Tommi Makinen has a solid grip on the eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Safari Rally, which continued in Kenya today. The four-times world champion's overnight advantage was boosted on today's first section by the retirement of...
Tommi Makinen has a solid grip on the eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Safari Rally, which continued in Kenya today. The four-times world champion's overnight advantage was boosted on today's first section by the retirement of Carlos Sainz, and he has consistently matched the pace of rivals Harri Rovanpera and Petter Solberg to consolidate his lead.
Today's five sections (including the longest test in the WRC, at 124.48km) were generally drier than yesterday's stages, although that opening section did feature some mud-holes.
Technical: Tommi Makinen's Mitsubishi Lancer enjoyed a relatively troublefree day. The Finn's only real concern came during the day's fourth test, when he damaged his propshaft after a heavy landing. Team-mate Freddy Loix wasn't so fortunate. The Belgian's Lancer started to misfire badly on today's opening stage and the Belgian lost nearly 20 minutes as he limped to the finish on three cylinders. The team subsequently considered a cylinder head change at third service, after Loix coped with the same problem in CS6, but that operation would have taken too long so Loix had to soldier on in his down-on-power machine for the rest of the day.
Sporting: Tommi Makinen's overnight advantage was bolstered further by the retirement of Carlos Sainz on today's opening section, and the Finn matched the pace of both Harri Rovanpera and Petter Solberg to keep his lead at well over five minutes. Freddy Loix was badly hampered by an engine misfire for much of the morning, though, and the Belgian dropped down the leaderboard as a result. Mitsubishi elected to keep him running, though, in the hope that he might f inish and score manufacturers' points.
Tommi Makinen said: "Of course it's going very well now. I feel a bit sorry for the others who've had problems but this is rallying, and this is the Safari! With a lead like this there's always the question of concentration and I'm trying to maintain that. But it's a lot better to drive here this year than it was last time. Our tyres are much stronger, we can drive without being worried about punctures too much and the new rear suspension on the Lancer makes it much easier to drive in the rough sections. I'm hopeful we can win this rally tomorrow but in Kenya you can never celebrate until the finish. The problem with the propshaft proved that - it was a hell of a vibration and was quite worrying."
Freddy Loix said: "I'm not sure what caused the engine to misfire so badly. There was a lot of water at the start of the first section but it seemed to me that we'd got through it okay. Then on a straight it started to go bad and we stopped to see if there was water in the plugs. There wasn't, although there was quite a lot inside the car itself, so maybe it's got something to do with the ignition. I had big problems on the same section last year, so it's obviously not my favourite bit of road."
Technical: Harri Rovanpera's 206 WRC has been generally reliable today. The Finn's only drama was a small glitch in his car's gearbox in CS6.
Sporting: Sole remaining Peugeot driver Harri Rovanpera has concentrated on maintaining the pace that moved him into third overall yesterday. He was promoted to second when Carlos Sainz retired on this morning's first section, but Rovanpera has already declared that he will not increase his pace to pursue leader Tommi Makinen.
Harri Rovanpera said: "Maybe in a few places I'm pushing a little harder than yesterday but generally it's the same speed. It would be easy to think I can chase after Tommi now but to be honest, we seem to have found a reasonable speed where the car can cope with conditions and I think it would be silly to try for more than that. I intend to keep this pace to the finish - our plan was always to do that and it seems to be working."
Technical: The sole remaining Impreza WRC2001 of Petter Solberg needed major work after today's second section. The young Norwegian's car suffered a rear driveshaft failure, and the Subaru team elected to change the rear differential and gearbox as a precautionary measure in case any damage had been inflicted. They also replaced all four corners of its suspension, and Solberg picked up 10 seconds of road penalty as the work took slightly longer than the 20 minutes allocated to service.
Sporting: Petter Solberg started today's second leg in fourth, but Carlos Sainz's retirement promoted him to third. He also looked likely to home in on second-placed Harri Rovanpera after setting fastest time on that opening section, but subsequent transmission problems dropped him back into a more lonely third position.
Petter Solberg said: "The transmission problem was worrying, because I heard a big bang, felt the car judder and I thought it might be the propshaft. And if that starts flying around it could hit the fuel tank, and we know what could happen then. So I decided just to drive ever so slowly to make sure I got back to service. I'm picking up experience on different roads and conditions on virtually every section here, and it's all very important for me. Of course I'd like to be closer to Harri in second but I'm driving for a finish now, learning more and making changes to my pacenotes for next year. We'll stick to our pace like we've done all along and see what happens, but there's a long way to go yet."
Technical: Carlos Sainz's Ford Focus RS WRC01 retired on today's opening competitive section. The Spaniard had completed around 35km of the test before a piston failure caused his engine to stop. François Delecour's Focus was hampered by a lack of water in the windscreen washers, and he also picked up road penalties when his Ford team decided to change the gearbox late in second service. During the resulting frantic work by mechanics, a lead from the starter motor became damaged and Delecour lapsed into lateness as the unit was replaced. He then suffered from broken power steering in the next test.
Sporting: Carlos Sainz didn't get a chance to push Tommi Makinen on this morning's long stage, as engine failure brought the Spaniard's rally to a premature halt. François Delecour dropped out of the top four when his windscreen washers ran out of water in the first section. With poor visibility, the Frenchman clipped a bridge and then had to stop and change the resulting puncture. A failed wheel nut gun cost him more time there, although he still occupied a points-scoring position.
Carlos Sainz said: "I don't seem to be having much luck at the moment. It looks like a piston has failed - there was certainly no warning before the engine stopped. This is yet another Safari Rally that's turning into a battle of who can finish but that's nothing new - I've seen plenty of rallies here in the past like this. It looks easier for Tommi now but anything can really happen."
François Delecour said: "Malcolm (Wilson, Ford team boss) instructed me from the start to finish this rally and that's what I'm working towards. I'm still trying to find a comfortable pace but the main thing is for me not to make a mistake. The problem with the windscreen washers was really bad, though - I could see nothing!"
Technical: Both Skoda Octavia WRCs, driven by Bruno Thiry and Armin Schwarz, hit transmission trouble this morning. Schwarz's car lost centre and front differential pressure in the day's opening section, making it hard for the German to retain control of the car during some of the long water-splashes and mud-holes. The team wasn't able to correct the problem at the following service, though, so the former European champion had to tackle CS6 with the same difficulties. The problem was rectified for CS7, although he felt that the differential mapping needed further work, and he then hit suspension problems in CS8. Thiry's car completed the first test without major dramas, but then hit intermittent power steering glitches and also lost differential pressure in CS6.
Sporting: Armin Schwarz has managed to maintain a steady yet respectable pace throughout this event and the German inched closer to a podium placing today. He started from fifth, but moved up to fourth when Carlos Sainz retired and then eased ahead of François Delecour when the Ford driver had to stop and change a puncture. Schwarz's times have been even more impressive, given that he had to complete the morning's sections with little or no differential pressure.
Armin Schwarz said: "On the wet roads, the lack of differential pressure meant that it was hard to stop the car from going sideways in the watersplashes. Then on the drier roads of CS6, the same problem had a different effect - it wasn't so much about sheer traction but about the car's behaviour under braking. It was very unpredictable. Of course I'm still relatively pleased with progress because we're moving up the leaderboard, but this is such a long event that anything can happen."
Bruno Thiry said: "The hardest thing for me here is to know what speed to choose, how hard to push. The more experienced drivers here know where they can get away with more attack and where they can't, but because I've never got too far on the Safari I don't have that advantage. All we can do is keep this current speed and see what the rest do, but it's encouraging that both Skodas are still going okay."
Gabriel Pozzo continues to lead the Group N category for more standard cars, ahead of Marcos Ligato. But there was bad luck for FIA Teams Cup regular Frederic Dor - the Frenchman (a Safari regular) retired with suspension damage in CS6.