WRC

Rally Australia: Ford leg two summary

BP-Ford team delighted by performance of new Focus RS The all-new Ford Focus RS World Rally Car continued to impress during today's second leg of Rally Australia, the final round of the FIA World Rally Championship. BP-Ford World Rally Team ...

BP-Ford team delighted by performance of new Focus RS

The all-new Ford Focus RS World Rally Car continued to impress during today's second leg of Rally Australia, the final round of the FIA World Rally Championship. BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen and team-mates Roman Kresta and Jan Tomanek both set top four times on the demanding gravel speed tests in Western Australia, while neither suffered major mechanical problems on the car's debut.

Kresta ended the leg in seventh with Gardemeister just 8.0sec behind in eighth. Both are engrossed in a four-car battle for fifth, with the quartet covered by less than 20 seconds. But of more importance for the BP-Ford team has been the excellent performance of the new Focus RS, which the team will use in the 2006 championship.

After successful initial testing in Britain, the team brought the car here as part of its test and development programme to evaluate it in a competitive environment for the first time. The Focus RS is competing in 2006 layout against 2005-specification cars which, under rules which will change next year, are more technologically advanced. Despite this, Gardemeister was third fastest once, and fourth quickest on four occasions during the day's nine sun-kissed special stages.

Today's route initially took competitors 100km south-east of the rally base of Perth to Bannister Plantation, location of the famous Bunnings roller-coaster jumps and water splash which provide some of the most spectacular action of the season. The drivers returned to repeat yesterday afternoon's stages near Mundaring and two final passes of Perth's Gloucester Park super special. They covered 122.34km of competition in total.

Kresta, eighth after leg one, climbed to sixth during the morning loop, before slipping behind home driver Chris Atkinson this afternoon. "The roads this morning were more loose and slippery than yesterday, maybe because I was running fourth in the start order," he said. "I missed two junctions on the third stage and another on the next test, the last one at high speed. But I tried to drive carefully all day and not push too hard because I didn't want to make a mistake.

"Atkinson knows these stages while I have never driven them before. I'm happy because my times here are consistently close to drivers that I've not been this close to all season. I feel really comfortable driving this car and it gives me a nice feeling," added Kresta.

Gardemeister started in seventh but dropped behind Kresta when a faulty spark plug sent the Focus RS' engine onto three cylinders in the second stage of the day. "The plug failed about 4km after the start of the stage and I had to drive with the engine running on only three cylinders," said the 30-year-old Finn. "I changed two plugs before the next stage but that made no difference so I replaced the other two after the test and the car fired up properly on all four cylinders."

He dropped about 35 seconds but recovered well to set a string of top five times during the afternoon stages. "The grip was really good this afternoon, and although I ran wide on a few corners, it wasn't a big problem. Once I overcame the spark plug difficulty, the car ran perfectly."

Gardemeister and Honkanen encountered a bizarre incident during one of the Bannister stages. "A bee and a spider were fighting on the dashboard of our car," explained Honkanen. "I know it was a dangerous spider because it killed the bee! Then the spider crawled off and I don't know where it is now. It's a worry!"

BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson said it had been 'another great day for the team'. "We have had only one small technical problem which resulted in Toni driving two stages on three cylinders, but no damage was done and both cars are running perfectly tonight," he said.

Spain's Dani Solà and Xavier Amigo are ninth in a privately-entered 2005-specification Focus RS. Solà had no problems during the day, although he believed his stage times were not as strong as yesterday. However, his troubles were reserved for the Gloucester Park super special.

"After our first run the turbo caught fire and we had to put it out with a fire extinguisher," said Solà. "We were late for the second run and drove the stage on our own. It caught fire again at the finish but luckily there was no major damage and we didn't drop any time on the stage." The problem was traced to a loose turbo oil feed pipe which was replaced at the final service. He incurred a 40 second time penalty for arriving late at the start of the final test.

News from our Rivals

Another action-packed day ended with Francois Duval (Citroen) on the verge of his maiden world rally win. The Belgian enjoyed a troublefree day to lead Colin McRae (Skoda) by 27.1sec. Duval hit the front when overnight leader Petter Solberg (Subaru) retired after hitting a kangaroo at 190kph midway through the second stage, damaging the car's radiator and oil cooling system. He completed the test but could not continue. McRae lost a few seconds when he switched from the automatic gearchange system to the back-up manual version on the first stage, but was fast all day. Harri Rovanpera (Mitsubishi) is only 5.1sec behind in third. The Finn held second but slipped behind McRae after spinning on the final morning stage. He also survived a bizarre incident when a kangaroo jumped into the side of the car on the opening test. Gigi Galli (Mitsubishi) and the privately-entered Manfred Stohl fought hard all day for fourth. Stohl led initially but Galli moved in front, only to drop behind again a stage later and then fall back after overshooting a junction. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) recovered well from yesterday's time loss to climb to sixth.

Tomorrow's Route

The final day is the shortest of the rally with only 103.32km of competition. Competitors leave Perth at 06.30 and tackle two identical loops of three speed tests near Mundaring, 40km east, split by service back in Perth. They return to the city for the finish ceremony at 14.45.

-ford-

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