Kankkunen poised for Hyundai points in New Zealand. Finnish Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team crew Juha Kankkunen and co-driver Juha Repo are poised to score points after an excellent second day of fast and furious competition on Rally New...
Kankkunen poised for Hyundai points in New Zealand.
Finnish Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team crew Juha Kankkunen and co-driver Juha Repo are poised to score points after an excellent second day of fast and furious competition on Rally New Zealand, to end the day in sixth position. Team-mates Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets lie only 24 seconds behind the Finns in seventh, with Armin Schwarz and Manfred Hiemer in 11th.
The Hyundai Accent WRC illustrated its speed, reliability and consistency on the stages of leg two with all three Hyundai crews running trouble-free and Kankkunen and Loix setting top ten stage times throughout. The number of competitors who exited the road into retirement on legs one and two was high and reliability paid off as Hyundai is one of only two manufacturers to still have all its cars running in the rally by the end of the second leg.
Kankkunen and Repo drove as fast as they could from the outset and while Kankkunen commented "it is never fast enough for me," the pair managed to set a string of top ten stage times, including a fifth fastest time in SS15, to hold position on some of the fastest stages of the rally. Ford's Carlos Sainz, who was lying behind Kankkunen and Loix at the end of leg one, stepped up his pace to steal a position from the Hyundai crews on the opening stage of the day, but the Accent WRC" kept Mitsubishi and Skoda crews firmly at bay.
"We had a really good day today. We have made major steps forward with the engine and active rear differential - it is much better and now we can really compete with the Fords," said Kankkunen. "There is still more to come but the car is great fun to drive, and the mixture of good roads and improvements to the car have made this a good event. Today was much longer than it needed to be however and the last time through the stages was really not necessary," he added.
The closest rival of Hyundai's Finnish four-time World Champion was in fact team-mate Loix with whom he was level-pegging all day. The two crews swapped places with each other on special stage 11 but kept Mitsubishi, Skoda and the Peugeot of Panizzi behind them.
Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets had a trouble-free run throughout the day but the Belgians opted to change the mechanical rear differential back to its active counterpart after the first group of special stages to ensure better consistency throughout the day. "The car has been so much better today - it was just a shame we couldn't sort out the active rear differential on the test - it just didn't feel right then - but it was a good decision to change it today."
The chassis changes worked to the Belgians' advantage and Loix enjoyed his drive through the special stages he considers some of the best in the FIA World Rally Championship. "The car was much improved and more consistent on the changing camber and loose gravel, as it is that which makes the car's handling feel strange. I really enjoyed driving the stages and this remains one of my favourite rallies, apart from the length of today," explained Loix.
German team-mates Armin Schwarz and Manfred Hiemer drove a solid day, despite their difficult road position. The stages were dry and dusty so running third on the road made progress tricky for Schwarz.
"It's not really been much fun today and it's not going to be much fun tomorrow. The roads were so slippery that running on the road in the first few cars almost means your rally is over," said Schwarz. "There was lots of dust and fine gravel so you get wheel spin even in 4th, 5th and 6th gears and it makes braking hard too. It was a bit easier the second time through the stages as they were cleaner and I was able to drive better, but of course so was everyone else. The reality is, unless you have a good first day your rally is over as it is very difficult to make any difference once you are one of the first cars on the road but I will continue going as fast as I can."
News from our rivals
Leg two was an eventful day seeing some spectacular retirements. Jani Paasonen, Mitsubishi's last minute draft to replace Alister McRae, rolled off the road 8km into the long 59km Parahi causing extensive damage. Reigning World Champion Richard Burns (Peugeot) crashed out of the rally on stage 15 having led from the start, taking with him any chance of winning the drivers' championship. Ford's young star Markko Martin who was leading the team's challenge during leg two, went off the road on a fast corner in stage 14 only 4.8km before the end of the stage and handed the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers to Peugeot who win the title for the third consecutive year.
The third and final leg of the rally takes crews to the Maramarua forests near Te Kauwhata south of Auckland for eight stages covering the remaining 90.19 competitive kilometres, before surviving crews reach the Manukau finish ramp at 15:30hrs.