"I am very excited - all my expectations were fulfilled," said Didier Auriol after climbing from the Fabia's cockpit. "It's clear that the Fabia WRC is born well. When I got in it, I had a good feeling straight away but we still have a lot of work to do. I wouldn't even call this a first test on asphalt; it was more of a development exercise to see in which direction we should go. Of course I would like to be competing with the Fabia as soon as we can but we have to be patient! It would be nice to have it by Australia, but no dates have been fixed."
Toni Gardemeister also had a good first impression of the Fabia on asphalt. Like his team mate the Finn drove about 200 kilometres in the new car. The new Fabia was 100 per cent reliable throughout, the only minor problem being a loose turbo pipe - which was quickly solved.
"It feels very good on asphalt - I reckon that the Fabia would be ready to compete on sealed-surfaces now," said Toni. "But we have to force ourselves to take the whole process slowly. I don't know when the car will be ready, but I would love to have it in Finland! Realistically though, I expect it to be later than that."
Kohoutek has been impressed by the drivers' input as the new car goes from strength to strength. "They have done a fantastic job," he said. "Our chief engineer and Toni have an excellent working relationship from last year, and Didier has brought us a wealth of experience. Their work has been underlined by the input of Kenneth Eriksson and Matthias Kahle, which has also been invaluable."
Having identified different areas for development of the Fabia on asphalt, the team turned their attention back to gravel testing before the Argentina Rally. It was yet another change of location and philosophy in a hectic year. "It's difficult, as we also have the current campaign with the Octavia WRC to manage," said Kohoutek. "I really can't remember another eight months like this before!"
Nonetheless, the programme is running on schedule and the new car has been reliable. It's an old adage of motorsport that to finish first, first you have to finish.
"We've managed to do what we planned, although the timing is very tight," said chief engineer Dietmar Metrich. "It is very hard work, but I am confident about the outcome."
So everybody is happy but nobody is relaxing. The data from the most recent test will be methodically analysed and used to determine the focus of the next test. Practice does after all make perfect.Published 3 May 2003