Safari Rally of Kenya Leg 1, 12 May 2002 Summary Following yesterday's ceremonial start, when HRH Prince Edward flagged off the event's 48 starters, the first competitive day of the 2002 Safari Rally of Kenya got underway this morning from ...
Safari Rally of Kenya Leg 1, 12 May 2002
Following yesterday's ceremonial start, when HRH Prince Edward flagged off the event's 48 starters, the first competitive day of the 2002 Safari Rally of Kenya got underway this morning from Nairobi.
For 2002 the rally is made up of just four competitive sections and each is run three times, twice in one direction and once in the other. The rough gravel roads are guaranteed to get even rougher as the rally goes on and a total distance of 2431kms over three days makes it easily the longest round in the WRC calendar. Today's leg consisted of four competitive sections based around a central service park close to the Suswa volcano in the heart of the Rift Valley.
Despite the punishing conditions, 555 Subaru World Rally Team driver Tommi Mäkinen dominated today's action. He took the lead on the very first stage and thanks to a strategic drive, kept it for the whole leg. He will start first on the road tomorrow. Colin McRae lies in overnight second, with Carlos Sainz 2m38s back in third.
Today's action will do nothing to change the event's reputation as the sternest test of car and driver durability. More than a quarter of the starters retired during the first four stages, including works drivers Marcus Gronholm, Francois Delecour, Toni Gardemeister, Armin Schwarz, Freddy Loix and 555 Subaru driver Petter Solberg.
CS1 0823hrs Ngema - Kedong (73.63km)
Fastest Time: Makinen (Subaru) 36:47.8
The opening 75km stage proved no gentle introduction to the Safari Rally. The road mixed smooth 180kph straights with extremely rocky sections, only passable in first gear at speeds of around 10kph. 555 Subaru World Rally Team driver Tommi Mäkinen set the early pace. He claimed the stage win and overall lead of the event when he finished 21 seconds ahead of second-quickest driver Thomas Radstrom of Citroen. Ford's Markko Martin completed the CS1 top three. Championship leader Marcus Gronholm became the first major retirement when the engine in his Peugeot 206WRC expired. Thanks to his 14-point lead in the series, Gronholm will retain the lead of the championship regardless of the Safari result, but his exit makes it possible for other drivers to close the gap. Elsewhere in the field, the rough stages caused problems for other leading drivers. Hyundai's Freddy Loix retired with clutch failure, Gilles Panizzi dropped almost 25 minutes with a puncture and suspension damage. Sebastien Loeb' Citroen and Juha Kankkunen's Hyundai collected broken front-suspension and 555 Subaru Team driver Petter Solberg lost around 15 minutes when he stopped to cure a clutch problem and puncture. After the stage, crews returned to Suswa for a well-deserved 20-minute service.
CS2 1031hrs Sayabi - Kerrerie (81.84km)
Fastest Time: C.McRae (Ford) 37:13.1
Following the retirement of Freddie Loix on CS1, the Hyundai Team's Safari debut went from bad to worse when Armin Schwarz retired on the road section to CS2 with alternator failure. On the stage, Colin McRae was quickest with Petter Solberg second, Sebastien Loeb third and Tommi Makinen fourth. His clutch problem sorted in service, Solberg was quick to regain time lost and he moved up the overall order from 19th to 14th. Petter believed he could have been another 30 seconds quicker had he not been stuck behind Markko Martin's car, which lost a tyre at the halfway point. Problems too for Citroen. Although Sebastien Loeb was quick on the stage, his teammate Thomas Radstrom, - second on the opening stage - broke a steering arm 25kms from the finish line. He carried on with control of just the three remaining wheels but lost three minutes and dropped to seventh. As with every stage on the rally this year, crews headed back to Suswa afterwards for a 20-minute service.
CS3 1324hrs Il Damat - Nailongilok (74.45km)
Fastest Time: Mäkinen (Subaru) 44:23.6
Mäkinen said he expected this stage to be the biggest challenge of the rally, and the 75kms of rough African tracks certainly lived up to his predictions. Tommi however was sensationally quick through the test and finished a clear minute ahead of second placed Gilles Panizzi, while Alister McRae was third for Mitsubishi. Mäkinen's performance moved him 2m40s clear of Colin McRae at the top of the overall leaderboard. Like many other crews on this section, Colin McRae suffered damage to his car, in his case a broken rear shock absorber, and this turned out to be a common ailment, his teammate Carlos Sainz broke a rear shock too, as did Sebastien Loeb. The Peugeot's seemed more susceptible to front damage, with Richard Burns and Harri Rovanpera suffering identical front shock and water system damage. Worse luck though for Petter Solberg, he lost around 15 minutes, when he stopped to investigate an engine problem. Taking advice from their engineers at the Suswa service point, Solberg and co-driver Phil Mills disconnected the turbo-charger and topped up the oil before continuing to the third service of the day. On the road section to the service, Mitsubishi driver Francois Delecour retired when the engine in his Lancer WRC failed.
SS4 1526hrs Ntulele - Kedong (106.56km)
Fastest Time: C.McRae (Ford) 51:00.2
Colin McRae took the honours on the last competitive section of leg1. He finished 1m30s ahead of Harri Rovanpera who was second for Peugeot, with Carlos Sainz third. Tommi Mäkinen, who had been careful not to take more risks than necessary, maintained a quick pace, was fourth fastest, and maintained his overall lead into leg2. Skoda's Toni Gardemeister retired from a creditable sixth place after hitting a rock and losing his left rear wheel and suspension components and there were similar problems for Alister McRae when his Mitsubishi collected a broken wheel and suspension damage. Although able to continue, he dropped almost 30 minutes and slid from 8th to 14th overall. There was worse to come though for 555 Subaru driver Petter Solberg. As a result of damage sustained on the previous stage, his engine stopped 5kms from the start line, and the young Norwegian had to accept retirement from the rally.
555 SWRT Quotes
Tommi Mäkinen: "It's been a good day, everything's been working well, good reliable performance from the car and no problems. Unfortunately we slowed a little bit too much on the final stage that wasn't so nice, but we start again tomorrow. The competition is very tough and both Colin and I have a good chance but I'm not worried about the conditions I've seen so far. We'll take our speed back up tomorrow."
Petter Solberg: "The turbo broke on CS3 and the team got the car ready again, but the engine just stopped on the last stage. Before I was taking it with a laugh and a joke, now I'm very very disappointed. I'm working so hard for every rally on the tests and recce's, the mechanics are working so hard as well. I can't do anything more. You start to realise all the work that you've done and it's very hard to take. We have to get everything together first, have a clean rally with no problems and see where we end up. It goes up and down with me, but the smile will be coming back."
555 Subaru World Rally Team Principal David Lapworth: "It's been a sweet and sour day for us today. Tommi has had a very good day, he's done everything correctly, and is in an excellent position for tomorrow and the rest of the rally. Everybody is disappointed for Petter, he's done everything he could, he's trying and working so hard and there is no logical explanation for his run of bad luck. The team has been in this situation before, when Colin and Richard drove for us, and it's a phase that all young drivers go through. You just have to wait for the luck to change."
Will start from the Safari Park Hotel Parc Ferme at 0445hrs. Cars will drive to the central service point at Suswa before tackling today's four stages again, this time in reverse order. Following this, crews will drive the Kedong - Negema section (CS1 and CS5) for a third time, making a leg two total of five competitive sections and 410kms.