Markko MÃ¤rtin has taken the lead of the Swedish Rally, the Estonian Ford driver claiming his advantage after setting fastest time in stage three. His only woe of the day has been stalling at the start of the second stage. Rallye Monte-Carlo...
Markko Märtin has taken the lead of the Swedish Rally, the Estonian Ford driver claiming his advantage after setting fastest time in stage three. His only woe of the day has been stalling at the start of the second stage. Rallye Monte-Carlo victor Sébastien Loeb is however pressuring Märtin from second while Petter Solberg has climbed to third after losing time with a spin in the second stage. Carlos Sainz holds fourth overnight ahead of Janne Tuohino, who has been nominated to score points for Ford in an M-Sport prepared Focus. Marcus Gronhölm had taken the early lead in the Peugeot 307, but the Finn lost nearly a minute with power steering failure in stage three. He is sixth overnight with team-mate Freddy Loix 10th.
Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Markko Märtin and Michael Park led the Swedish Rally by almost half a minute after the opening leg of the three-day event. Their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car was twice fastest on today's key speed test to return to the rally base in Karlstad with a 23.3sec advantage over Sebastien Loeb on this second round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Ford has three Focus cars in the points with Janne Tuohino and Jukka Aho fifth and François Duval and Stéphane Prévot eighth.
Markko Martin / Michael Park: "I took care early this morning and just needed a couple of stages to settle into the rally," said the 28-year-old Estonian driver. "The Focus has been reliable all day. The only problem was a driver one when I stalled the engine at the start of the second stage but we didn't lose much time. The two Granberget stages were really good fun, in fact the whole day has been enjoyable. This morning we were the second car through the stage and there were no lines or ruts from other cars so I was able to play with the car a little and choose exactly the line that I wanted. To be first with a lead of more than 20sec is better than I expected."
Janne Tuihino / J Aho: "We made no mistakes although maybe we were too sideways in places on the second stage this morning," said Tuohino. "I drove at maximum speed but didn't take any risks. I call it safety speed and everything has gone normally. It's not a bad position to be the leading Finn on a winter rally. I will try to go a little faster tomorrow and brake a little less but I must be careful because the Focus has more potential than I know about."
The Xsaras WRC driven by Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Carlos Sainz/Marc Marti returned to Karlstad this evening in second and fourth places respectively, after a leg during which all the leading drivers faced identical road conditions.
Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: "I was slightly too slow through the first half of the first special stage, before finding the right pace. In the second stage, I went 'slightly' too quickly into a right-handed corner, and ended up spinning. Luckily, after going right round, the car was pointing in the right direction. I was ready to get going right away, and this incident only cost me a few seconds. I did not make any mistakes through the Granberget stage, during which we used an identical set of tyres. However, we did lose a bit of time, which I find hard to explain. Finally, we set the best time in the super special, which is good for the motivation. We will try to keep up the same pace tomorrow."
Carlos Sainz / Marc Marti: Having conceded more time that he had expected during SS3, just like Sébastien, Carlos decided to opt for the Michelin GE ' ice' tyres, with 'sharp' studs, which had enabled Markko Märtin to set the best time during the first pass through. Unfortunately, the ground had begun to show through the ice, which did not suit the studs, less resistant than the standard ones used by the other competitors. "I broke a lot of studs. The further I went into the stage, the less grip I had !"
Petter Solberg revelled in the Leg's difficult conditions and delivered an impressive performance at the wheel of his Subaru Impreza to end the day in third place, 26.9 seconds behind overnight leader Markko Martin. His team-mate Mikko Hirvonen also set a string of competitive times and, despite only have contested the event once previously, ended the day well positioned in seventh place.
Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: "It's been an incredible day, much better that I expected. I've never done well here before so I'm very happy. We had no real problems today just the spin earlier, but that's just part of the game. Since then, it's been perfect. Out on the stages there's an incredible atmosphere - I've never seen so many Norwegian flags. The conditions suit my driving and if it stays the same tomorrow, I'll do my best to beat Markko and Sebastien."
Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen: "It's been a perfect day, especially if you don't count the second run through Granberget! We lost quite lot of time there. I stalled at a junction and got stuck behind Panizzi, but overall my confidence has risen and it feels very good. Like a lot of rallies this year, my main priority is experience, but of course I'm still going to push when I am able so we'll just see what's possible tomorrow."
Three-time Swedish Rally winner Marcus Gronholm has promised a fight back to the top after being deprived of the lead by a power steering problem on the opening day. Marcus set fastest time on the first of today's five stages and held the lead until stage three - the longest of the rally at 53 kilometres. He ends leg one of the Swedish Rally sixth overnight, less than a minute behind the leader. His team mate Freddy Loix ends a difficult day in 10th, after struggling with the set-up of his 307 WRC.
Marcus Gronholm / Timo Rautiainen: "It was really hard work, but I knew I had to keep on pushing," said Marcus. "I tried to limit the time loss as much as possible, but we still ended up losing a minute. It makes life difficult, but we're certainly not giving up. We still have some good chances to do well."
Freddy Loix / Sven Smeets: "It's been a very frustrating day for me. In the morning, I lost time on the slower corners as I didn't have a good feeling with the back end of the car. We made some changes and I thought I was driving well, but when I saw the times I was disappointed. We need to think very carefully about why this is happening and try to find a solution."
Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports has had a difficult start to the 2004 Uddeholm Swedish Rally and Gilles and Hervé Panizzi have been forced into retirement while team-mates Kristian Sohlberg and Kaj Lindström plummeted down the leaderboard this morning and hold 34th in the second Mitsubishi Lancer WRC04
Gilles Panizzi / Hervé Panizzi: "We had a problem this morning with fifth gear, so the team changed the gearbox after the second stage", commented Gilles. "Then we had a problem with fourth in the second 'box and we put the original one back in the car. But then two kilometers before the end of the fourth stage we had more problems, had to stop and then the car wouldn't re-start. Our aim was always to get to the finish so we can learn more information about the car, so from that point of view it is a shame".
Kristian Sohlberg / Kaj Lindström: "Five kilometers before the finish of the second stage I started to brake and the wheels just locked up", commented Kristian. "We went off the road and got stuck in a snow bank. All in all it has been a tough day and it taught me a lot".
Mitsubishi Motors drivers have made an excellent start to the Swedish Rally, the opening round of the 2004 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship. Finland's Jani Paasonen has taken complete control of the field and holds a comfortable lead in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. In total, Mitsubishi drivers hold seven of the top nine positions in the Group N category and of the Production Car contenders lay first, third, eighth, ninth and tenth.
Leg two starts tomorrow at 0530hrs when crews leave Karlstad parc fermé and travel 85km north to Hagfors for the first service of the day. The longest of the event, Leg two includes a further eight stages and 151.94 competitive kilometres. Based around the single service in Hagfors, Leg two includes a second visit to the Hagfors Super Special Stage. The first test starts at 0746hrs.