Finnish drivers Harri Rovanpera and Marcus Gronholm have become embroiled in a battle for the lead on the second round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Swedish Rally, which started from Karlstad this morning. Their two Peugeot 206 WRCs...
Finnish drivers Harri Rovanpera and Marcus Gronholm have become embroiled in a battle for the lead on the second round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Swedish Rally, which started from Karlstad this morning. Their two Peugeot 206 WRCs ended the last of today's five stages separated by just 0.9 seconds (in Gronholm favour), with their nearest rival - third-placed Colin McRae - more than half a minute behind.
Fresh snowfalls made conditions extremely slippery on the Swedish roads today, particularly for the first few crews on the stages since they often swept the loose snow clear for the crews running further down the order. One of the main victims of this was world championship leader Tommi Makinen, who dropped outside the top ten before retiring with an overheating engine after he clipped a snow bank.
Technical: The three 206 WRCs of Marcus Gronholm and Richard Burns have run without significant mechanical problems today. Burns did complain of stalling under wheelspin on the day's last stage, though. Harri Rovanpera lost time during the final pair of tests when a suspected throttle sensor problem drained his confidence in anything other than long straights.
Sporting: Harri Rovanpera and Marcus Gronholm set fastest times on three of today's stages to move clear of their opposition at the head of the leaderboard. Rovanpera was generally the quicker of the two until lunchtime, but in the day's last pair of stages a throttle problem cost him enough time for Gronholm to sneak ahead - by just 0.9 seconds. After this morning's second stage, Peugeot enjoyed a one-two-three 'lock-out' at the top of the leaderboard, but then Richard Burns hit trouble in SS3. The reigning world champion slid off briefly, filling the front of his car with snow. He and navigator Robert Reid had to stop soon afterwards to scoop snow out of the front of the car, to prevent an overheating engine. The resulting time loss dropped the Englishman outside the top ten. They also stalled at a hairpin in the day's penultimate stage.
Quotes: Harri Rovanpera said: "The throttle problem cost me some time because I had no confidence to really accelerate in the middle of the corner in case it gave the car too much throttle. It affected braking too."
Marcus Gronholm said: "I'm sure Harri has had better road conditions than us today, but he's made good use of that. Tomorrow, when Harri and I are running close together on the road, we'll make a bigger attack."
Technical: The Focus RS WRC02s of Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae have run without major problems today.
Sporting: Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz have both suffered from relatively high positions in the starting order today - Sainz in particular lost valuable time in SS2 when a heavy shower coated the road in fresh snow. McRae has maintained a top six position throughout today's stages, although the Scot has already admitted that he is unlikely to be able to stop either Rovanpera or Gronholm. McRae reckoned that a snow tyre would have been slightly better than his choice (ice tyre) in the day's longest stage, SS3, but he still arrived back in Karlstad this evening in third overall after a fastest time in SS5.
Quotes: Carlos Sainz said: "It's been difficult today - when there's fresh snow you just end up cleaning it off the road for the guys further back. I'm not sure what the difference is to Marcus, because he's running quite close to me on the road - maybe it's tyres, the car, the driver. But we're not so far away from the top six, so I think we can still fight for points."
Colin McRae said: "You can't say there's any one reason why the Peugeots are looking so strong against us - it's just that their package as a whole is working better here than ours. I've been fairly happy with the car and our tyre choices, so we just have to keep trying tomorrow and see what happens. Today ended better than it started but I'd still rather be less than half a minute behind the two Peugeots."
Technical: The Lancer Evolution WRCs of Alister McRae, Francois Delecour and Jani Paasonen have been reliable today. But both McRae and Delecour expressed frustration at the car's handling in twistier sections.
Sporting: Mitsubishi started this morning stages hoping for improved fortunes after a frustrating Rallye Monte Carlo, and Alister McRae and Jani Paasonen duly delivered. McRae kept his Lancer on the fringes of the points positions all day and even though he felt he lost time with a poor tyre choice this evening, he still arrived back in Karlstad in 11th, less than 20s outside the points. Paasonen, meanwhile, posted a string of top ten times to keep his Lancer in the top six - he ended the day in fourth. Francois Delecour wasn't so fortunate - after being unhappy at his car's handling, the Frenchman lost more than 15 minutes in a ditch in the day's final stage.
Quotes: Alister McRae said: "It's been going pretty well - the car's great in the fast stuff but when it gets twisty, it's really difficult to get a feel for what's going on. I'm sure it's something that we can find in the differential settings. I was annoyed at the wrong tyre choice because we gave away time and you can't afford to do that here."
Jani Paasonen said: "I'm really pleased that things are going well here - I didn't have so much testing before the rally so this morning I really wanted to settle in and concentrate on not making a mistake. But I find the Lancer quite easy to drive and I know some of the stages from earlier years. I hope we can continue at this pace."
Technical: The Accents of Freddy Loix, Armin Schwarz and Juha Kankkunen have been reliable today.
Sporting: All three Hyundai drivers - Armin Schwarz, Freddy Loix and Juha Kankkunen - have taken full advantage of their lowly starting position to use cleaned roads and post top-ten times. Loix overcame his broken foot to speed up further this evening and inch into the points - he arrived at final service in fifth. Kankkunen lies just outside the points in seventh but Schwarz dropped outside the top 30 when he slid off in SS4. The resulting damage wiped out his lamp pod, which meant he had to tackle the final (dark) stage of the day with only standard lights.
Quotes: Freddy Loix said: "I'm really pleased. The long stage today was quite draining physically for me, because the dressing around my foot is quite awkward and heavy and by the end of 40km the top of my left leg was sore."
Armin Schwarz said: "It was a fast left and we went straight on - then it took us a long time to get back onto the road again. Our lights were badly damaged so we had to do the last stage with just ordinary lights - it's a disappointing evening."
Technical: The Subaru Impreza WRC of Tommi Makinen was generally reliable today, but the world championship leader was less than satisfied with the car's initial set-up, which was tuned to harder road conditions. He then clipped a snow bank in SS4, filling the front of the car with snow. The Finn was forced to retire nine kilometres into the stage with an overheating engine. The differentials on team mate Petter Solberg's car stopped working on the day's first stage, although the Norwegian was able to fix the problem before SS2. He also suffered two tyre mousse insert break-ups after half of the day's longest (40km) stage and his chances of regaining the time loss were reduced when he felt that his lights didn't give him good enough vision in the dark.
Sporting: Tommi Makinen's day started badly when snow began to fall half an hour before the first stage. That meant a fresh covering of powdery snow on the roads, and Makinen lost chunks of time as he swept the route clear for rivals running further down the order. His problems were compounded by a wrong tyre choice for the first two stages and he arrived at lunchtime service only just inside the top 20 and over a minute and a half behind the leader. His rally ended shortly afterwards, when his car's engine cooling system was terminally damaged after he clipped a snow bank. His team-mate Petter Solberg has been running sixth on the road today, but the Norwegian's chances of capitalising on that were reduced by differential problems in SS1, two rear tyre mousse insert break-ups in SS3 and uncertainty about his lights and his pacenotes in SS5. He ended the day in fifth, albeit only 20s off third-placed Colin McRae.
Quotes: Tommi Makinen said: "We cut a junction a little in SS4 and clipped a thick snow bank. We didn't think anything had happened but a few kilometres down the road we saw the engine temperature had risen. We stopped to see if we could anything but the cooling system was completely blocked and we had no water."
Technical: Kenneth Eriksson's and Stig Blomqvist's Octavia WRCs have been reliable today, but Toni Gardemeister hit problems on the second stage when his car started to lose power. Skoda technicians examined data at the following service and found no glitches but by the start of the day's longest test, SS3, the young Finn's car had lost almost all its turbo boost.
Sporting: Skoda's regular Swedish driver Kenneth Eriksson has upheld the Czech manufacturer's honour today, keeping his Octavia WRC on the fringes of the top ten. He ended the leg in 12th. Team mate Toni Gardemeister has been less than satisfied with his car's handling and he also lost boost for the longest (40km) stage, but the young Finn still held 15th by the end of today's last stage. The third car, driven by Stig Blomqvist, was around half a minute adrift but still fighting in 18th.
Quotes: Kenneth Eriksson said: "I'm quite happy so far but the conditions today definitely favour the guys running further back down the field. The snow is quite soft and as it gets sprayed out of the way you can see the harder, clean line appearing."
Technical: The Xsara WRCs of Thomas Radstrom and Sebastien Loeb have been reliable today, although Loeb was worried about his car's handling in the day's final stage.
Sporting: Sebastien Loeb found it difficult to cope with running second on the road this morning - the young Frenchman felt he was cleaning the road of loose snow for later cars. In SS3 he spun in a fourth-gear corner and as he tried to turn the car around, he nosed it into a snow bank and got stuck for more than two minutes. He dropped outside the top 20 as a result. Team-mate Thomas Radstrom's day was even more adventurous - the Swede spun in SS2 and then in SS3, he slid off at a slow bend and got his Xsara stuck on top of a snow bank. With few spectators around, he and navigator Denis Giraudet had to resort to shovels to extract the car from its position and they lost more than seven minutes. They set fastest time on the next stage.
Quotes: Thomas Radstrom said: "The accident was quite like Richard's here last year - we just slid onto the top of the bank but there was no way we could get off without either lots of spectators or a shovel. We didn't have the spectators."
Several privateer World Rally Car drivers have posted top ten times today - young Finn Janne Tuohino held fourth overall in his 2001 specification Ford Focus after two stages (he dropped down the top ten later in the day), while Sebastian Lindholm, Juuso Pykalisto and Henning Solberg all traded times with factory cars.
In the Group N category for more standard machinery, Stig-Olov Waldridsson set fastest times on the opening three stages to build up an advantage that he held until the end of the day. Local rival Daniel Carlsson holds second, ahead of Juha Kangas and Swede Kenneth Backlund.