Official FIA Press Release www.fia.com Friday, 19 January 2001 Conditions on the opening day of the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship could hardly have been more unpredictable for the sport's top drivers, as the Rallye Monte Carlo threw its...
Official FIA Press Release
Friday, 19 January 2001
Conditions on the opening day of the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship could hardly have been more unpredictable for the sport's top drivers, as the Rallye Monte Carlo threw its traditional blend of ice, snow and wet asphalt at the crews. Reigning FIA World Champion Peugeot lost all three of its factory entries (including drivers champion Marcus Gronholm after just two stages). And many of the regular contenders had to fight back from uncharacteristically low positions after they found themselves ploughing deep snow for the later competitors.
FIA World champion Marcus Gronholm was forced out of the opening round of this year's series when water pump failure caused his 206 WRC's engine to overheat on the second stage. Marcus said: "With about 15km left to run, the water temperature leapt up to 140 degrees and all of the lights on the dashboard started flashing. I stopped to check but couldn't find anything, so I carried on. We made it to service, but there's nothing we can do. I'm disappointed, of course, but all I can do is look to the next round in Sweden." His new team-mate Didier Auriol inched into an early lead, despite problems with the semi- automatic shift on his car's gearbox. But near the end of the third stage, he clouted the rear of his car and lost a wheel. Although he reached the start of the next test, event officials refused to allow him to continue on three wheels. To compound the team's misery, the third 206 of Gilles Panizzi crashed heavily in the third stage, rolling 40 metres down a ravine. Both crew members were taken to hospital for precautionary checks.
Peugeot Sport team principal Corrado Provera said: "It looks like the Monte Carlo Rally is cursed for us. Despite the fact that the car looks competitive, we've ended our challenge even earlier than last year."
The second Impreza nominated for manufacturers' series points, Markko Martin , failed to reach the first stage this morning after electrical problems on the road section between Monte Carlo and St Andre les Alpes. It was a particularly galling retirement for the young Estonian, whose only previous outing for the Subaru team (in Australia last year) lasted just a single stage. "I didn't think I could have worse luck than I did there," said Martin, "but now I have! I just hope I get a clean run in Sweden next month." Last year's FIA World Championship runner-up Richard Burns felt he was too conservative on the clearer stretches of road this morning. "I was trying to keep the studs in my tyres on the wet asphalt," he said, "but I took it too steadily. There was also something clanking at the rear of the car (a damper problem) and it's been trying to swap ends at corners, which isn't very comfortable." He languished outside the top ten after the first two stages, but recovered well during the afternoon. The third Subaru, driven by Petter Solberg , benefited from the cleaned roads to fight for the lead. But a puncture apiece in SS3 and SS4 dropped him behind McRae. "I'm a bit surprised anyway because the times don't feel that fast," said the Norwegian. "You'll see a very steady drive from me here. But looking at how things are going, maybe that's the way to get a good result." Unfortunately, 8km into stage 5, the Norwegian hit a snow bank, rolled, and was forced to retire with a broken steering.
All three Ford Focus RS WRCs have held top-ten placings today, and Colin McRae took full advantage of the Peugeots' demise to grab the lead on an event he openly dislikes. "It's been going pretty well," said the 1995 World champion. "On the second run through the opening two stages, they were much cleaner and there was actually a good line between all the slush. All I'm doing is driving carefully - it's not about backing off or going at half-speed - it's about concentrating on not making a mistake." His team-mate Carlos Sainz felt that the opening two stages differed markedly from the information on his ice notes, but the Spaniard recovered well on the second pass through the tests to move into a point-scoring position. The third Focus of François Delecour set fastest time on the third stage, but then the Frenchman spun and had to drive 15km on a puncture in SS4. " It was quite difficult," he said. "For some reason the mousse system didn't work so the tyre actually deflated."
Four-times world champion Tommi Makinen has been pleasantly surprised by his tyre choices today, and his Lancer has been a near-constant presence in the top six throughout. "The first two stages were extremely difficult," he said, "because there was a lot of snow and you know all the time that you're helping the later runners. But I think the second pass over those tests showed more genuine speeds and we've moved up to third there. So I'm optimistic." Mitsubishi's Belgian driver Freddy Loix was dissatisfied with his tyre choice in SS3 and SS4, and also felt that his Lancer was a handful in the tighter sections. " You can't really play with the car when there's so much slush," he said. " You can tweak the handbrake but then you end up sliding even more and in a lot of places, there simply isn't room to get away with that."
Armin Schwarz felt at home in the changeable conditions this morning, and the German was quickly on the pace as he lifted his Octavia WRC into a points-scoring position after the opening pair of stages. "It's very hard to trust the road," said Schwarz, "but that's pure Monte Carlo and I like it. The car's a handful on narrow tyres when the snow clears and you're left with wet asphalt." But for the third and fourth stages, the 1996 European champion's weather information arrived late and he was forced to adopt a 'play safe' policy on tyre choice. He dropped out of the top six as a result. His team-mate Bruno Thiry suffered a turbo problem 10km into the second stage and the Belgian had to drive for nearly 20km at little more than 60kph. "It was awful," said Thiry. "I felt like I was driving on a holiday." To make matters worse, he received 20s road penalties for leaving service late after the team changed the turbocharger. Shock absorber problems hampered his progress further in both SS3 and SS4, and a fuel pump failure in the latter forced him to stop and make running repairs.
Hyundai's hopes were being pinned on its renowned asphalt driver Piero Liatti this morning, but although the Italian - a former Monte Carlo winner - set fourth fastest time on the opening stage, he was forced out before the next test when his Accent WRC's engine lost oil pressure. The other Accent of Alister McRae picked up 50s of road penalties this morning as the Hyundai team struggled to change the car's suspension in first service, but the Scot's progress on the stages was more encouraging. He set top six times to overcome his penalty and stay in touch with the leaders, despite making too conservative a tyre choice for the third and fourth stages. "It's a shame about the penalties," said McRae, "because the car feels good on the stages. It's the first time I've driven this car, on these tyres, in these conditions, but it's generally working well."
With its four-wheel drive Xsara World Rally Car not scheduled to appear until Catalunya, Citroen's two drivers - Philippe Bugalski and Jesus Puras - are using two-wheel drive, 1600c Saxo kit cars in Monte Carlo. Both are hoping to gain further experience of the roads and fine-tune pacenotes rather than fight for overall success, but Bugalski has still posted top-20 times in his example to lead some of the factory World Rally Cars. Puras, however, suffered a puncture in a narrow part of the second stage, and the Spaniard found it difficult to locate a suitable place to stop and change the wheel. He lost nearly six minutes as a result, although he was able to continue.
Beyond the factory World Rally Car entries, former works SEAT driver Toni Gardemeister settled in quickly to his new mount, a privately run Peugeot 206 WRC. The young Finn was fastest overall on the opening stage but on the second, he clipped a rock and punctured his right front tyre. After trying to continue for nearly five kilometres, he stopped and changed the wheel. He dropped into eleventh place as a result.
Swiss privateer Olivier Burri made good use of the cleaner roads to haul his Toyota Corolla into a top three placing, although he started to slide back down the leaderboard once the top crews got a second run over the opening pair of stages. Italian hope Piero Longhi crashed his Toyota out of the rally on the second stage.
In Group N, Hermann Gassner set an outright fastest time on the second stage, taking maximum advantage of a good tyre choice and roads swept clear of snow. But both Manfred Stohl and Gustavo Trelles are catching the German after they made poor tyre choices for the opening tests.