Bearings bear mystery

Bearings bear mysteryFrom Chris Biewer [ 09/08/2003 ].
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What a hugely disappointing day for Peugeot. OK, others had disappointments as well as leg2 of Rally Finland was packed with often terminal drama. This is a strong contrast to leg1, which saw no retirement of a top driver on the stages. But in leg2 already at the finish of the first stage we saw Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen retire with a small engine fire and soon after engine problems sidelined the sole remaining Skoda of Toni Gardemeister. But on the first run over the Ouninpohja stage featuring that spectacular jump, the first Peugeot was out as well. Harri Rovanperä went off once more, this time more severe and again he ripped a wheel off. As this happened only 2km into the 33km stage, Harri had no option but to call it a day.

This was a devastating blow for Jyväskylä’s local star, but he was so far down the order after his similar SS2 excursion that the retirement was maybe some kind of relieve. While most people claim it was a crash, here is Harri Rovanperä's version, which may reflect on later incidents:"I'm not completely sure what happened. We came over a crest into a slight corner, and I was careful not to cut the corner too much after what happened yesterday. But the car did not turn into the corner properly so we ended up on the other side of the road and into a bank. It's a place I know quite well, so this shouldn't have happened. It's a real pity."

And we are long not finished with drama for anybody. Citroen lost Colin Mc Rae after a big crash, the Subaru of Tommi Mäkinen suffered handling problems, differential problems and needed a gearbox change at last service, still right now Tommi is the best Finn on this event - down in 6th, this is a first in the history of this event! Markko Märtin announced electronic problems before the second run over Ouninpohja and sure enough lost 15 seconds on that stage. But how reliable was that claim before the stage? Consider in the first 3 stages Marcus Grönholm turned a 2.6s disadvantage into a 4s lead. The 33km of Ouninpohja would have been ideal to extent this gap. Was Märtin’s problem announcement only a tactical game to make Marcus feel too sure of his lead? It is also the scene that saw Richard Burns hitting problems and losing the lead last year. And in a strange repeat of incidents this time the attack again turned sour for the leading Peugeot. Marcus Grönholm first went wide and over some biggish stones in a left hander - although certainly not enough to cause a Peugeot have severe problems, more like a bit of normal spectacle. Next however Marcus' brake pedal went soft and eventualy the front right wheel virtually just fell off.

Marcus tries to explain this confusing chain of incidents: "It's a real shame as I think we could have made it another win here. I was quite confident that we would be quick on all of today's stages. But what happened on SS14 was really strange. The first thing I felt was a soft brake pedal, but I thought that it was just the brakes overheating and not a serious problem. Then on quite a slow corner about 10 kilometres from the stage finish, the front-right wheel came off taking away the wheel bearing, the suspension and everything. I certainly didn't hit anything, so we will have to see what caused this problem." After all that, despite Markko Märtin’s loss of some 15s in that stage, Märtin was back in the lead and Grönholm the latest addition to the retirement list. Now the charge would be down to Richard Burns, who now was 13s behind leader Märtin. Richard Burns did a good job of it with a couple of clean stages. But in the last stage of the day as well his Peugeot hit troubles. The car had developped a broken wheel bearing and Richard decided to slow down and be careful - he thought that this appeared rather similar to the symptoms Marcus described earlier, starting of with a soft brakes padel, then a vibration. If you think about it, this does make sense. What else could you come up with as leading to the combination of first damaging the brakes, then the suspension, if not a hot, vibrating wheelbearing? Here is Richard’s description: "What happened in the last couple of stages slightly overshadowed the rest of the day. We didn't have a bad start but we picked up the pace in the afternoon and everything was feeling quite good. Then of course we had the problem with the wheel bearing which cost us a lot of time. I don't think there's a chance to win now, but I'm absolutely determined to keep second place - I've worked hard for it! Tomorrow will be like starting the rally all over again."

In any case, this cost Richard near 1 minute, but his drive to that point had been so convincing, he didn’t even drop a place! On the other hand, 2nd (Richard), 3rd (Carlos Sainz) & 4th (Petter Solberg) are now only seperated by exactly half a second! Promises to be a good fight still for the last leg, featuring another 6 stages and 100km, while Corrado Provera is still musing about these problems.

It is hard to understand why Peugeot should lose reliability on what is a well proven car with an excellent reliability record over the past years. In fact like Acropolis with the clutch, it seems a minor fault in an entire batch of parts which cost the team dearly as it effects all their cars. Corrado Provera: "So Marcus is not going to win Rally Finland for the fourth time, and it looks like an Estonian is going to win it instead - which he fully deserves. We have had a problem with wheel bearings that has cost Marcus the lead and also affected Richard. By some miracle Richard was able to bring the car home, but really he has done a remarkable job all day."

A bit more on the happy side is the story of the private Peugeots. With exception of a handling problem on the last stage for Juuso Pykälistö, all 3 provateer Peugeots keep running reliably. After leg2 Marcus' cousin Basti Lindholm is 8th, Juuso 9th and Ari "I have to slow down now to finish outside the top3 with the new rules" Vatanen 12th.