The world's top rally stars face the biggest adventure of the entire World Rally Championship this weekend, as Kenya's vast plains play host to the Safari Rally. The WRC's eighth round starts tomorrow morning, and more than half a dozen drivers...
The world's top rally stars face the biggest adventure of the entire World Rally Championship this weekend, as Kenya's vast plains play host to the Safari Rally. The WRC's eighth round starts tomorrow morning, and more than half a dozen drivers will drive over the Nairobi start ramp with realistic hopes of victory. The mixture of fast, open sections, long distances and rough, rocky tracks puts car reliability and tyre strength under their greatest pressure of the season.
Current joint championship leader Colin McRae will start tomorrow's first leg aiming to join Salonen in WRC history as winner of four rallies in a row. If the Scot claims his third Safari win, it would also move him alongside Carlos Sainz and Juha Kankkunen on the record for WRC rally successes. McRae's task won't be made easier by a determined Sainz, however - the Spaniard came close to beating his team-mate on the last round in Greece before his engine failed on the last stage. Other threats to McRae's ambitions will come from Tommi Makinen - who sits alongside the Ford driver at the top of the points table - and Richard Burns, who will be hoping to repeat his win of last year and kick-start his championship hopes.
FORD (1st - 60 points)
Technical: Apart from the underbody protection added to fend off the worst of the Kenyan roads, the Ford Focus WRC01s are using revised dampers on this event. The new units each stood up to 1000km of testing in pre-event work. Ford has also incorporated the roo bar in the front bumper, in an attempt to gain a slightly higher top speed.
Sporting: Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz are nominated for manufacturers' points as usual, with François Delecour only able to score drivers' points.
Colin McRae said: "It'd be nice to carry on this run of form but on this rally anything can happen. To be honest, the last few rallies have lifted a bit of the pressure so we don't necessarily have to win here. It would be nice to be on the podium, though. The car's been fantastic in testing and Pirelli's got a good reputation here so there's no reason why we shouldn't be able to fight for a good result."
Carlos Sainz said: "The trick here is to judge accurately when you should slow down and by how much. It can be hard to gauge that pace because the temptation is always to drive faster."
François Delecour said: "The car feels very strong and the tyres feel good, but the hardest thing for me will be to find a pace. Even on the shakedown I felt like I was going really fast but until the first section tomorrow, we won't know if I have good speed or not."
MITSUBISHI (2nd - 53 points)
Technical: Mitsubishi's Lancers are essentially unchanged in technical specification from the cars used in Cyprus and Greece.
Sporting: Four-time world champion and current series leader Tommi Makinen will be supported by Belgian Freddy Loix in the second Lancer as usual.
Tommi Makinen said: "It's always hard to predict the Safari but I'm quite hopeful. We had a good test - the different rear suspension on our car this year makes a big difference here. The car seems better balanced and I have more grip. It all went very well at testing and Michelin has a completely new tyre for us which has been very good in our pre-event work. If it all comes together then I believe we'll have a good fight. The stages are a little bit rougher than last year, though - there is always potential to make a mistake and retire on the spot."
Freddy Loix said: "The hardest thing I find here is doing the recce in a standard car - in our case, a Pajero - and then having to make pacenotes that apply to the rally car, because it can cope with so much more. It's like doing recce for Corsica in a 2CV, really. But I'm still looking forward to the event - conditions are some of the roughest I've seen and it'll be tough, but I think we have a chance of a result."
SUBARU (3rd - 28 points)
Technical: Subaru sends three Impreza WRC2001s to Kenya. The technical specification is largely similar to the cars that appeared in Cyprus and Greece, although the team has tested extensively in an attempt to ensure reliability on the Safari. More than 4000km have been racked up by drivers Richard Burns, Petter Solberg and Toshihiro Arai during various tests.
Sporting: Richard Burns and Petter Solberg are nominated to score manufacturers' points for Subaru in Kenya, with Japanese driver Toshihiro Arai nominated for drivers' points only.
Richard Burns said: "I'm quite hopeful. The stages are a little bit rougher than we've seen them for a while, because there was quite a lot of rain around here over the winter, so it'll be hard on cars. But as far as we're concerned, everything seems pretty well under control."
Petter Solberg said: "It's going to be a hard one and my aim is just to reach the finish. I showed in Greece that I can do a good job in difficult conditions and I want to build on that now."
PEUGEOT (4th - 20 points)
Technical: Peugeot again sends three of the 2001-specification 206 WRCs for Marcus Gronholm, Didier Auriol and Harri Rovanpera. The team has carried out more than three weeks of testing at sites in Kenya and France, in an attempt to cement reliability in the still new evolution of the car. All three cars will use five-speed gearboxes in Kenya after the team decided it was a more reliable solution than the six-speed unit.
Sporting: Peugeot has chosen to nominate Harri Rovanpera for manufacturers' points instead of Didier Auriol. Team officials believe that the Finn's mechanical skills make him slightly more likely to bring his 206 WRC to the finish than the Frenchman. Reigning world champion Marcus Gronholm will drive the other nominated car.
Marcus Gronholm said: "We can only do our best, but it's hard to predict anything here. We've had such bad luck with mechanical problems this year that it's hard to be very optimistic on such a rough rally, but my aim is just to see the finish. I think if we can do that without any big problems then anything is possible."
Harri Rovanpera said: "There's a little bit more pressure on me because I'm nominated for points but I'm not really thinking about that. Safari's the sort of rally where you just have to find a comfortable pace and make sure you don't push too hard. That doesn't change, whether you're nominated for manufacturers' points or not."
Team Principal Corrado Provera said: "I can understand why Didier might not agree with this decision, but he will undoubtedly be trying very hard to prove us wrong."
SKODA (5th - 11 points)
Technical: Skoda's two main Octavia WRCs (for Bruno Thiry and Armin Schwarz) are largely unchanged in technical specification from the models that tackled the Cyprus Rally. The Czech team's engineers have found 40mm of extra wheel travel and made further modifications to the suspension, including water cooling. A third Octavia (the car used by Luis Climent in Kenya last year) has also been entered for Czech driver Roman Kresta.
Sporting: Armin Schwarz and Bruno Thiry will drive the Czech manufacturer's two Octavia WRCs as usual, and they are both nominated for manufacturers' points. Skoda has also entered Czech driver Roman Kresta.
Armin Schwarz said: "I'm looking forward to this event. Our testing in Africa went very well and I think we can probably fight for some manufacturers' points."
Bruno Thiry said: "It's going to be a hard rally. Our recce wasn't perfect - we had a few problems that meant we didn't get quite as good a look as the stages as we might have done. But this event's all about reliability and the Octavia's generally pretty strong, so hopefully that will give us a chance. This event has been unlucky for me the past - I really want to see the finish!"
HYUNDAI (6th - 10 points)
Hyundai has chosen to miss the Safari Rally, preferring instead to work on improvements to the Accent WRC2s in time for Finland, New Zealand and the asphalt rallies that follow. The team announced last week that four-times world champion Juha Kankkunen is bolstering its line-up for Rally Finland in a one-off appearance.
The Safari Rally is not part of Citroen's four-rally programme in 2001, although some of the French manufacturer's engineers are present to study rivals' cars and gather data on the event. Citroen recently had cause to celebrate victory on the Deutschland Rally, where Philippe Bugalski defeated both François Delecour and Marcus Gronholm. The Frenchman is also present in Kenya, and he completed he pre-event recce to increase his experience of the unique conditions.
The Safari Rally has attracted the World Rally Championship's smallest entry since the Ivory Coast Rally ten years ago - just 41 cars will take the start tomorrow morning. Of that entry list, all but two cars are four-wheel drive and turbocharged. The Safari is not a round of either the FIA Teams Cup or the FIA Super 1600 Cup, but some of the leading contenders in the Group N Championship for more standard cars are present. Argentina driver Gabriel Pozzo will start as favourite in h is Mitsubishi Lancer, with opposition coming from Stig Blomqvist and Marcos Ligato.
Michelin's three teams have all opted for the Z and ZA tyres. The latter is a narrower tyre, designed for use in damp or wet conditions. Although their patterns have remained the same, both the Z and ZA feature completely different constructions than those supplied last year. Pirelli's teams have the K and XR at their disposal - the former is for smooth or wet surfaces, while the XR is more suited to hard and dry conditions.
CS Competitive Section Time GMT +3
Leg 1, Friday 20th July - 814.06km
08:00 Start from Nairobi 10:20 CS 1 Oltepesi - Olepolos 117.46km 12:24 CS 2 Kajiado - Olooloitikosh 49.95km 14:23 CS 3 Orien - Isinya 112.52km 16:28 CS 4 Maili Tisa - Olorian 71.83km 19:35 End of leg 1 in Nairobi
Leg 2, Saturday 21st July - 1327.45km
04:00 Start from Nairobi 07:00 CS 5 Marigat - Gari Ya Moshi 123.88km 09:14 CS 6 Mbaruk - Elmenteita 84.58km 11:54 CS 7 Nyaru - Kimngorom 72.37km 14:40 CS 8 Marigat - Mogotio 59.92km 16:31 CS 9 Mbaruk - Elmenteita 84.58km 20:45 End of leg 2 in Nairobi
Leg 3, Sunday 22rd July - 815.34km
04:45 Start from Nairobi 06:40 CS 10 Oltepesi - Olepolos 117.46km 08:44 CS 11 Kajiado - Olooloitikosh 49.95km 10:43 CS 12 Orien - Isinya 112.52km 12:48 CS 13 Maili Tisa - Olorian 71.83km 16:15 Finish of the rally in Nairobi
ENTRY LIST (top 20 of 41 starters)
1 C.Mcrae/Grist (GB) Ford Focus RS WRC (A8) 2 Makinen/Mannisenmaki (FIN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo (A8) 3 Sainz/Moya (E) Ford Focus RS WRC (A8) 4 Burns/Reid (GB) Subaru Impreza WRC (A8) 5 Rovanpera/Pietilainen (FIN) Peugeot 206 WRC (A8)
6 Delecour/Grataloup (F) Ford Focus RS WRC 01 (A8) 7 Auriol/Giraudet (F) Peugeot 206 WRC (A8) 8 Solberg/Mills (N/GB) Subaru Impreza WRC (A8) 9 Loix/Smeets (B) Mitsubishi Carisma GT (A8) 10 Gronholm/Rautiainen (FIN) Peugeot 206 WRC (A8)
11 Schwarz/Hiemer (D) Skoda Octavia WRC A8 12 Arai/MacNeal (J/AUS) Subaru Impreza WRC (A8) 13 Thiry/Prevot (B) Skoda Octavia WRC A8 14 Dor/Breton (F) Subaru Impreza WRC (A8) 15 Kresta/Tomanek (CZ) Skoda Octavia WRC (A8)
16 Pozzo/Stillo (RA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo (N4) 17 Ligato/Garcia (RA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo (N4) 18 Blomqvist/Goni (S/YV) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo (N4) 19 Cavenagh/Daykin (EAK) Subaru Impreza (N4) 20 Green/Taylor (EAK) Subaru Impreza (N4)