Thrilling Battle In Australia - Leg 2

Thrilling Battle In Australia - Leg 2From Adrian Kirk-Burnnand [ 06/09/2003 ].
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On the second loop of stages, once again no real drama for the leading crews. But leg 2 continues to impress with the number of mini battles down the order. The biggest of course, that between Sebastien Loeb and Petter Solberg, for the lead of the rally. And undoubtedly they have been taking serious risks throughout the day to maintain the pace they have. Third place Richard Burns has been keeping pace just behind those of the lead crews expecting that either of them may run into problems. Burns has a closing Markko Martin, Colin McRae and Tommi Makinen behind him in fourth, fifth and sixth. Markko and McRae both passing Tommi during the day.

The sun has dried much of the stages and the traditional dust of Rally Australia is creeping back into the frame – not to the extent where it might affect drivers. However, the dryer conditions will suit certain drivers. Phil Mills: “There is rain forecast for tomorrow, and we are hoping it will be wet – this would suit us.”

Beraking West, Helena East II, Helena West II and Helena South II made up the final loop, information from the first loop can be found here. A total competitive distance of 59.82km and all the top teams had a reason to push.

The battles down the order include Sebastien Loeb and Petter Solberg for first, Markko Martin and Tommi Makinen for fourth and Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz for sixth. Some serious contenders battling for point scoring positions.

Ahead of the set of stages the positions were Loeb, Solberg, Burns, Makinen, Martin, McRae, Sainz, Rovanpera – after SS15 Martin took Makinen for Fourth and a stage win to Petter Solberg and the gap to Loeb only 1.1seconds. On the next stage a determined Loeb was able to not only keep his lead, but extend it to 2.7seconds. Whilst also in SS16, Martin pulled out more time on Makinen. Markko getting to grips with the Perth stages.

Special stage 17, 12km in the hills east of Perth. 0.3s faster to Loeb, Martin much faster than Tommi and Sainz Faster than McRae to leave positions steady. SS18 – Loeb fastest again creating a gap of 5.4seconds between him and Petter, Martin faster than Tommi again but McRae faster than Carlos. Meanwhile the buffer Burns has in front and behind him is steady; once again he’s in it for more points. Colin’s faster time was in fact enough to move him ahead of Tommi Makinen into fifth. Tommi suffered problems after running wide over a sand bank 4kilometres in and damaging the right rear.

Armin Schwarz: “The car is feeling better”. Also commented on the roundness of the recent stages, ie. They curve down to each edge and are higher in the middle. This means the car can pull to one side.

Toni Gardemiester: “Yes, working hard – we are faster”. He added, “There is no pain from my wrist, it is just feeling tired.” But he is enjoying driving in Australia.

Mikko Hirvonen: Happy, but will try faster tomorrow.

Didier Auriol: Stalled on one of the stages and chatted to team quite a while about car settings.

Harri Rovanpera: Happy, but conscious of gap to cars ahead.

Michael Park: Co driver to fourth place Markko Martin, believe the next two places above them are fair game tomorrow. He doesn’t believe the common thought that one of the leaders will retire, their experience is enough. “I take my hat off to Sebastien.”

He added, “We are learning to drive on bad pace notes”.

Richard Burns: “We have suffered from a problem with the high speed handling of the car which makes us not confident in the direction of the front of the car.”

He added he was not surprised, but more impressed with the leaders.

Sebastien Loeb: Will you attack the Super Special Stage. “No”

Co-driver, Daniel Elana: “We will find the Bunnings (last days) stages difficult”

Petter: “I like the long stages better, but we are very happy”

Petter also commented, as he did in Finland, that he would be very happy with second place. One would imagine he would much rather first place and will be pushing for that. It’s good to see when he says it though; his smile would indicate it might be more of a joke than serious mind games. But you get the feeling that if he was to finish second he would certainly be happy with it.

Positions going into the dual run of Gloucester Park, unofficial.

=1. Loeb 2:28:59.1,
=1. Solberg +5.2
3. Burns +1:24.6
4. Märtin +1:55.1
5. Mc Rae +2:19.5
6. Mäkinen +2:20.9
7. Sainz +2:26.0
8. Rovanperä +2:51.7
9. Loix +5:14.4
10. Duval +5:53.7

We’ll have news from the Super Special Stage as it is available; we also have a heap of photos to add and details / quotes from each of the teams. It’s worth following the final leg here at wrc-online.net and discussing results on the Message Boards.

Petter and Phil have made their intention clear that they will give a real push tomorrow and you can imagine Loeb will do the same. Even though only his second visit to the event, given his form today it will not be surprising if Loeb will be able to find a little more. Neither intends to back off which might mean tomorrow we’ll see dramas for one of them. But when such a great battle is unfolding its hopeful it can continue to the end.

With only four rounds to go in the championship Sebastien Loeb and Petter are not the two drivers Richard Burns would like to see score 10 and 8 points, the fact tarmac rounds are next means the competition is guaranteed to fierce tomorrow.

(c) ISC