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Rovanpera no Turkey on leg one

28 February 2003


Peugeot endured mixed fortunes on the opening leg of the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Harri Rovanpera led the event by 20.7 seconds, but that was balanced by the persistent power steering problems, which beset reigning World Rally Champion Marcus Gronholm's 206 WRC and left him languishing in 19th place, more than ten minutes behind his team-mate.

Rovapera's day on the stages to the west of the rally's base in Kemer had been largely trouble-free. The Finn wasn't ready, however, to predict a possible second world championship victory, pointing out that his lead wasn't insurmountable to the crews behind.

That chasing pack? - was headed by the hugely experienced Carlos Sainz. By his own admission Sainz still has plenty to learn about the Xsara WRC, but he settled on a set-up which was to his liking and stuck to it. Ford's Francois Duval belied his lack of WRC experience to hold an overnight third place, just 8.8 seconds off Sainz.

The Junior World Rally Championship runners, were headed by Suzuki driver Daniel Carlsson. The Swede had eked out an advantage of 1m 20s from his nearest category rival Kosti Katajamaki.

Gronholm's Peugeot 206 WRC suffered a hydraulic problem from the third stage onwards today. Richard Burn's 206 WRC developed a gearbox problem in the final stage of the day.

Rovanpera moved into the lead of the rally after setting fastest time on the fourth stage. The Finn admitted that his position further back on the road was helping him, but he said he wasn't taking any big risks with his pace.

His team-mate Burns was sixth at the end of the day, having suffered a puncture on each one of this morning's three stages. Every one of the deflations was on the front-right of his 206.

Gronholm didn't get the chance to get into a rhythm for this event, as power steering gremlins hit his Peugeot on the day's second stage. The reigning world champion lost the power steering on his 206. The unit was changed at lunchtime service, but the problem reoccurred on the road section out of service, leaving him to driove the final two stages of the day without power steering. In total the Finn lost ten minutes through the day.

''The road surface is being swept clean in some places, but on the other hand the drivers are pulling some rocks out on to the road, so it's not all good news,'' commented Rovanpera. ''The long stage the first time through wasn't so bad, but the second run at some of the stages is going to be very rough - not so nice. It's going to be hard work tomorrow, there's a long way to go - I'm not going to predict anything.''

Burns added: ''I'm happy enough with the way things have gone. Okay we had the punctures this morning, but they didn't really cost us much time. The car was jumping out of third gear on the last stage, but the gearbox will be changed tonight.''

Gronholm continued: ''I'm not really very interested in this rally now. The problem came the first time about five kilometres from the end of SS3. Then doing the long stage without power steering was really hard work, my arms are a little tired now.''

Citroen's Sebastien Loeb retired from the event after running out of fuel on the first loop of stages this morning. The other two Xsara WRCs ran without any problems.

Sainz ended leg one in second place after a trouble-free day in his Xsara WRC. The Spaniard reported that he was happy with the way his car was running and added that he wouldn't be making any changes to the car's set-up. Sainz did go off the road on the first loop of stages this morning, inflicting some minor panel damage to his Xsara, but he didn't lose any time.

Once Loeb had retired, Colin McRae was faced with the task of running first on the road. The Scot said he was cleaning the stages for the cars behind him, but he was more dismayed at his time through the final stage of the day - which was 28 seconds slower than Sainz. McRae intended to make minor adjustments to his car overnight.

Sainz said: ''I'm still not 100 percent confident in the car, but it is getting better with every kilometre. Tomorrow is the longest day of the rally, so we will see where we are then. There's not a lot more for me to say, except that I'm happy now.''

McRae added: ''The day has been okay, but that last stage wasn't very good for us. I don't know what it was, if you look at Carlos's time it was good, but it just didn't work for us. The stage was a bit dirty on top, but that shouldn't have cost us that much time.''

A team spokesperson, commenting on Loeb's retirement, said: ''The crew took the wrong way leading to the refuelling point after SS3. Realising their mistake they turned around and went back. Unfortunately they didn't have enough fuel to cover the extra kilometres they had driven.''

At Ford Markko Martin's Ford Focus RS WRC suffered a broken gearbox on the second stage this morning and Mikko Hirvonen retired with damaged suspension on SS4. Francois Duval's example ran without any problems.

Young Belgian driver Duval is the leading Ford on the event, holding third after leg one. Duval posted two third fastest stage times and enjoyed a trouble-free day. Running further down the order helped him through the morning, but on the day's only repeated stage he still managed to set a highly competitive time.

Martin picked himself up from the disappointment of having to do a stage and a half (including all of the 30km Silyon test) with just first and second gears and was fastest on SS5.

Hirvonen retired with suspension failure on the first loop of stages this morning.

Martin noted: ''It's so difficult to drive the car when you've only got two gears. Obviously you have no top speed, but it makes the corners hard to get into the rhythm when you're used to changing up or down the gearbox. It was a mechanical problem in the gearbox, all of the electronics and everything else was working but we just didn't have any drive.''

Duval added: ''A good day. Everything is working well. Our tyre choices have been perfect. I have no complaints. Getting to know my new co-driver has been fine today.''

Petter Solberg's Subaru Impreza WRC2003 retired three kilometres into the fourth stage with a broken track rod end. Tommi Makinen's sister car suffered suspension problems on SS4.

Makinen held fourth place overnight, having been passed by Sainz on the fifth and final stage of the opening leg. The Finn admitted he'd found plenty of big rocks around on the day's stages, and while he'd done his best to avoid most of them, a bent sumpguard after the first loop was testament to some of the rocks making it under the car. Solberg had made a fine start to the rally, joint fastest time on the second stage of the event promoted him to the lead. He was still out front two stages later when he suffered a broken trackrod end and retired.

Makinen noted: ''The rear dampers went completely in stage four. The car was hard to drive, it was all over the road. Once we'd got that problem sorted, this afternoon was better.''

Solberg added: ''The car was really good this morning, everything was looking perfect. I came into a third-gear right hand corner with a little bit of oversteer, but I'm not exactly sure what happened - I think the front wheel got caught in a rut and just broke the trackrod end. This is not something which has ever happened before. It's really disappointing, but it was good to see just how well the car was going before the problem.''

Both Hyundai Accent WRCs suffered suspension trouble through the first loop of stages. Armin Schwarz also suffered an exhaust problem, while Freddy Loix's car was hit with a broken turbo on the final stage of the day and a throttle problem.

Despite this trouble though, Schwarz was still able to set second fastest time on SS4 and move into second place overall. When the car came into service the mechanics worked flat out to solve the problem, which unfortunately meant they didn't have time to replace the suspension or brakes, which slowed Schwarz through the day's final two stages. He slipped back to eighth overnight.

The turbo on Loix's car was changed at first service, along with the front dampers, which had leaked all of their fluid. The Belgian was happier with the car through the afternoon, despite the turbo blowing on the final stage - and the throttle sticking open momentarily.

Schwarz said: ''When I started to smell the smoke coming on the fourth stage I thought straight away that it was the same problem as on Rally GB. I thought it was going to be a fire and we were going to have to stop. In the end it was okay. These stages do suit the car a little better than the ones we've had in the championship before.''

Loix continued: ''Once the team changed the turbo after first service the car was better, but then the turbo went right near the finish of the final stage. We were lucky this happened near the finish, we didn't lose much time. The suspension wasn't right at all this morning, the fluid went out of the dampers and we were driving the car on the bump stops and sump guard. It wasn't easy to drive like that.''

Toni Gardemeister's Skoda Octavia WRC ran without any major problems. Didier Auriol retired on the way into the day's final service engine failure. The team had been concerned about the water temperature after SS4 and the engine problem is believed to be linked to this.

Gardemeister was the quickest Octavia through the opening day, but the Finn made it quite clear that he was no fan of this rally. He smacked a rock with the back end of the Octavia on the opening loop and knocked the tracking out. From then on he said he was just trying to avoid the rocks which had been pulled out by the cars ahead.

Gardemeister held tenth place overnight, just 8.8 seconds ahead of his team-mate Auriol. Auriol felt that the four days he'd spent testing the car prior to the event hadn't been entirely representative of the conditions he was greeted with in Turkey. The former world champion made changes to the car and pronounced himself happier, but then retired with engine problems after SS6.

Gardemeister said: ''I think it is a bit stupid to be driving here. The roads are very bad, there are rocks all over the place. I must have hit 100 big rocks today, this is knocking the car about quite badly. We didn't have any mechanical problems with the car, but we have had some punctures. Not good.''

Of the other entries just as he did on round one, Suzuki Ignis driver Daniel Carlsson leads the way after the opening leg's stages.

It was round one winner, Brice Tirabassi who stole the march on the superspecial stage last night. The Renault driver crashed out on the third stage, however. Carlsson was already out front by then and would continue to set a blistering pace through the Friday stages to open up a comfortable lead over Kosti Katajamaki's Volkswagen Polo. Marcos Ligato was just 3.5s off the back of the Finn, placing his Fiat Punto in third place at the end of leg one.

Among the non-works World Rally Cars, Gilles Panizzi was in fifth place overnight. His 206 WRC had run without any problems through the opening leg and the Frenchman was enjoying his first trip to Turkey. Fellow Peugeot driver Juuso Pykalisto rolled on the third stage, having scored a third fastest time in SS2. He lost four minutes while the car was put back on his wheels and ended the leg 22nd.




Rally statistics - Leg 1:

Starters: 58 crews (53 Group A and 5 Group N) actually started this morning.

Retirements: Loeb (F), Solberg (N), Hirvonen (FIN), Auriol (F) and 15 other drivers.

Today - Friday 28 February: The second part of Leg One started from Kemer at 08h00 and covered 344.19km, including 93.80km on five stages. With one Superspecial Stage of 1.55km run yesterday, after the ceremonial start, the first leg totals are 389.55km, including 93.35 on six stages.

Tomorrow - Saturday 1 March: Leg 2 starts from Kemer at 06h00 and covers 483.35km, including 158.52km on seven stages. The first car is expected to arrive back in Kemer at 18h24.

Weather forecast: Remaining bright and dry.



Stage by stage summary - Leg 1:

SS1 Efes Pilsen (1.55kms):
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 1m 12.1
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 1m 12.2
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 1m 12.3

SS2 Simena 1 (2.73kmd):
1= Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 1m 52.7
1= Solberg (N) Subaru 1m 52.7
3 Pykalisto (FIN) Peugeot 1m 53.5

Leaders after SS2:
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 3m 04.9
2. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 3m 06.6
3. Sainz (E) Citroen 3m 06.7

SS3 Phaselis 1 (16.42kms):
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 12m 28.6
2. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 12m 35.6
3. Duval (B) Ford 12m 36.3

Leaders after SS3:
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 15m 33.5
2. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 15m 42.8
3. Duval (B) Ford 15m 44.7

SS4 Silyon (29.87kms):
1. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 23m 51.8
2. Schwarz (D) Hyundai 23m 59.6
3. Sainz (E) Citroen 24m 02.6


Leaders after SS4:
1. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 39m 40.1
2. Schwarz (D) Hyundai 39m 47.4
3. Sainz (E) Citroen 39m 52.7

SS5 Perge 1 (14.91kms):
1. Martin (EE) Ford 11m 50.5
2. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 11m 51.3
3. Duval (B) Ford 11m 51.8

Leaders after SS5:
1. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 46m 55.2
2. Duval (B) Ford 47m 21.5
3. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 47m 26.9

SS6 Silyon 2 (29.87kms):
1. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 23m 19.1
2. Martin (EE) Ford 23m 19.7
3. Sainz (E) Citroen 23m 20.9

Leaders after SS6 / Leg 1:
1. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 1h 14m 50.5
2. Sainz (E) Citroen +20.7
3. Duval (B) Ford +29.5
4. Makinen (FIN) Subaru +31.4
5. Panizzi (F) Peugeot +37.9
6. Burns (GB) Peugeot +56.5
7. C.McRae (GB) Citroen +1m 03.3
8. Schwarz (D) Hyundai +1m 07.1
9. Loix (B) Hyundai +1m 13.6
10. Gardemeister (FIN) Skoda +1m 20.9




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