Risk free strategy pays off as Duval climbs to third BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers FranÃ§ois Duval and StÃ©phane PrÃ©vot are on course to score the team's 14th podium finish of the season after climbing to third during today's second leg of...
Risk free strategy pays off as Duval climbs to third
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers François Duval and Stéphane Prévot are on course to score the team's 14th podium finish of the season after climbing to third during today's second leg of Rally Australia. The Belgian duo stayed faithful to their policy of taking no risks over the tricky gravel tracks in Western Australia and will start tomorrow's final day in a comfortable position in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car.
Duval and Prévot won one of today's 10 speed tests, the bulk of which were based in the forests of the Mundaring region, east of the rally base of Perth. The early morning retirement of leader Marcus Grönholm promoted the BP-Ford duo into third. There were large time gaps both in front and behind so they adopted a cautious strategy for the rest of the leg, which comprised 127.15km of competition.
They returned to Perth this evening 1min 09.5sec behind Harri Rovanperä and 2min 26.0sec ahead of Mikko Hirvonen.
After wet and cool weather throughout the week, the Australian sunshine returned this morning. Temperatures climbed to 25°C and yesterday's damp special stages were replaced by dry roads, with a liberal covering of ball-bearing like stones on top. Duval was third in the start order and so the speed tests that had not been used previously were extremely slippery.
"Starting the stages third wasn't so easy," he said. "There was a lot of gravel on the surface so I didn't get a clean line. It was especially tricky in the braking areas. When we used stages for a second time it wasn't such a problem because the gravel had been swept clear during the first pass.
"I'm not driving anywhere near maximum pace because there is no point in pushing hard. I could end up going off the road and I don't have any chance of catching the drivers in front. I'm happy with the position I've got. It's a really difficult rally, with plenty of trees close to the edge of the road, so I'm not taking risks. I prefer it when conditions are dry because the roads aren't as slippery, so today has been a little easier then yesterday.
"My experience of this rally is not huge so third would be a really good result if we have no problems. I expected fifth or sixth before the start. And there were some new stages and new sections today so that meant my pace notes were new. They have worked well so I'm pleased about that," he added.
Duval's tyre selection proved too soft for the opening group of stages, so the 23-year-old changed to harder Michelin rubber for the next batch and the handling was much improved. His Focus RS has run perfectly and only routine maintenance was required from the BP-Ford team at this evening's 45-minute service. However, they altered the mapping on the car's differentials to try to improve stability under braking.
Team director Malcolm Wilson said: "After Marcus Grönholm's accident this morning, François took the sensible approach and consolidated his podium position. He does not have huge experience here and this was the most sensible option. He has done well."
News from our Rivals
Overnight leader Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) retired on the opening stage this morning. The Finn's car slid into a tree on its sump guard and the engine would not restart because of a jammed alternator belt. His demise left world champion Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) with a comfortable advantage. He posted seven fastest times to end the day with a lead of 1min 20.5sec. Harri Rovanperä (Peugeot) inherited second. He had no troubles, apart from sliding off the road briefly on the second stage. Behind Duval, Mikko Hirvonen (Subaru) was unhappy with his car's set-up but was untroubled in fourth.
The final day of the season will feature some of the championship's most spectacular action. After leaving Perth at 05.30, drivers face two stages east of the city, on roads used today. They then head south-east to the Sotico tree plantation for four more stages, including the longest of the rally. Twice competitors will tackle the roller-coaster Bunnings jumps and watersplash, scene for some of the most dramatic television coverage of the year. They return to Perth for the finish at 16.00 after another 127.83km of competition.