Delecour powers on for Mitsubishi. The Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart crew of Francois Delecour and Daniel Grataloup finished the opening leg of the 2002 Rallye Deutschland in 14th position in the Lancer Evolution WRC2. Team-mates Alister McRae...
Delecour powers on for Mitsubishi.
The Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart crew of Francois Delecour and Daniel Grataloup finished the opening leg of the 2002 Rallye Deutschland in 14th position in the Lancer Evolution WRC2. Team-mates Alister McRae and David Senior were forced into a disappointing retirement on the road section after six stages.
This is the first year Deutschland has qualified for the FIA World Rally Championship, and while the crews have very mixed reactions about the nature of the stages, the competition is fast and furious at the head of the leaderboard. After last night's ceremonial start at the Porta Nigra in the centre of Trier, the event began in earnest this morning, the 86 competing crews heading northeast for a scheduled eight special stages and 148.64 kilometres of competition. The route took the contenders into the picturesque vineyards around the Mosel River, however overcast skies and damp roads made conditions potentially treacherous this morning and many of the leading crews hit problems. Hot and dry weather this afternoon was a welcome sight for many, although with the stages running through vineyards, tunnel vision and the inability to 'read' the roads ahead, caused many of the crews to miss braking points and overshoot junctions.
The Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart crew of Francois Delecour and Daniel Grataloup made a slow start and it was not until the first service, when they had the opportunity to adjust the transmission and suspension set-up, that they were able to attack harder and improve their stage times.
"Generally the feeling was not so good this morning and the brakes had a lack of bite," commented Francois. "We made some adjustments to the set-up and the team changed the brakes in the first service and then things were a lot better." The result saw Delecour just outside the top ten in stages 4 and 5, and ninth fastest, just 12 seconds adrift of stage winner Sebastien Loeb, in stage 6. "On the more open sections of road the car feels good, but when the road is very narrow, like today, it's quite difficult," added Francois. "Legs two and three should be a lot better, because even though the surface is broken the roads are wider. There is no question the new car is better, absolutely." Adding to his comments, co-driver Daniel Grataloup said: "We had a big moment in stage 5 when we got on the grass in the vineyards - we were so close I think I'm right in saying the grape was a Riesling!"
Alister McRae and David Senior were almost identically matching their team-mates' pace until forced into a disappointing retirement on the road section after stage 6. "About nine kilometres into the stage the turbo went with no warning and lots of black smoke came pouring out of the back of the car," said Alister. "I backed right off to preserve the engine, made it to the end of the stage and couldn't see anything wrong externally. Then about 10 kilometres into the road section, the engine stopped and wouldn't re-start. Obviously it's disappointing to end the event this way, however the car is a definite improvement over the old one and we can now look to make some more steps forward for Sanremo."
Citroen's flying Frenchman Sebastien Loeb leads overnight, a string of fastest stage times enabling him to pull out a 27 second advantage over Richard Burns (Peugeot). Third overall is held by Philippe Bugalski in the second Citroen, the Frenchman snatching the position from Petter Solberg (Subaru) when the Norwegian lost time with power steering problems (SS5) and a broken drive-shaft (SS6), which dropped him to fifth. He now holds 10th following penalties for leaving service late. Colin McRae has climbed to fourth in the lead Focus, the Scot reporting little more than a stalled engine in SS1 and an overshoot in the following stage. Both he and team-mates Carlos Sainz and Markko Martin would however benefit from damper conditions, the drier roads not really favouring the Pirelli rubber. The Spaniard and Estonian hold 9th and 13th respectively. Freddy Loix held an impressive sixth until the final stage, when engine problems slowed him and he fell to eighth. Marcus Gronholm, one of the early pace-setters, lost time with a lack of hydraulic pressure early this morning but capitalised this afternoon to move from eighth to fifth in the second Peugeot. Armin Schwarz now leads Hyundai's assault in sixth with Bruno Thiry, driving a privately entered 206WRC, seventh. Current leading retirements, aside from Alister McRae, include Citroen's Jesus Puras, a disappointing result for the Spaniard who replaced the injured Thomas Radstrom. He went out with electrical problems this morning. Matthias Kahle, a local expert drafted in by Skoda, retired after stage 3 with engine related problems, and Toshihiro Arai (Subaru) was forced out with a broken gearbox.
Still to come--
The second leg of Rallye Deutschland takes the contenders into the military land around Baumholder, to the east of Trier. It is the longest leg of the event, covering eight stages and 164.44 competitive kilometres, and promises fast and furious action on wider concrete roads, uneven and broken in places.