The Event Two and a half weeks after the conclusion of the Uddeholm Swedish Rally, competitors are preparing to make the 2,900km journey to the Mediterranean to embark on round three of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally of Turkey.
Two and a half weeks after the conclusion of the Uddeholm Swedish Rally, competitors are preparing to make the 2,900km journey to the Mediterranean to embark on round three of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally of Turkey. Based in the holiday region of Antalya, 720km south east of Istanbul, it's the first time the Turkish event has been included in the WRC calendar, and with FIA 'long-haul' regulations having prevented teams from testing there, it remains an unknown for almost all the competitors.
Not only a new event for the competing WRC crews, Rally of Turkey is also a relatively new event in its own right. Running high in the Anatolian Mountains, the twisty, rocky stages, which are not dissimilar to those of the event's Mediterranean counterparts Cyprus and Greece, are being used for only the third time in the rally's history. Correctly judging the weather will be a critical factor for success, and with some stages running at altitudes of 1400m there is a high possibility of heavy rain, or even snow, causing wet and slippery conditions. As a result, average speeds are expected to be half way between those of Cyprus and Greece, making it potentially the second slowest rally in the championship.
Beginning with a ceremonial start on Thursday 27 February in the historic town of Antalya, followed by a 1.55km sprint around the Efes Pilsen Super Special Stage, the rally starts in earnest on Friday 28 February at 0800hrs. All the action is then based around the holiday resort of Kemer, 42km south of the start. Historically a sleepy village nestled on the coast, Kemer has progressively grown over the last fifteen years and is now one of the liveliest resorts in the south of Turkey. The service park will be based to the east of the town for the whole event, with Rally Headquarters 8km further west along the seafront. The winning car is expected to cross the finish ramp in Kemer at 1545hrs on Sunday 2 March.
The three-day event will be contested over 18 gravel stages, covering a total of 380 competitive kilometres. The longest test, the Perge stage at 32.85km, will be used for SS5 and SS17, while the shortest, the twisty Efes Pilsen Super Special at 1.55km, will be used for SS1.
The 555 Subaru World Rally Team will be entering regular drivers Tommi Mäkinen and Petter Solberg in the Rally of Turkey. Both will be eligible to score Manufacturer's points for the team.
Both newcomers to the Turkish event, Tommi and Petter will be drawing on their knowledge of similar rallies, including Greece and Cyprus. The experience and talent of the two Subaru stars, twinned with the Impreza's impressive reputation on rough gravel surfaces, promises an encouraging debut for the 555 Subaru World Rally Team on this brand new event.
Petter Solberg: "I am feeling very comfortable with the new car - Sweden was much better once I changed my tyre choice and I was happy with the performance. You can see that the car is strong from the good job that Tommi did, and I set the fastest time on the final stage. We're going to use a set-up very close to the one we used in GB, with just a few changes. I'm in the same position as everybody else with this event - I don't really know what to expect as we haven't been able to test there. That said, I think we have everything under control. A new event is just part of the game and I am looking forward to it. "
Tommi Mäkinen: "I feel so very good with the new car, we are smiling a lot at the moment! The result in Sweden was very good for us and we are feeling confident. I have no idea at all of what to expect with the conditions and the stages in Turkey, I have never been there - even on holiday! However, I've been testing in Spain this week and did some work on the set-up of the car for Turkey. We had one terrible day of weather and another of very good weather and the car performed well in both so based on that, I'm not too worried about the type of conditions that we will find in Turkey. We are certainly ready for the next event."
The Car / The Challenge
555 Subaru World Rally Team Principal, David Lapworth: "It's always challenging going to a new event - and as Turkey remains an almost complete unknown for us, it promises to be an interesting rally. From the weather reports that we've received so far, it seems that there's a very high chance of rain in Turkey over the next few days, perhaps even more than in Wales in November, so we're preparing accordingly. We sent our Operations Director, Paul Howarth, to the event last year and have also been familiarising ourselves by watching video footage of the stages. We're not trying anything new on the car - it's a brand new event, so we're going with a proven set-up, which we know well. There will be so much other information to process that we want to be as focused as possible.
"The actual stages included in the event are fairly twisty, similar to Cyprus, but a little less extreme. The unpredictable and changing weather conditions could make the event really tricky like Monte Carlo, which should suit Tommi's driving style. The Impreza is well suited to gravel events, and the Pirelli tyres have traditionally thrived in cold and slippery conditions.
"It's a popular misconception that new events such as Turkey put all the drivers, both new and old, on a level playing field because in practise, you often find that it's the more experienced drivers that are able to adjust more quickly to the changing conditions. Similarly, while people think that new events benefit new teams, it's the more established teams that can utilise their experience of competing in different conditions in countries such as Indonesia. It's great to have a new challenge in the Championship, but as it's new it's very difficult to predict the outcome. It should be a fascinating event, I'm really looking forward to it."
Between the Rallies
Petter Solberg has been maintaining his fitness levels since his return from Sweden. Not only has the Norwegian been continuing with his regular fitness routine, but he's also been cross-country skiing near his home in Norway. Petter, along with co-driver Phil Mills, will fly out to Turkey tomorrow (Saturday) in readiness for the start of the reconnaissance on Monday.
After returning from Sweden, Phil Mills attended a function as a special guest of the Welsh Association of Motorsport, where he was awarded the Wilkinson Sword Award by the club's Chairman. As the highest award that's achievable in Welsh motorsport, the sword was given to Phil in recognition of his and Petter's victory at the Rally of Great Britain last November.
The 555 SWRT test team are currently in the middle of a week-long gravel development test in Spain. Team test driver Pasi Hagstrom completed two days of testing at the wheel of a Subaru Impreza WRC2003 test car on Monday and Tuesday, and resumed the position today for the final three days. Tommi Mäkinen joined the team mid-week to take over the driving duties on Wednesday and Thursday. He clocked up 349km.