Leader GrÃ¶nholm extends Ford's advantage in Monte Carlo BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus GrÃ¶nholm and Timo Rautiainen extended their lead in the Rallye Monte Carlo during today's second leg in the French Alps. Ice and slushy snow on...
Leader Grönholm extends Ford's advantage in Monte Carlo
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen extended their lead in the Rallye Monte Carlo during today's second leg in the French Alps. Ice and slushy snow on the winding mountain roads once again made conditions treacherous, but Ford's Finns controlled their pace throughout the day to return to Monaco this evening with a 2min 05.9sec advantage in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car.
Grönholm and Rautiainen posted top five times on every speed test to extend their leg one lead by 42.2sec on their debut drive in the new Focus RS. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen lie ninth in a similar Focus RS with one day remaining of this opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Six more special stages, covering 131.69km, were scheduled in the mountains north of the Principality but this afternoon's penultimate test was cancelled due to traffic congestion as eager fans flocked to view the action. The day's final stage crossed the famous Col de Turini, a legendary landmark in world rallying, for the first time in this year's event. Drivers will pass over Turini twice more tomorrow.
Road conditions were hazardous throughout. Patchy ice and slushy snow posed a danger to the careless all day, but BFGoodrich's soft compound dry asphalt tyres were ideally suited to the inconsistent conditions.
Two second fastest and one third quickest time on the morning group of stages enabled Grönholm to stretch his lead to 1min 58.8sec over Manfred Stohl. The 37-year-old Finn controlled his pace to match those closest to him during the afternoon and was third and fifth on the two tests to increase the leading margin by another handful of seconds.
"I spun just after the top of Turini," he said. "The conditions there were terrible, the worst I have ever seen them, and we have to go over there twice more tomorrow so anything can still happen. The Focus has again been really good today but the conditions mean that it's not enjoyable to drive this rally because on every corner I'm waiting for something to happen.
"It's hard to judge what is a good pace. I'm looking at Loeb's times and calculating the pace at which I need to drive. I'm not trying to beat his times. I hope I don't make any mistakes tomorrow because in these conditions that is so easy to do," he added.
Hirvonen and Lehtinen tackled the day's opening stage using the back-up manual gearchange system on their Focus RS after a clutch sensor problem en route to the test. However, the Finns, made light of the situation and two top five times on the next two tests lifted them to eighth. "I fixed the problem after the first stage by disconnecting the chassis controller and had a steady drive in the next two," said Hirvonen. "I hit a wall in the third stage but it wasn't a problem. The road was narrow, covered with gravel and with big ditches alongside and it was easy to make a mistake."
Hirvonen spun 7km from the top of the Col de Turini this afternoon and dropped about 30 seconds and a place on the leaderboard. "I slid wide at a hairpin, the back of the car caught the snow and I spun round. But just to reach Turini was fantastic for me because I've never got this far before. Everyone told me it was a tough stage and that's true, but I've finally driven it so I'm happy.
"I tried to find a good speed but be cautious at the same time because I could earn a good finishing position without being on maximum attack. I think I can move up tomorrow. I think sixth is possible and that's my target," he added.
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Behind Grönholm, Manfred Stohl and Toni Gardemeister (both Peugeot) enjoyed a huge battle for second. Stohl started the day in fifth but the pair swapped places throughout before Gardemeister grabbed second on the final test, just 2.9sec ahead of Stohl. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) bounced back from yesterday's retirement to post fastest time on all five stages to climb from eighth to fourth. Team-mates Stephane Sarrazin and Chris Atkinson (both Subaru) rounded off the top six, Atkinson unable to reproduce the pace which carried him into second last night. François Duval (Skoda) crashed out of fifth place on stage nine while Gigi Galli (Mitsubishi) retired for the second consecutive day after the same test with a broken gearbox.
The final day covers familiar territory in the mountains above Monaco, close to the town of Sospel. After restarting at 06.50, drivers face two identical groups of three speed tests covering 116.60km, split by a return to the Monaco service park. The last test in each group crosses the famous Col de Turini before a dramatic descent through spectacular gorges near the village of Moulinet. Drivers return to the Principality for the finish ceremony at the Palace at 14.25.