New Octavia drivers do the full Monte

From Ron Salter [ 20/01/2002 ].
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It may come as a disappointment to some characters that the headline does not mean that wrc-online has exclusive nudey pictures of the new Skoda crews, but rather both Toni Gardemeister/Paavo Lukander and Kenneth Eriksson/Tina Thorner brought their Octavia WRCs successfully through the first challenge of the 2002 season, Rallye Monte Carlo. That's very pleasing and useful for the team as it gives the new drivers experience of working with their new colleagues, and it also gives Toni and Kenneth valuable event experience of the Octavia WRCs, as well as more up to date asphalt driving experience to put to use in the future.

Gardemeister, 26, with co-driver Paavo Lukander, finished in 10th position overall in this, his debut in an Octavia WRC. Eriksson, who was driving in a new car in a new season with a new co-driver, Tina Thorner, drove skillfully and consistently in his first appearance for Skoda Motorsport, finishing in 13th position.

Toni had a strong outing, placing in the top ten overall after every stage but one. He also suffered a minor accident on the stage that claimed Kresta on leg two, but despite clipping a wall, the reliability of the Octavia WRC was never in doubt and there was only minor damage. He said: "I have had some good impressions in Monte. I did not make any big mistakes and I learnt a lot about the car. The going was very slippery, but that wasn't a problem with the Octavia WRC, but with the tyres. Last time I did Monte we were driving on studs because of the snow, but of course this time the going was very different. I made virtually no changes to the set up that I had in testing, just some small modifications to the engine and differential mapping. I still have a lot to learn, but I am looking forward to the next rally where the driving conditions will be much more favourable for my driving preferences."

The most experienced driver in the Skoda Motorsport team on Rallye Monte Carlo, Eriksson, 45 praised his new co-driver and his new car. He said: "I am really happy working with Tina and I am pleased to have her as my co-driver. I think I probably used too hard a set up for the rally as a whole, so for the next event I will probably make the set up softer. But generally the car is really good. We did most of our testing on the dry so I was not so confident on the wet stretches of Monte. But also I have not driven here since 1994 and it has been one and a half years since I last drove on asphalt. So I was at a bit of a disadvantage."

Skoda Motorsport's Team Principal, Pavel Janeba said: "The result is reasonable considering that our drivers are still adapting to the cars and getting used to the technical modifications. They are still learning and it will take some time for them to be established. There is already excellent co-operation between the team and the drivers and co-drivers. We consider that for us the Monte Carlo Rally has been a long and valuable test, during which we got to know eachother and gain even more development knowledge. We can apply that understanding in Sweden and we will get better chances on other surfaces."

With unusually un-wintry conditions on Monte 2002, Skoda's hopes of repeating Armin Schwarz's 2001 performance were slim, especially with the two main drivers not in their element on drier or less icy asphalt. Janeba's analysis is therefore spot on and we can be happy that the team got some good mileage under their belt here.

Rally Sweden could well be better, with Eriksson, Gardemeister and Blomqvist all regarded as specialists on the fast snow/gravel stages of the second event on the 2002 calendar.

With less than two weeks to go until the start of that event we will be keeping you updated with what the team will be getting up to between then and now as well as news on what will fill the blank parts of the Octavia WRCs Monte Carlo livery!

Final positions:

1. S.Loeb/D.Elena Citroën 3:58.44,8
2. T.Mäkinen/K.Lindström Subaru +0.45,9
3. C.Sainz/L.Moya Ford +2.01,6
4. C.McRae/N.Grist Ford +2.43,9
5. M.Grönholm/T.Rautiainen Peugeot +2.53,3
6. P.Solberg/P.Mills Subaru +3.15,5
7. G.Panizzi/H.Panizzi Peugeot +4.06,0
8. R.Burns/R.Reid Peugeot +5.02,3
9. F.Delecour/D.Grataloup Mitsubishi +6.21,6
10. T.Gardemeister/P.Lukander Skoda +7.28,3
11. B.Thiry/S.Prevot Peugeot +8.10,8
12. M.Märtin/M.Park Ford +8.48,2
13. K.Eriksson/T.Thörner Skoda +10.55,7
14. A.McRae/D.Senior Mitsubishi +12.13,5
15. A.Kremer/K.Wicha Ford +15.11,9