Makinen dominates to win the Safari Rally
22 July 2001
Tommi Mäkinen has scored a dominant victory on the eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Safari Rally, which finished in Nairobi this afternoon.
The Finn and navigator Risto Mannisenmaki finished nearly thirtheen minutes clear of their nearest rival after three days and well over a thousand kilometres of competition on the notoriously rough and punishing Kenyan plains.
Today's final leg claimed more of the top crews. Petter Solberg had to retire because of wheel bearing problems on the first section, and Bruno Thiry crashed out of sixth place on the last test. Several others suffered late scares, too - second-placed Harri Rovanperä had to limp back to final service with damaged suspension before he could relax, while Francois Delecour had to cope with gearbox problems on the last section before he could claim fourth. By the finish, just five factory-entered cars had survived the world championship's toughest challenge.
At Mitsubishi Tommi Mäkinen's mechanics changed his Lancer's turbo at first service this morning after it had given the Finn a scare on the road section back to Nairobi last night. Thereafter, his only problem was slightly bent front-right suspension after he clouted a rock on today's third section.
Freddy Loix lost turbo boost barely two kilometres into today's opening 117km test, and the Belgian had to struggle through at 60-70kph before he could return to service and allow his mechanics to change the offending unit.
Tommi Mäkinen controlled his pace again today to stay at the head of the leaderboard and score his second victory on the Safari Rally. The Finn's success lifts him ten points clear of Colin McRae in the drivers' championship, and moves him alongside the Scot, Carlos Sainz and Juha Kankkunen on the record for the greatest number of WRC rally wins (23).
Team-mate Freddy Loix soldiered through today's opening section with a lack of turbo boost to earn himself two points after a difficult event. His efforts were also enough to score three manufacturers' points for Mitsubishi.
Tommi Makinen said: ''I can't say this win was easy but it felt like it was under control all the time. We knew before the start that our car felt good, and the only real question mark was the tyres that gave us problems last year. But as soon as we tested the new tyres we knew we had a strong package and that made us more confident. A lot of others have had problems but we have been able to drive at the same speed throughout. It's too early to talk about the championship but of course, ten points is a big help when Colin and Carlos haven't scored here. I'm happy to be on the 23 wins but I'd like to make it 24 and get the record for myself. The next round is my home event so it would be nice to do it there.''
Freddy Loix added: ''I'm really pleased to get some points - not just for myself, but for my mechanics. They've had to do so much for me during this event, including changing the cylinder head yesterday - and I really wanted to give them something in return. I've never had a rally with so many problems but that's the Safari.''
Mitsubishi Ralliart Chairman Andrew Cowan concluded: ''This is the rally win that we prize the most. No other event in the entire championship requires as much teamwork as here. Any manufacturer that wins the Safari gets a special buzz, and that's what we're feeling at the moment.''
Meanwhile at Peugeot the sole remaining 206 WRC of Harri Rovanperä was reliable until today's final section, when it broke two driveshafts and had to limp to the last service.
Harri Rovanperä started today's four competitive sections determined to hold on to his second position and give Peugeot a morale-boosting finish after some difficult events. In the end, delays meant that one section was scrapped so he only had to tackle three, but he still suffered a late scare when two driveshafts broke on the final competitive section. Rovanperä survived, though, bringing the 206 back to Nairobi to score his second podium finish of the season.
Harri Rovanpera said: ''I'm so glad to get this finish for me and the whole team. We did a lot of testing here before this event and we had problems, but we've had pretty good reliability on the rally, where it matters. Our tactics worked well, because as others retired we were able to continue. It's Finland next and I hope we can fight for a victory on my home event.''
Rovanperä's navigator Risto Pietilainen added: ''On the last section we broke two driveshafts, and the car was very difficult for Harri to drive. There were a number of times when we wondered if we'd actually make it to the end of the section. It would have been very bad to retire so late in the rally, so we were very pleased to get back to service.''
Corrado Provera concluded: ''This second place is like a victory for us. The car showed the level of performance and reliability that our technicians and engineers have worked so hard to supply. And we greatly appreciate the hard work from Harri and Risto - they have been superbly professional and they are taking a bigger and bigger place in our hearts with each rally.''
At Skoda the Octavia WRC of Armin Schwarz completed today's closing competitive sections without major dramas. Schwarz damaged his car's rear suspension on the first section after its shock absorbers got too soft and ripped the thread from its tyres.
Team-mate Bruno Thiry was less fortunate, meanwhile. The Belgian had to complete more than 70km of the penultimate section with no power steering. He had to receive medical attention at the following service area, but he continued, only to roll out on the final section.
Armin Schwarz scored Skoda's best ever result at world championship level by finishing third. The German concentrated on maintaining a steady pace today, fending off a hard-charging François Delecour this morning before the Frenchman hit trouble. His result also pleased Michelin, since it meant that the French tyre manufacturer claimed all three podium positions on an event where it struggled last year.
Schwarz's team-mate Bruno Thiry had to receive medical treatment prior to the final section after he'd had to drive 70km with no power steering. Thiry then rolled out of the rally on the last section. Navigator Stephane Prevot was taken to hospital as a precautionary measure.
Armin Schwarz said: ''We knew from the start what speed the car was capable of staying reliable at, and we stuck to that. It was getting very hard to drive today, because we'd run out of new shock absorbers and we were having to use rebuilt ones that didn't last as well, but in the end the result is fantastic for everyone in the team. The only downside is Bruno's accident when he had a chance of points too and had driven without the power steering.''
At Ford the sole remaining Focus RS WRC01 of François Delecour has had several mechanical problems today. The Frenchman suffered from a seized centre bearing in his propshaft, which eventually broke the housing and damaged the transmission tunnel. The Ford team changed the gearbox and propshaft at the next service, but they incurred road penalties because extra time was needed to weld up the tunnel. Delecour then suffered numerous gearbox glitches in the last stage.
François Delecour started this morning's opening section with hopes of catching Armin Schwarz for third, but those plans came to nothing when he encountered propshaft problems. However, the Frenchman was still able to bring his Focus home in fourth, on his first ever attempt at the Safari. His efforts don't earn Ford any manufacturers' points, however, because he was not nominated for that series.
François Delecour said: ''I'm very pleased to finish this difficult rally at the first attempt. Malcolm (Wilson, Ford team boss) told me to keep a steady pace and just get to the end, but with so many people retiring it shows how much of a challenge the Kenyan stages can be. We've had some problems but so has virtually everyone else.''
At Subaru the sole remaining Impreza WRC2001 of Petter Solberg had to retire on today's opening competitive section after a broken right-front wheel bearing. The young Norwegian eventually lost his wheel and with more than 35km of section remaining, the team elected to retire him on the spot instead of trying to reach service and damaging the car beyond repair.
Petter Solberg had to retire on today's first section with a broken wheel bearing. He and navigator Phil Mills tried a number of possible fixes to the problem, guided both by engineers on radio and Richard Burns, who was spotting in the helicopter overhead. Mills even climbed onto the boot in an attempt to take weight off the damaged corner, but the pair eventually had to retire when it became clear that they would have damaged the car beyond repair merely by reaching service.
Petter Solberg said: ''It's very bad luck. On the way to the section we heard the wheel bearing and then about 60km in we started to feel it more and more. I backed off as much as I could but then we saw the wheel coming out beside us and that was it. We tried everything - Phil even got up on the boot - but the team told us not to try anything stupid. I'm so disappointed - I'd a really good rhythm here and I think my psychology was good. All we can do now is look forward to Finland.''
Richard Burns added: ''It's bad luck for Petter. He hadn't hit anything and I'd been calling out the worst rocks to him anyway. It just shows how the Safari can bite back at any time.''
Of the other teams Argentine driver Gabriel Pozzo scored a comfortable victory in the Group N category for more standard cars to extend his lead in the category world championship. Despite struggling when his Mitsubishi's suspension went soft on this morning's first section, he eventually finished more than a minute clear of Marcos Ligato. Local driver Azar Anwar finished third in the category in his Mitsubishi.
Starters: 17 cars (10 Group A + 7 Group N) restarted the rally.
Retirements: Solberg (N), Thiry (B).
Today - Sunday 17 June:
Leg 3 started from Nairobi at 04h45 and covered 766.51km, including 301.81km on 3 competitive sections.
Leg three - stage by stage summary:
SS10 Olteppesi (117.46kms):
1. Mäkinen (FIN) Mitsubishi 1h 01m 02.0
2. Rovanperä (FIN) Peugeot 1h 01m 27.0
3. Delecour (F) Ford 1h 01m 41.0
Leaders after SS10:
1. Makinen (FIN) Mitsubishi 7h 27m 08.0
2. Rovanperä (FIN) Peugeot 7h 34m 47.0
3. Schwarz (D) Skoda 7h 46m 23.0
SS11 Elatia-Rengini (49.95kms):
Section cancelled due to rally running late.
SS12 Orien (112.52kms):
1. Delecour (F) Ford 50m 09.0
2. Mäkinen (FIN) Mitsubishi 51m 36.0
3. Schwarz (D) Skoda 51m 46.0
Leaders after SS12:
1. Makinen (FIN) Mitsubishi 8h 19m 34.0
2. Rovanperä (FIN) Peugeot 8h 27m 49.0
3. Schwarz (D) Skoda 8h 38m 09.0
SS13 Maili Tisa (71.83kms):
1. Delecour (F) Ford 38m 08.0
2. Schwarz (D) Skoda 38m 33.0
3. Mäkinen (FIN) Mitsubishi 38m 53.0
Leaders in Nairobi after SS13:
1. Mäkinen (FIN) Mitsubishi 8h 58m 37.0
2. Rovanperä (FIN) Peugeot +12m 37.0
3. Schwarz (D) Skoda +17m 35.0
4. Delecour (F) Ford +20m 36.0
5. Loix (B) Mitsubishi +1h 44m 02.0
6. Pozzo (RA) Mitsubishi +2h 06m 46.0
7. Ligato (RA) Mitsubishi +2h 07m 50.0
8. Green (EAK) Subaru +2h 55m 56.0
9. Anwar (EAK) Mitsubishi +3h 13m 33.0
10. Stohl (A) Mitsubishi +4h 41m 23.0
Group N leaders after SS13:
1. Pozzo (RA) Mitsubishi 11h 05m 23.0
2. Ligato (RA) Mitsubishi +1m 04.0
3. Anwar (EAK) Mitsubishi +1h 06m 17.0
4. Stohl (A) Mitsubishi +2h 34m 17.0
5. Latvala (FIN) Mitsubishi +2h 59m 10.0
6. Smith (EAK) Subaru +3h 16m 33.0
Final rally statistics:
Event: The rally covered 2908.51km, including 1079.81km on 12 competitive sections ( four run twice). All sections were on gravel roads open to local traffic.
Starters: 41 cars (26 Group A + 15 Group N) started the rally.
Finishers: 15 cars (9 Group A + 6 Group N) finished the rally.
FIA World Championships (provisional standings after 8 of 14 rounds):
FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers: Mäkinen (FIN) 40, McRae (GB) 30, Sainz (E) 26, Rovanperä (FIN) 20, Burns (GB) 15, Delecour (F) 14, Auriol (F) 10, Solberg (N) & Loix (B) 9, Schwarz (D) 7, Rådström (S) & Panizzi (F) 6, Gardemeister (FIN) 5, Grönholm 4, Arai (J) 3, A. McRae (GB) & Hagstrom (FIN) & Bugalski (F) & Pozzo (RA) 1.
FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers: Mitsubishi 66, Ford 60, Subaru 28, Peugeot 26, Skoda 15, Hyundai 10.
FIA World Cup for Drivers of Production Cars: Pozzo (RA) 47, Trelles (ROU) 26, Stohl (A) 12, Gillet (CH) & Walfridsson (S) & Da Silva 10, Blomqvist (S) 8, others.
FIA Teams Cup (after 4 of 6 rounds, this event not counting): Hagstrom (FIN) & Lundgaard (DK) 20, Bakhashab (SA) 13, Papadimitriou (GR) 8, Barratt (GB) 7, Blomqvist (GB) & Al Wahaibi (OM) 6, Kulig (PL) & Heath (GB) 4,
Dor (F) 2.
FIA Super 1600 Cup (after 2 of 6 rounds, this event not counting): Loeb (F) 20, Dallavilla (I) 8, Stenshorne (N) 7, Basso (I) 6, Fontana (I) 4, Robert (F) 3, Magaud (F) 2, Chemin (I) & Ceccato (I) 1.
Next event: August 24-26 2001: Rally Finland, Jyvaskyla, Finland.