn't matter anyway as we had lost so much time by then. Now I'm just looking forward to next year!"
Nonetheless, there are still six Peugeots in the top 11 - thanks to the privately-run cars of Panizzi in sixth, Roman Kresta in eighth , Manfred Stohl in tenth and Juuso Pykalisto in 11th.
Tomorrow the crews face eight stages totalling 138 competitive kilometres, after an early start at 0500.