Ford holds three of the top six places on the Cyprus Rally tonight after a second highly destructive day's competition on the Mediterranean island. The rough and rugged gravel tracks again took a heavy toll, but the Ford Focus RS World Rally...
Ford holds three of the top six places on the Cyprus Rally tonight after a second highly destructive day's competition on the Mediterranean island. The rough and rugged gravel tracks again took a heavy toll, but the Ford Focus RS World Rally Car matched speed with reliability to maintain a strong presence at the top of the leaderboard on this sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Norwegians Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud maintained a consistently fast pace in their privately-entered Focus RS to retain third place. BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen climbed to fifth in their Castrol-branded car while team-mates Roman Kresta and Jan Mozn
The second leg was scarcely any less dramatic than yesterday and many drivers encountered problems. Competitors faced a similar format to the opening day with two identical loops of three speed tests, split by service in Limassol. The action was again located in the Troodos Mountains, but the special stages were more southerly and stretched west towards the resort of Paphos. The final two tests were neutralised for the leading two cars following delays. The roads were also smoother than the first leg but the weather was just as hot. Temperatures reached 30 during the afternoon.
Gardemeister and Honkanen were on superb form all day. They were second quickest on two stages this morning and third on the other to climb to seventh from their overnight eighth. The 30-year-old Finn then posted fastest time on the second pass through the 30.33km Foini to Koilinia stage to move into fifth. A front right puncture 9km from the end of the final test cost 90 seconds but it was not enough to dislodge Gardemeister.
"I must have hit something but I don't know what," he said. "The mousse came out of the tyre and I had to continue to the finish like that. I've been happy with the car. I tried to drive smoothly and straight to avoid the stones but this is not what rallying is about for me. I'm not pushing too hard because if I try to drive flat out on these rocky roads then there is a chance that something will break. It's the same for everyone. I will try to continue at the same speed tomorrow."
The 30-year-old Finn reported a noisy transmission and the team fitted a new gearbox, transfer box and front differential in service tonight. That was a massive task to complete in just 45 minutes but the BP-Ford mechanics achieved the job to avoid incurring time penalties.
Kresta and Mozn than maximum pace to minimise the risks. They made steady progress all day, climbing into sixth on the final stage. "The roads were less rough today and the afternoon pass through the stages was easier than the first run this morning," said Kresta. "There was quite a lot of loose gravel on the surface this morning but I prefer that to what we had yesterday. On the last stage we had a couple of close escapes with big rocks that were lying right in the middle of the track.
"The sump guard was constantly hitting rocks so I kept an eye on the oil pressure to ensure there was no damage to the sump. But the Focus is strong and all was fine. Tomorrow will be another hard day. Normally the final leg is easier but not here. The stages are very rough," he added.
Solberg and Menkerud have enjoyed a trouble free day to maintain third position. "This is a hard sport and this is a hard rally," said the Norwegian driver. "I've driven away from the stones and driven neatly in the corners. The car is strong but we still have to avoid the stones. I hope we can remain in third. I'm pushing quite hard and I'm not thinking about who is behind me, only who is ahead. There are a lot of people with more experience of their cars and this rally so I'm happy with a top three position. I would like to be second but I don't want to risk losing third getting it."
Antony Warmbold and Michael Orr maintained fifth position in their privately-entered Focus RS this morning, despite breaking the rear anti-roll bar on the opening stage. They disconnected the front bar for the next two stages to keep the car balanced. However, on the penultimate stage a warning light after 20km indicated a sudden loss of oil pressure in the engine and the German driver quickly stopped to prevent damage. The car will be examined tonight to see if Warmbold, who still lies 10th, can restart tomorrow under the SupeRally regulations.
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With such a large opening day advantage, Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) was never under pressure. But the Frenchman was fastest on all four stages that he drove competitively and now leads by 3min 32.7sec. Private entrant Manfred Stohl continued to hold off his pursuers in second and lies 42.7sec clear of Solberg. Markko M as he climbed to fourth. Behind the Ford duo, Harri Rovanper (Mitsubishi) was on course to end the day in sixth but broken front right suspension sidelined him on the final stage. He incurred a five minute penalty for not finishing the test and dropped one position but will re-start tomorrow. Marcus Gr parc ferme this morning in the hope that he could restart under SupeRally regulations following yesterday's first stage retirement, but his engine was too badly damaged to continue. Petter Solberg (Subaru), who retired on the final stage yesterday, was withdrawn late last night due to concerns about the condition of his car's engine, which ran for many kilometres with its air filter clogged by sand and gravel. Fran crashed into a tree on the penultimate stage. His car caught fire and the stage was neutralised for the following competitors. Armin Schwarz (Skoda) retired for the second day when he hit a rock which pitched his car off the track.
The final day is the shortest with 95.34km of competition. Drivers leave Limassol at 06.00 and face two more loops of three identical stages in the hilly and forested Machairas area, north-east of the town. The two loops are split by service back in Limassol. Competitors return to the town for the final time for the seafront finish ceremony at 15.17.