Uddeholm Swedish Rally 2002 review.
Story by Andrew Frampton.
After a miserable performance in Monte Carlo, the Peugeot team upped the ante in Sweden and gained the lead in the driver's and manufacturer's championships thanks to Marcus Gronholm and Harri Rovanpera's 1-2 finish. They nearly claimed the full quota of podium positions, but Richard Burns was just pipped to third spot by Ford's Carlos Sainz.
A non-Scandinavian had never won in Sweden, and it never looked as though that fact was going to change as Gronholm set the fastest time through the first stage, ahead of Citroen's Thomas Radstrom, and his Peugeot team-mate Rovanpera. Rovanpera, the winner of this event last season, was fastest through the second stage, and repeated that feat on SS3 to take the overall lead. However, Burns was now some way behind the battle at the head of the field, having kissed a snowbank on SS3. The Briton lost over a minute to the leaders after he pulled over to clear the snow that had made its way into the Peugeot engine's air intakes, and would end the first day in 13th. The Monte Carlo winner Tommi Makinen had struggled early on as his tyres struggled for grip on the snow, but his misery was soon complete, when, like Burns, he clipped a snowbank, and as the engine overheated - he was forced to pull over, and went out of the event.
With Burns out of contention, it was left for Rovanpera and Gronholm to battle for the lead of the event, with the latter ending the day on top by just 0.9 seconds. Following the demise of Burns, Makinen and Radstrom (who lost seven minutes in a snowbank), Colin McRae took third position overnight. After a disappointing performance in Monte Carlo, Mitsubishi were hoping that Jani Paasonen, contracted to the team for the Swedish and Finish events, would be able to reverse their fortunes. Their decision to run him in the number one car seemed astute, as he held fourth position overnight.
A superb performance saw Freddy Loix take fifth position at the end of leg one in his Hyundai, despite driving the event with a broken foot following a confrontation with a bridge in Monte Carlo. His Accent WRC featured specially adapted brake and clutch pedals, and the Belgian was holding off Subaru's Petter Solberg, and the second Hyundai of Juha Kankkunen. Ford's Carlos Sainz was in eighth, but faring better than team-mate Markko Martin, who had crashed in the pre-event shakedown and was unable to compete.
Several drivers were struggling in the conditions, notably the Citroen team, for whom Radstrom and Sebastien Loeb were outside the top 20. Also in trouble was the Hyundai of Armin Schwarz, and Mitsubishi's Francois Delecour, who lost nearly 20 minutes in a ditch. Mitsubishi team-mate Alister McRae was eleventh overnight, ahead of the Skoda of Kenneth Eriksson and Burns. Toni Gardemiester took 15th, while rally legend Stig Blomqvist was 18th.
Colin McRae had been fastest through the final stage of leg one, and was also quickest through the first of leg two. He was now only 35 seconds behind Rovanpera, who had lost nearly five seconds to Gronholm. The rally leader was fastest through the next stage, increasing his gap still further to Rovanpera, who was second quickest. However, McRae was out of contention for a podium position, after losing 3 minutes having damaged a wheel on his Focus after hitting a rock. He dropped to 14th position, while Paasonen was also delayed after hitting the same rock. Fastest time on SS7 was the first of five consecutive stage wins for Gronholm, and he moved into a lead of 50 seconds as the second day drew to a close.
Rovanpera was considerably slower over SS7 and SS8 than his team-mate, and was unable to mount a consistent challenge. However, his second position looked secure, the Finn ending the day one and a half minutes ahead of Sainz. Sainz had moved up from eighth position at the end of day one as his rivals hit trouble, most notably Petter Solberg, whose engine expired on the day's opening stage. Loix held fourth following Paasonen's problems, while Burns had moved up to fifth. Also on a charge was the Skoda driver Kenneth Eriksson, who was now sixth, and had set the second fastest time on SS8.
As day three arrived, so did the sense that the 2002 Swedish Rally had already been won. With 50 seconds covering Gronholm and Rovanpera, and another 90 seconds separating them from the rest of the field, a change in the top two positions seemed unlikely. As it was, Peugeot team-mate Burns was aiming to make it an all silver podium position, and having disposed of Loix early on, he set about hunting down Sainz. Setting fastest times of SS12 and SS14 (SS13 was cancelled due to a lack of snow), only one stage and 12.6 seconds stood between Burns and Sainz's podium position.
As Gronholm and Rovanpera duly cruised to a 1-2 finish, Burns could only get to within seven seconds of Sainz. Freddy Loix's superb run in the Hyundai unfortunately came to an end with suspension failure on SS14, while team-mate Armin Schwarz went out on the same stage. Janne Tuohino put in an excellent performance to take fifth in his private Ford Focus, but at the request of the works Ford team, took a time penalty. This elevated Colin McRae to sixth position and one championship point, but the Scot finished the event 0.3 seconds behind his brother Alister in the Mitsubishi, who took his first points of the season with fifth position.
Skoda's Kenneth Eriksson was odds on for a top six finish before his engine expired on the final stage. Team-mate Toni Gardemiester had rolled out during leg two, while the third car in the hands of Stig Blomqvist took 15th. Juha Kankkunen took the final manufacturer point for Hyundai thanks to his eighth place finish, while Paasonen claimed 14th and Loeb 17th. Of the strugglers, Delecour took 34th, while Radstrom finished in 37th.
From Sweden, the World Rally Championship moves to Corsica, where the Peugeot and Citroen teams are expected to set the pace.
SWEDISH RALLY RESULT:
1. Marcus Gronholm/Tino Rautiainen (Peugeot)
2. Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen (Peugeot) + 1m 24.5s
3. Carlos Sainz/Luis Moya (Ford) + 2m 25.8s
4. Richard Burns/Robert Reid (Peugeot) + 2m 33.9s
5. Alister McRae/David Senior (Mitsubishi) + 4m 14.7s
6. Colin McRae/Nicky Grist (Ford) + 4m 15.0s
7. Janne Tuohino/Petri Vihavainen (Ford) + 4m 23.4s
8. Juha Kankkunen/Juha Repo (Hyundai) + 4m 36.9s
9. Sebastian Lindholm/Timo Hantunen (Peugeot) + 4m 56.6s
10. Francois Duval/Jean-Marc Fortin (Ford) + 6m 33.3s
1. Marcus Gronholm 12pts
2. Tommi Makinen 10pts
3. Carlos Sainz 8pts
4. Harri Rovanpera 6pts
= Sebastien Loeb 6pts
6. Colin McRae 4pts
7. Richard Burns 3pts
8. Alister McRae 2pts
9. Petter Solberg 1pt
1. Peugeot 20pts
2. Ford 16pts
3. Subaru 12pts
4. Mitsubishi 3pts
5. Hyundai 1pt