Gardemeister finishes on a high

From Skoda Press [ 16/06/2002 ].
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Skoda Motorsport´s crew Toni Gardemeister/Paavo Lukander had a strong finish in the 2002 Acropolis Rally, overcoming Mitsubishi´s Francois Delecour in the very last stage of the event, thus bringing their Octavia WRC within the top 10 in overall classification. Despite their enormous efforts, they remained just behind the last point scoring position in the Manufacturers Championship. Fellow crew Kenneth Eriksson/Tina Thorner finished the rally in 14th place overall, suffering from an 80 second penalisation during leg 1. The third Octavia WRC of Stig Blomqvist/Ana Goni finished safely in 17th position, after a smooth and consistent drive.

There were a few difficult moments for 27-year-old Toni Gardemeister in this year’s Acropolis, including him suffering a stomach upset in the first leg and being in the top starting position during leg 2, which is a marked disadvantage during this kind of rally. Nor was his Octavia WRC always at its best, in particular suffering differential pressure problems. In spite of that, the Finns showed consistency in their stage results, falling just once beyond the top 20 and finishing within the top 10 in the last three stages of the rally. Gardemeister said: “Things developed from the negative to the positive at this rally. The first day was the worst by far, with my health problem while leg 2 was better, however, it was far from making me happy. Finally today things changed for the better. Of course, I regret that we just missed the point, but I am happy to finish within the top 10 and to have given Francois a fight. There is a lot of work a head of us, I am looking forward to Africa.”

For Kenneth Eriksson, 46, this Acropolis Rally will not certainly be an event to remember. He, even more than his team mates, was hurt by differential malfunctions during the whole event, the problem also leading to his penalisation on the second day. While testing the differentials, a hydraulic hose cracked few minutes before departure, making it impossible for the mechanics to fix the problem in time. Eriksson said: “I am bitterly disappointed today. There have been too many problems just for one rally; the only positive thing is that we raced right up to the finish. We must work hard to analyse the problems and find solutions for the next rally.” Stig Blomqvist, 55, had a stable and consistent drive, reporting just slight problems with tyres. He also overcame the loss of a 20 second penalty in the second leg. The Swede said: “Ana and I are happy to have finished such a difficult rally. Seeing the list of retirements today, I am happy that we stayed the course and were able to drive over the ramp. We are looking forward to our next drive with Skoda.”

Team manager Pavel Janeba commented on the rally: “We have not experienced such serious technical problems for a long time, so by the next rally we must work hard to solve them. We don’t know yet what’s going on exactly, there are several assumptions what can be the cause, ranging from mechanical malfunction, labour factors, to a material problem. We must analyse everything and find the right solution. I am pleased by the work of all three crews who did their best under these difficult circumstances.”

The 2002 Acropolis Rally didn’t initially live up to its reputation as a car-devastating event, at least for the leading competitors, when only Tommi Makinen (Subaru) retired in stage 6 and Juha Kankkunen (Hyundai) lost his chances after stage 8 due to engine problems. However, the Hellenic gods got angry during the first two stages of the last day when Richard Burns (Peugeot) and Alister McRae (Mitsubishi) retired in stage 13 followed by Gilles Panizzi (Peugeot) and Freddy Loix (Hyundai) who finished their drive after stage 14. The rally was won by Colin McRae (Ford) followed by Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) and Carlos Sainz (Ford). Harri Rovanpera (Peugeot), Petter Solberg (Subaru) and Markko Martin (Ford) were the other top six point scoring drivers.

The next rally for the Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team will be the Safari Rally (11 – 14 July) with three crews in Octavia WRCs: Kenneth Eriksson/Tina Thorner, Toni Gardemeister/Paavo Lukander and Roman Kresta/Jan Tomanek.

2002 ACROPOLIS RALLY: FINAL STANDINGS

1. McRae/Grist Ford Focus 4:27:43.8
2. Gronholm/Rautiainen Peugeot 206 4:28:08.3
3. Sainz/Moya Ford Focus 4:29:29.4
4. Rovanpera/Pietilainen Peugeot 206 4:29:41.4
5. Solberg/Mills Subaru Impreza 4:29.42.4
10. Gardemeister/Lukander SkodaOctavia WRC 4:35:01.2
14. Eriksson/Thorner SkodaOctavia WRC 4:39:22.6
17. Blomqvist/Goni SkodaOctavia WRC 4:47:25.2