MÃ¤rtin and Ford increase lead on Acropolis Rally Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Markko MÃ¤rtin and Michael Park extended their lead of the Acropolis Rally to almost a minute after a second day of tough competition over rocky mountain tracks in ...
Märtin and Ford increase lead on Acropolis Rally
Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Markko Märtin and Michael Park extended their lead of the Acropolis Rally to almost a minute after a second day of tough competition over rocky mountain tracks in central Greece. Their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car returned to the event's Lamia base with a lead of 55.8sec over Spain's Carlos Sainz after winning four of the day's eight speed tests on what is regarded as the toughest round of the FIA World Rally Championship and the ultimate test of endurance.
The 27-year-old Estonian and his British co-driver started the leg with a narrow 4.8sec advantage over Finland's Harri Rovanperä on this sixth round of the 14-event series. The Castrol-backed crew blended tremendous speed with the strength and reliability of the Focus to see off the early morning challenge of both Rovanperä and Petter Solberg, whose cars lost time with mechanical problems.
Competitors tackled eight more speed tests covering 148.71km. Six of the stages were repeats, ensuring that the slippery, loose gravel on the surface which hindered the early runners yesterday did not create the same kind of difficulties. Temperatures were also hotter, peaking at 36°C in the service park and more than 40°C on the ground in the stages in the heat of the early afternoon.
After a cautious opening stage, Märtin was badly delayed in the next test by dust created by Rovanperä, who was struggling with gearbox problems. The Ford driver twice had to stop as he almost caught Rovanperä in the test and the dust simply became too thick to see. However, officials increased the gap between the two drivers from two to three minutes for the following stage to prevent a repetition and Märtin responded in style by setting his first fastest time of the day.
He went on to post three more consecutive stage wins, including fastest time on the 34.68km Elatia - Zeli, a bogey test for Märtin. In 2002 a puncture there ruined his victory chances when he held a handsome lead and yesterday his car's bonnet flew up and he drove the final 20km with severely reduced visibility and no ventilation in the car due to a blocked air intake. Ominously the test was the 13th of the rally but it held no fears this time.
"I've finally beaten my jinx on that stage!" said Märtin. "We've had a great day. We pushed hard to try to give ourselves a good lead for tomorrow and we've done that. I drove at a comfortable pace. We weren't cruising, it was still flat out, but we didn't take any massive risks. You need a good strong car here and the Focus has been very reliable and now we're looking forward to tomorrow.
"The first lap through the stages will be tricky. We'll try to look after our tyres on the first two tests so that they're in good condition for the last of the group, hope for a good clean run and drive safely. We've been working hard for some luck during the last couple of rallies, we deserve some luck and we'll try everything possible to win," he added.
Eighteen-year-old Finn Jari-Matti Latvala and Welsh co-driver Carl Williamson, competing on only their second rally in a M-Sport run Focus RS, are on the verge of what would be an incredible top 10 finish. They lie 11th after another steady and mature drive.
"We started the day by stalling the engine on the first stage and I lost a little confidence for the next two tests," said Latvala. "I was one gear too high under braking and the car wouldn't restart. Fortunately spectators pushed us away again. I started to drive well after that and took things easy this afternoon but I think I could be faster if I tidied up my style. We'll take the first stage in the morning carefully to see what we can do but we won't go above 80 percent pace because my main aim is still to gather as much experience as I can." Ford BP Rallye Sport team director Malcolm Wilson was full of praise for Märtin's performance today. "I feel much happier tonight now that Markko has a good lead. Tomorrow's stages are difficult. They're quite technical and the roughest of the rally and so it was important he started in the morning with a cushion over his rivals," he said.
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The battle for second has been hotly contested. Harri Rovanperä (Peugeot) began the day in possession of second but gearbox problems which deprived him of second and third gears on the twisty morning stages cost three minutes and dropped him to ninth. He recovered to end in seventh. Petter Solberg (Subaru) was fastest on the opening two stages and took over second but a broken front left driveshaft on the third cost a minute and he fell to fifth. Carlos Sainz (Citroen) moved into the runners-up position and maintained that throughout the afternoon. Solberg fought back ahead of Colin McRae (Citroen) and team-mate Tommi Mäkinen to end the day in third. McRae made good ground to climb from seventh to fourth. Championship leader Richard Burns (Peugeot) lies sixth, the Briton moving into the top six for the first time when team-mate Gilles Panizzi suffered a broken front right shock absorber and dropped a minute. After yesterday's high rate of attrition, the only manufacturer entry to go out today was Jussi Valimaki (Hyundai) who retired in service before the opening stage with clutch failure. However, private entry Roman Kresta retired from 10th after breaking his radiator on the last stage.
The final day is again based around the Lamia service park. It covers territory around the Timphristos mountains, north-west of the town, not used on the rally for many years, but containing superb roads around which the event gained its famous reputation. After leaving Lamia at 08.00, drivers face two loops of three stages, including a new version of the famous Tarzan test, before returning to the town for the finish at 16.20.