Catalunya : Suzuki Motorsport
Suzuki Swift driver Guy Wilks has finished leg one of the all-asphalt Catalunya Rally, the final round of the Junior World Rally Championship in first place, after championship leader Daniel Sordo was penalised 60 seconds for changing his Citroen's
engine before the start of the rally. This is forbidden by the rules, and Sordo lost the class lead he had held from the start of his home event.
Suzuki Ignis driver Kosti Katajamaki is fourth, in front of the identical cars of Martin Prokop, Urmo Aava and Pavel Valousek – who occupy fifth to seventh places! Unfortunately, the Suzuki Swift of P-G Andersson retired after an accident on SS5.
All eyes are on Guy however, who has a possibility of winning the Junior World Championship title in Spain on only the fourth Junior World Championship event for the new Swift. Guy started the rally eight points behind Sordo, which means that he has to win the rally with Sordo finishing eighth or lower. Sordo is currently third after the time penalty, whilst Guy now leads after a faultless day.
The first leg of the all-asphalt event consisted of six stages, split into three loops of two. The roads are wider, faster and more open than those of the previous sealed-surface round, in Corsica, but the biggest factor in today's action was the weather. The stages were alternately damp and dry, making it almost impossible to judge the amount of grip and the correct tyre choice. This led to retirements for many leading competitors, including Kris Meeke and Luca Cecchettini as well as P-G Andersson.
Guy went straight into second place behind Sordo when the rally started, keeping a close eye on the Spaniard. Citroen's C2 is acknowledged as the benchmark car on asphalt, but the Suzuki Swift was able to keep up with it comfortably. Guy deliberately decided not to push, fully expecting Sordo to be hit with some sort of penalty before the rally was over. The Englishman had no problem at all throughout today's tricky stages and his Swift enjoyed perfect reliability.
"It's been fairly easy for me today, as matters have been entirely out of my hands," said Guy. "I wasn't thinking of Sordo or about the championship; I've just been concentrating on doing my job to the best of my abilities and trying to win the rally. I'm confident that we have the pace to do that, and the rest is not up to me. Today has been quite tricky as the stages were very slippery, but we've not really had a moment."
Kosti followed up his podium place in Corsica with another excellent drive today on asphalt, to end leg one fourth with his Ignis run by Suzuki Sport Europe. The Finn had no problems at all and he commented: "It's been a good day, but you have to cut corners here to stay on the right line and that is filled with risks. It is so easy to pick up a puncture: that is just a matter of luck."
Czech youngster Martin Prokop put in the most competitive showing of his career to end the day fifth with his Jipocar-run Ignis, despite some brake problems on the opening stages. He said: "It's been really good fun and I've enjoyed the stages. I really hope we can carry on like this tomorrow because I am learning a lot."
In sixth place is Estonian Urmo Aava, who fought back from a puncture on SS2 that badly damaged the bodywork of his Ignis run by Suzuki Sport Europe. He decided not to stop on the stage to change it, and spent the rest of the day recovering from the time lost. "I'm not very happy with my driving style on the slippery surfaces," he said. "I hope we have a better rhythm tomorrow."
Pavel Valousek, driving an Ignis run by JM Engineering, was pleased with his stage times which were close to those of his experienced team mates. On SS5 he set fourth-quickest time, but he lost time earlier with a puncture on SS4 which he had to stop and change. "It was a pity, but the more important thing is to set good stage times" he said. "I'm pleased with our progress and hopefully we can set more quick times tomorrow."
P-G Andersson, in the Suzuki Swift, went off on a right-hand corner during SS5 damaging the suspension of the car. He was unable to continue, and will not re-start tomorrow.
The Swede said: "I am really annoyed: it was my own stupid mistake. I just got a bit caught out on the gravel under braking and the car went sideways. It slid into the wall opposite and broke the right-front wheel and steering arm. It's a real shame to end the season like this, but now I am going to put it behind me. Next season starts here!"
Suzuki Sport president Nobuhiro 'Monster' Tajima said: "The problem with Sordo should not detract from the fact that Guy has driven a fantastic rally. The Swift has also put in one of the most impressive performances of its young career. To fight with the established leaders on asphalt on only its fourth Junior World Championship rally is a fantastic achievement and I would like to congratulate everybody who has helped bring the car to this level. Guy has decided to appeal against the decision of the stewards to award Sordo a penalty of just one minute, but we do not want this to take anything away from what has so far been a very exciting event."
Tomorrow's second leg of the Catalunya Rally follows exactly the same format as the first leg, with three loops of two stages. The first car leaves Parc Ferme in Salou at 07:30 (CET) and returns to the town at 18:26.
Press release Suzuki Motorsport