With little time to relax following last night's ceremonial start and the 2.45km sprint around the Cardiff Super Special Stage, eighty-five competitors left a clear but chilly parc ferme this morning to continue the final round of the 2002 World...
With little time to relax following last night's ceremonial start and the 2.45km sprint around the
Cardiff Super Special Stage, eighty-five competitors left a clear but chilly parc ferme this morning to continue the final round of the 2002 World Rally Championship, the Network Q Rally of Great Britain.
Comprising six stages and a further 132.58 competitive kilometres, Leg 1 was based around a single service park in Felindre, 70km west of Cardiff. With the day's second run through the Brechfa stage (SS4) cancelled due to spectator safety concerns, crews contested just four stages in the Welsh forests before returning to Cardiff Bay in the evening for the event's second Super Special. Weather conditions remained bright with temperatures averaging around 13 degrees, yet overnight rain had left the slippery forest stages even more treacherous than usual, making tyre choice absolutely vital.
Despite having already secured the 2002 driver's title, Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm dominated the action from the outset and, undeterred by the muddy conditions, he consistently set the pace to clinch four of the five stage wins. He holds the overall lead this evening and will start Leg 2 with a cushion of 48 seconds.
However, the star of the day was 555 Subaru World Rally Team driver Petter Solberg. After an excellent day on the stages, and a close battle with Ford's Markko Martin, the Norwegian holds second place this evening, 2.7 seconds ahead of the Estonian, who rounds off the overall top three. His 555 Subaru team-mate Tommi Makinen ended the day sixth, less than four seconds behind fifth placed Harri Rovanpera.
SS1 1930hrs (Thursday) Cardiff Super Special 1 (2.45km)
Fastest time: Martin (Ford) 2:07.7
Super Specials are always a favourite with the fans and last night's event, contested in the host town of Cardiff, was no exception. Thousands of rally fans turned out to see their favourite competitors go head to head in the purpose built 2.45km venue, which includes a spectacular water splash and jump. There were no serious upsets, Ford's Markko Martin was quickest, with 555 Subaru driver Petter Solberg just 0.6 seconds behind. Ford's Colin McRae was third quickest and Carlos Sainz, fourth. Tommi Makinen, competing in his Subaru Impreza WRC2002, was seventh fastest.
SS2 0744hrs Brechfa 1 (23.12km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 13:24.2
The first proper forest stage proved no problem for Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm who charged through the 23 competitive kms to take his first stage win of the rally. Negotiating the test's fast straights and long corners, run over a surface of hard packed shale, the Finn completed the route just 0.2 seconds ahead of team-mate Richard Burns. Carlos Sainz was third for Ford, closely followed by his younger team-mate Markko Martin. No such luck for Ford driver Colin McRae, however. Running in his Focus for the last time at this event, the Scot overshot a junction in the first half of the stage, left the road and dropped more than a minute to his rivals. Looking to the 555 Subaru contenders, Petter Solberg completed the stage fifth fastest, followed by Tommi Makinen, who was eighth, despite stalling his engine after a spin 2km in. Motorcycle World Champion Valentino Rossi's rally came to an early end 15km from the start line when the Italian's Peugeot 206 WRC slid off the road and got stuck in a ditch.
SS3 0823hrs Trawscoed 1 (27.97km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 16:36.5
More problems for the British drivers on SS3, the first run of the day through the narrow and twisty Trawscoed stage. While Marcus Gronholm was again quickest, extending his overall lead to 29.5 seconds, his team-mate Richard Burns lost 90 seconds in his Peugeot 206 when he went off the road and ripped off his turbo pipe. The Brit managed to complete the stage, albeit without much power, and was fortunate that he could travel directly to a service in Felindre after SS3 for some much needed repair work. Subaru's Petter Solberg was second fastest through the 28km, followed by Markko Martin in third. At the end of the test, the Estonian lay in second place overall, just 0.8 seconds ahead of Petter in his Subaru. Tommi Makinen was sixth, the same position that he held on the overall leaderboard.
SS4 1129hrs Brechfa 2 (23.12km)
Fastest time: n/a
SS4 was cancelled on the recommendation of the FIA Safety Delegate, who considered that some spectators were not in safe positions. Cars moved directly to SS5.
SS5 1208hrs Trawscoed 2 (27.97km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 16:52.6
In a repeat performance of the leg's first run through the 28km stage, Marcus Gronholm again went fastest and, despite completing the test 16 seconds slower than his earlier run, came home to claim a hat trick of stage wins. It wasn't all good news for the Peugeots though, and an over-eager Rovanpera picked up a 10-second penalty for a jump-start. Subaru's Petter Solberg put in an outstanding performance and finished second fastest, which was enough to move him up to second place overall, 38.5 seconds behind Gronholm and 2.0 seconds ahead of ex team-mate Markko Martin. Better luck for the British on SS5 as Burns and McRae worked to make up time lost earlier in the day. Colin McRae was third quickest, with Burns fifth. Carlos Sainz continued his steady run to remain fourth while Tommi Makinen, still pushing hard at the wheel of Subaru Impreza, was sixth fastest, the position that he maintained overall at the end of the test. After SS5, crews travelled back to Felindre for the third service of the day.
SS6 1528hrs Rheola 1 (27.95km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 15:55.5
The final forest stage of the day saw another win for Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm, who came home fastest to clinch his fourth consecutive win of the day and extend his overall lead to 49.6 seconds. Richard Burns was second quickest, with Subaru star Petter Solberg third and Markko Martin fourth. Despite Martin's continuing challenge to Solberg, the Norwegian not only maintained his second place overall, but extended it by a further 0.2 seconds. A good stage for Tommi Makinen too. The Finn took a further five seconds out of Rovanpera's overall fifth-placed time and, at the end of the test, the four-time World Champion lay in sixth just 3.2 seconds off fifth.
SS7 1935hrs Cardiff Super Special 2 (2.45km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 2:07.2
The event's second visit to the crowd-pleasing Super Special brought no change to the overall top eight and fans again filled the spectator banking areas to cheer on their favourite drivers. Super Special Solberg once again proved to be the short-circuit champion and the Subaru driver collected his first stage win of the event. Markko Martin was second, followed by Carlos Sainz in third.
Petter Solberg: "Today's been good, no complaints. I'm closest to Marcus once again but I'm not satisfied and so tomorrow I hope to go even faster. Maybe Marcus will make a mistake and, if so, I'm going to be right behind him. I've really enjoyed today, I've had a good fight with Markko Martin and I hope that that will carry on tomorrow. I don't know the Leg two stages too well so tonight I will be looking though my notes. I'm definitely not going to give up pushing for the lead."
Tommi Makinen: "Today has been okay, but not 100 per cent. I made a mistake very early on in the first stage, maybe because I had cold tyres, then after that I'm not really sure. It's hard to put my finger on it but something has felt not quite right. We will change the gearbox tonight and I'm hoping for a better day tomorrow -- however, I think a lot will depend on the weather. If it's dry, then it shouldn't be too bad on tomorrow's stages, but if it's wet, like it was during the recce, then they will be very difficult."
Technical talk -- Event Safety
As Britain's biggest annual sporting event, the Network Q Rally of Great Britain attracts more than 200,000 spectators every year. With this number set to increase over the next few years, and in light of the today's decision to cancel SS4, we spoke to Sue Sanders Peppitt, the event's spectator safety officer, who gave us the low-down on the measures that have been implemented at this year's event to maximise spectator safety:
* In preparation for this year's event, organisers of the Network Q Rally of GB have worked with Forest Enterprise and other landowners to create a number of specific spectator viewing areas near to each stage. By removing trees and bush wood from designated areas, organisers have worked to ensure that spectators will not only be able to see their favourite rally drivers for longer, but also that they can all be offered premium viewing spots where there will be minimum risk to their safety.
* This year, a full risk assessment of each viewing area has been carried out to ensure that marshals and radio crews are well positioned throughout the event to advise spectators where to stand and also to respond quickly in the unlikely event of an accident occurring.
* This year has also seen the introduction of the MSA registered marshals scheme. Whereas in previous years Rally GB marshals needed only to be members of a motorsport club, they now have to have the relevant experience and attend training seminars before qualifying to work at the event.
* To help spectators know which areas are the 'safe' areas, organisers have also introduced a clear signage and taping programme. Red / white tape marks prohibited areas, while yellow / black tape will indicate the acceptable spectator walkways and viewing areas.
* As a final safety measure, four safety cars and two FIA delegates will drive through each stage before it's run to ensure that all the spectators are well back off the road. Should any spectators or cars not be positioned in a safe place on a stage, and they either refuse to or cannot be moved (the organisers obviously rely on the support of the spectators themselves), then the FIA safety delegate will recommend that a stage is cancelled -- as happened in today in SS4.
Leg 2 of the final round of the 2002 World Rally Championship begins tomorrow at 0600hrs when the first car will leave the Cardiff parc ferme. As the shortest Leg of the rally, crews will contest a further six stages and 117.04 competitive kilometres. After competing over the long 54.69km Resolfen stage, crews will contest forest stages to the north of Swansea before returning to the Welsh capital in the evening for the final Cardiff Super Special. The first stage is scheduled to start at 0811hrs.