FINLAND -- At the end of the second day of competition in the 2002 Rally Finland, the Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart crew of Jani Paasonen and Arto Kapanen hold ninth position in the Lancer Evolution WRC2. Team-mates Alister McRae and David Senior held 14th until they were forced to stop and extinguish a fire in the final stage of the day, dropping them to 29th overall.
The second leg started early this morning, 50 of the original 77 crews leaving the Jyvaskylan base at 06:00 hrs for six special stages and 176.65 competitive kilometres. The route, which is the longest of the three, took the contenders to the southwest of the University City for some of the classic and most famous stages in the event, including the longest of the rally. Bright sunshine and hot weather brought the fans out in their thousands, reports suggesting that one-tenth of the Finnish population were flocking into the forests to watch the country's flagship sporting event. None will have been disappointed by the action on the fast and flowing stages, the stomach-churning jumps providing spectacular entertainment and awe-inspiring bravery.
Jani Paasonen and Arto Kapanen continue to lead Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart's assault on the rally, the Finns moving into 12th position after the opening stage and then into 11th following the demise of some of the leading contenders. Running third on the road, Paasonen has however been disadvantaged by his position, especially on the wider roads where the first couple of cars clean very little loose gravel from the surface, but the Finn ultimately managed to overhaul Freddy Loix in stage 15 and fellow countryman Janne Tuohino in the final stage of the leg.
"The middle group of stages were better for us because the roads were narrower and they clean better," said Jani. "Overall I'm pleased with our times, the feeling has been good, although we've had a few moments today from pushing so hard. The second run through the Ouninpohja stage was much better because the stage was cleaner, but it's still a difficult one. Our aim before the last two stages was to get past Freddy Loix, which we did, and to start closing the gap on Janne Tuohino. We did that as well, and passed him, so I'm happy but I'm not so sure we will be able to climb much higher without problems for other people tomorrow. We have to push hard because Freddy and Janne are still close, but we have a good road position."
Team-mates Alister McRae and David Senior moved up the leaderboard to 14th position, battling hard with Citroen driver Sebastien Loeb. The British pair had enjoyed a trouble-free run in the Lancer Evolution WRC2, enjoying the technically challenging roads, until they were forced to stop and put out a fire in the final stage. "One of the rear dampers broke after hitting a rock and fluid leaked onto the brakes or exhaust, which caused a fire," said Alister. "We stopped and put it out, but by the time we'd done this and changed the wheel, we'd lost a lot of time. Before this, we'd been having a good day. The stages are great fun, I really enjoy them. It seems though that between eighth and 13th has been the best position on the road and we lost out a bit earlier when the roads were rougher and cut up."
Adding to their comments, Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart team manager Derek Dauncey said: "We've seen some encouraging times today from Jani and Alister and we're pleased to see Jani move up to ninth after starting 13th. This also puts him in a good road position tomorrow. The plan is to continue pushing hard and make sure we are in a position to capitalise on any problems that other crews suffer, which could earn us some manufacturer points. We have also used the WRC technology to monitor our performance against our competitors over various sections of the stages, and this has proved extremely useful in identifying areas for future development."
After such a dominant and successful day on Friday, Peugeot was hit hard today but, such was its advantage, the French manufacturer still managed to hold onto first and second positions. Flying Finn Marcus Gronholm has assumed the lead ahead of team-mate Richard Burns, the Briton dropping a minute and a half with a lack of engine boost after a heavy landing in stage 12. Their team-mate Harri Rovanpera was however forced into retirement, a puncture in stage 13 leading to the loss of wheel when the strain on the suspension components became too much for the 206WRC. Colin McRae holds third position ahead of team-mate Carlos Sainz, the Ford pair fighting hard to keep ahead of Petter Solberg in the leading Subaru. Markko Martin (Ford) has moved into sixth position, the Estonian experiencing nothing more than broken anti-deflation mousse in one of his tyres. He sits ahead of Tommi Makinen (Subaru), who is still struggling to hit previous Rally Finland form. Privateer Sebastian Lindholm (Peugeot) has dropped to eighth, the Finn having to contend with a broken drive-shaft in stage 14. Freddy Loix, 10th, is in the sole remaining Hyundai, team-mate Juha Kankkunen rolling in the opening stage of the day.