Saturday, 20th January 2001 Clear skies greeted the crews on the second morning of the Rallye Monte Carlo, the opening round of the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship. But the roads themselves were in far less predictable condition, with...
Saturday, 20th January 2001
Clear skies greeted the crews on the second morning of the Rallye Monte Carlo, the opening round of the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship. But the roads themselves were in far less predictable condition, with bone-dry asphalt interspersed by sheet ice and compacted snow in several places. Despite Subaru's overnight decision to withdraw the final works Impreza late last night and the retirements yesterday of all three Peugeots, a close fight for the lead between Colin McRae and Tommi Makinen attracted huge crowds to the mountain roads near Digne. Spectator congestion proved a problem by mid-afternoon, when worries over the fans forced the cancellation of the tenth stage.
Mitsubishi Tommi Makinen started today's action in second overall but the Finn had promised a charge and he duly delivered. He set fastest times on both of the opening pair of tests, cutting his deficit to leader Colin McRae from more than half a minute to just two and a half seconds. He then moved ahead in SS9 when his rival was slowed by spectators. "It's been going well," said Makinen. "I actually thought our tyres were a bit too soft for the Sisteron stage but the time was good anyway. Perhaps we made up enough time on the uphill section to carry us through. I'm enjoying the fight with Colin, but there's still a long way to go."Colin McRae fought back on the final stage and finished the day with a 3 second lead. Team-mate Freddy Loix was less comfortable with his choice of tyres, particularly on the more slippery stretches of road. "I'd no confidence with the wider tyre on the ice at all," said the Belgian. "The first stage today was really difficult for me. Things improved for Sisteron, but I was still nowhere near Tommi's pace." He later picked up more than a minute's road penalties at service, when a broken bolt on his Lancer's wishbone delayed his departure.
Overnight leader Colin McRae saw his advantage over Tommi Makinen quickly disappear this morning, as the Scot felt he was too cautious over the icy stretches of the opening two stages. "I think we were on the right tyres," he said. "I was a bit surprised when I saw how much time Tommi took from me, especially in Sisteron. I couldn't have matched his time." McRae was frustrated further in today's third stage when the sheer number of spectators standing close to the road slowed him down. Team boss Malcolm Wilson said: "Colin's perfectly happy for us to examine evidence from the in-car camera and decide how to react based on that.McRae won the final stage over Tommi Makinen to take the overnight lead. Team-mate Carlos Sainz was unhappy with his tyre choice in the first two stages, and dropped time to the leading pair. "We needed a more open pattern of tyre," said Sainz. "The ones we picked were more like racing tyres and on the ice, I had no feeling at all." The third Focus RS WRC of Francois Delecour has been embroiled in a fight with Armin Schwarz's Skoda for fourth place, and the Frenchman inched ahead on the second stage of the morning. "It hasn't been easy at all," said Delecour. "The semi-automatic gearbox has stopped working, so I've had to force every gearchange. That's cost us a few seconds." He and navigator Daniel Grataloup also suffered a scare between today's third and fourth tests, when their fly-by-wire throttle failed. But they resorted to the mechanical connection and continued.
The clearer conditions didn't please Armin Schwarz, who started the day in fourth overall. The German believed that his Skoda was losing out in sheer power, particularly on the uphill sections. "When there's snow and ice you can't make full use of your torque or power anyway," said Schwarz. "In those conditions - when we're on the right tyres - it's possible to be competitive. But today's roads are dry in a lot of places and in that situation, we lose out. I'm hoping for the weather to get worse!" He ceded fourth position to François Delecour in SS8 but reclaimed it on SS11. The second Skoda of Bruno Thiry started today's action just outside the top ten, but the Belgian's hopes of improving his position were frustrated early on by differential problems. "I think we lost all pressure in the front and centre differentials for Sisteron," he said. "And the conditions there meant that you really needed the diffs to be working perfectly. It's frustrating because I know the car's good enough to do better times." Thiry finished the day in 10th.
After Piero Liatti's retirement yesterday, Hyundai's hopes are now focused on Alister McRae , despite the fact that the 1995 British champion is contesting the Rallye Monte Carlo for the first time. He enjoyed a steady start to today's stages, although he found himself getting impatient on the icy stretches. "Rally drivers' brains aren't designed to go slowly," he said. "It's confusing! You could walk up some of the roads more quickly than we've been driving them and at the time, you can't help but think that you're losing loads of time to your rivals. But patience is really the only policy - I guess that's what I'm learning about Monte."
The final works Impreza of double FIA World Championship runner-up Richard Burns failed to make the restart this morning, after it suffered engine problems on the road section back to Monte Carlo last night. Team officials studied computer data as the car sat in Parc Ferme, and elected to withdraw it from the event. "As we came into Monte Carlo, the car dropped onto three cylinders," said Burns. "We realised we wouldn't get out of Monte Carlo again, so we decided to save the engine. I've no idea what caused it." Subaru team principal David Lapworth said: "It's a tough decision to withdraw Richard but we've agreed that this is the best course of action. It'll enable us to determine the cause of the problem and ensure it doesn't happen again. We've looked to see if there's any comparison with the failure of Markko's car earlier today, but it seems clear that the two are unrelated."
Jesus Puras 's hopes of gaining further experience of the Monte Carlo stages ended yesterday evening, when his Saxo kit car succumbed to gearbox failure. But his team-mate Philippe Bugalski continues to post competitive times in the 1600cc, two-wheel drive machine. Only a broken exhaust hampered his progress this morning, but the reigning French champion still held a top 20 placing.
Toni Gardemeister continues to hold a top ten placing in his privately run Peugeot 206 WRC, despite finding the changeable road conditions extremely difficult this morning. "Unlike the manufacturer entries, we don't have an ice-note crew," said Gardemeister, "and there have been several big moments when I've found ice. I also had a spin in Sisteron which cost me 15 seconds. He still did enough to move clear of Toyota Corolla driver O livier Burri , then past Loix when the Belgian incurred road penalties. Burri, meanwhile, still occupied a top ten position.
In the Group N category for more standard machinery, Manfred Stohl started the day with a comfortable class lead but Olivier Gillet 's Mitsubishi was quicker in today's first stage. On the second, Stohl's Lancer suffered turbo problems and he dropped more than four minutes to his rivals, allowing Gillet into the class lead.