From Ron Salter [ 20/10/2001 ].
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Skoda's Tour de Corse ended today when Armin Schwarz retired from the event after SS9 with power steering problems. The Czech team's rally therefore came to a premature end as Bruno Thiry retired yesterday after special stage 4 when his gearbox failed. It's been a disappointing event for Skoda with the new suspension parts actually causing the cars to be even further off the pace and two retirements due to mechanical failure - something which had been rare for Skoda. Nevertheless we shouldn't have expected miracles from the big Octavia on the twisty island roads and Skoda now have 4 weeks between now and the Rally of Great Britain to do some hard work to improve the performance and reliability of the car.
Initially today Schwarz, 38, had said he could see a major improvement in the handling of his Octavia WRC and it looked like he was on course to overhaul the two Hyundai's ahead of him, but then disaster struck. He said: "It was handling much better than yesterday and we felt that as the weather changed we could put in some good times." But three stages later, during the 30.11km long stage 9, Schwarz felt that his power steering was not working at its optimum. He battled on for several km before deciding to retire rather than risk the safety of the crew, or the spectators. "It was like Russian roulette, for 15 curves the power steering worked, then on the 16th it failed. We had some very dangerous moments and we simply had to retire because it was just not safe," he said.
Schwarz's retirement combined with the current reliability of the Hyundai's means that the Korean marque could overtake Skoda in the manufacturers series this weekend.
Skoda team boss Pavel Janeba was understandably unhappy. "Of course I am not satisfied with the result. We won't be completely sure of what caused the power steering failure until we dismantle the car back at base in Mlada Boleslav."
"Seeing the times we set, we notice progress, but we feel that the results are not reflecting our hard work. We need to do better," concluded Janeba.
It seemed that Skoda's new suspension parts actually slowed them down yesterday quite a lot. It shows that a lot of difference in stage times can be made within just this one area so let's hope continued hard work will pay off and they come up with a durable and competitive shock absorber soon.
There is now only one more event of the WRC calendar for Skoda as they will skip the Rally Australia. The Rally of Great Britain will be the teams next World Championship outing. Meanwhile, Jesus Puras leads the Rally after leg two from Peugeot's Gilles Panizzi and Didier Auriol in 2nd and 3rd respectively. Petter Solberg lies 4th in his Impreza after Marcus Gronholm crashed out.