The Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart crews of Francois Delecour/Daniel Grataloup and Alister McRae/David Senior finished the opening leg of the 46th Rallye de France - Tour de Corse in 11th and 18th positions respectively. Sixty-one crews departed...
The Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart crews of Francois Delecour/Daniel Grataloup and Alister McRae/David Senior finished the opening leg of the 46th Rallye de France - Tour de Corse in 11th and 18th positions respectively.
Sixty-one crews departed Ajaccio this morning for this third round of the FIA World Rally Championship and the second Tour de Corse in less than five months. Dry and warm conditions greeted them ahead of today's five special stages and 95 competitive kilometres to the north-east of the island's capital, the distance for stages 2/5 having been reduced to avoid the section where Tommi Makinen crashed heavily in 2001. Today's leg also included the longest stage of the rally (SS3) and then as rain fell in the last two stages this afternoon, crews took more or less of an advantage depending on their position on the road. It has however been a relatively incident-free day with no major problems for any of the leading crews and only one retirement between the six competing manufacturers.
Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart drivers Francois Delecour and Daniel Grataloup lead the team's assault, the French pair confirming that progress has been made on the Lancer Evolution WRC asphalt specification since Monte Carlo. They were running as high as ninth earlier in the day but as Citroen driver Philippe Bugalski went on the attack, and rain fell this afternoon, Francois dropped back down the order.
"The car is a major step forward from Monte Carlo and we're much closer to the Peugeots, which are obviously the asphalt benchmark, and also on a par with the Fords", said Francois at the final service in Ajaccio this evening. "In the wet this afternoon the car was a bit of a handful, but our aim is to get towards the top six and points".
Team-mates Alister McRae and David Senior have had a frustrating opening leg, losing time this morning with a combination of oversteer and brake problems. "The car is better for sure, but we suffered with a bit of understeer this morning in the longer corners", commented Alister. "Before the start of the long stage the brakes didn't feel quite right and about seven kilometres into the stage, when it started to go downhill, we began to lose them. That meant backing off, and we've had similar problems this afternoon. I reckon we also got the worst of the weather in stage 4; rain starting just as we began the stage and then finishing when we did!"
Adding to their comments, Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart team manager Derek Dauncey said: "We've taken the data from the test which has given us a good direction to go in, and we've tried a few different options today which has given us useful feedback. The wetter weather this afternoon hindered us a bit though. Looking at the split times in the long stage (SS3), the car is competitive in certain sections and basically we now need to use that information to make sure it's competitive throughout each stage and therefore the whole rally".
Despite rain this afternoon, the Panizzi brothers, Gilles and Herve, established a predictable lead from the outset, the Peugeot 206 crew fastest on all but one of today's stages to pull out a slim three second advantage over team-mate Marcus Gronholm. The French manufacturer is also enjoying a 1-2-3 with reigning World Champion Richard Burns holding third position. Tommi Makinen (Subaru) has had a trouble-free day and holds fourth, although the Finn admits to spending the day getting into the rhythm of the rally, the 36 kilometre stage the longest he has ever contested in the Impreza WRC. His team-mate Petter Solberg was holding a fine third overall until spinning at the start of stage 4 and damaging the rear suspension. The Norwegian dropped around a minute, but after strapping the suspension together for the final stage, went on to set sixth fastest time to end the day sixth overall. Sandwiching the Subarus is Carlos Sainz in the leading Ford, the Spaniard losing a handful of seconds in the opening two stages when he had problems selecting first gear. His team-mate Colin McRae lies seventh, his only problem an engine stall at the start of SS5, while Philippe Bugalski, in the privately run Citroen Xsara WRC, is eighth. Hyundai was the only manufacturer to lose a car today, former Polish Formula 2 Champion Tomasz Kuchar forced out in the first stage when the accelerator jammed open and he burnt out the brakes.
Still to come...
The second leg of the Tour de Corse takes the remaining contenders to the east and north-east of Ajaccio for a further seven special stages and 150 competitive kilometres. It is the longest leg of the event and starts with an early morning wake-up calls for the crews - a repetition of the 36.73 kilometre run from Petreto to Ampaza, the longest stage of the rally.
MITSUBISHI DRIVERS LEAD THE TOUR DE CORSE
Mitsubishi Motors drivers have taken instant control of the Group N class on the second round of the 2002 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship, the Tour de Corse. Peruvian Ramon Ferreyros leads the field after the first of the rally's three legs in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, with Omani driver Hamed Al Wahaibi only 1.1 seconds behind. In a convincing display of superiority, Mitsubishi drivers hold the top nine places in the category.
Ramon Ferreyros has shown his speed in the Production class on previous rounds of the World Championship and he seized the initiative from the outset on Corsica in his Lancer Evolution.
"Everything has gone well for us so far, but it's a big battle with Hamed Al Wahaibi and it's going to be hard work if we keep going like this", Ferreyros said.
Al Wahaibi drove his new Lancer Evolution for the first time only the day before the start, but he has wasted no time in exploiting its potential.
"It's a fantastic car. I've driven quite a few Group N cars and am very impressed with its performance. It would be really special to win a rally like this too", Al Wahaibi commented.
Bulgarian Dimitar Iliev is third in another Lancer Evolution, some way behind the leading duo, but with a useful advantage over fellow Mitsubishi drivers Gustavo Trelles of Uruguay and Britain's Martin Rowe. World Championship leader Kristian Sohlberg retired after crashing his Mitsubishi Carisma GT.
"It has been a very good day for us. We will do our best to catch the first two, but this is already a good position for us", Iliev said.