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 RovanperÃ¤ (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.
51 of the original 59 starters started Leg two. Temperatures ranged from 11-24 C with bright sunshine and blue skies throughout the day. No rain fell.
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.
Duval, 23 and currently the youngest driver in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), placed third in last year's Telstra Rally Australia. Prior to Solberg's retirement, Duval was placed second, only 13.9 seconds adrift of the lead with Colin McRae in third, a further 28.8 seconds behind the rally lead.
Duval has had a tumultuous season. The low point came when he was dropped by Citroen for two rounds in favour of retired Spanish driver, Carlos Sainz. Later this season he achieved a career best when he placed second in both Germany and Britain.
Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: Retired
Francois Duval/Sven Smeets: "Everything went well in these stages, which are actually the ones I like most," said Duval. "I'm trying to follow the same pace as Harri and Colin thanks to the split times I receive. Now we will drive another time through yesterday's stages. I shouldn't drive too slow as my main rivals are driving flat out. But I should also stay on the road."
Both Subaru World Rally Team drivers demonstrated highly competitive pace throughout Leg two with Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson taking a combined total of three stage wins. After losing time in Leg one Chris made good progress back up the leaderboard, taking two wins and moving from tenth to sixth place. Petter started the Leg with a comfortable overall lead, which he extended with a win in the first test of the day. But a shock lay in store on the next stage when a high speed collision with a hapless kangaroo destroyed his car's radiator. The resulting engine damage brought his rally to an end after SS13.
Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: I feel a bit like I did after our retirement in Japan. Everything was going perfectly, the car was just right, we had the speed and then something just came out of the blue. Obviously I'm terribly disappointed for Subaru and the whole team, they deserved this win. I sincerely hope we've used up all our bad luck now. I suppose I should be glad that the kangaroo was hunched down when we hit, if it had been up in the air then at 190kph I think it would have been through the screen. Up to that point things had been going perfectly. I wasn't pushing hard at all, there was no need for a big attack, but when you're on a long straight you always go flat out and there was nothing I could do to avoid it. It's incredible really, we didn't see a single one on the recce and yet this happens today. Still, it is some consolation that we have the silver medal in the drivers' championship this year and that's still a good result for all of us. We'll be back next year looking to set the record straight.
Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: On the whole we've had a good day today. Things didn't get off to the best start with the spin on the first stage but considering the less than perfect road position and the lack of our front spoiler, we did all we could. This afternoon I was far happier with the way we went. We were able to win some stages and I'm pleased with our progress from tenth to sixth. For tomorrow I'll just keep on pushing and try to take more time from the guys in front. There are still another 100kms left to go and I'll do all I can to get the best possible result.
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 TomÃ¡nek 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.
Toni Gardemeister/Jakke Honkanen: "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!"
Roman Kresta/Jan Mozny: "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.
Marcus GronhÃ¶lm/Timo Rautiainen: Retired
Daniel Carlsson/Mats Andersson: Retired
Colin McRae made maximum use of his start position for the opening day of Rally Australia to complete the second leg in second place. Colin's Å koda Motorsport World Rally Team partner Armin Schwarz finished 10th as he contests the final rally of his career. With a group of five stages without service this morning it was a frustrating for Colin when he lost the automatic gearshift on the opening stage. It cost a few seconds on each stage and allowed the Scot to be caught and passed by Harri Rovanpera. However on the final stage of the group he regained the place and with overnight leader Petter Solberg retiring with engine damage after hitting a kangaroo, McRae returned to service in second place, 23.8 seconds behind Francois Duval. Armin moved into the top 10 during the morning, helped by second fastest on the third stage of the day but was taking no risks at all on his final appearance in the World Rally Championship.
Colin McRae/Nicky Grist: We lost some time this morning with the gearshift problem but it wasn't so bad. I'm working hard to win the battle with Harri and trying to keep Francois under pressure. Given that I've only driven the car in competition for less than 600kms I'd settle for second right now but I'm still going to try and win if I can. The Fabia is certainly good enough to set the times it needs.
Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha: It has been quite good fun today. If the roads are on their second use the ruts are very bad and you have to be careful not to get out of them but if the roads are smooth you can really enjoy sliding the car and entertaining the crowds. There are a lot of spectators watching the stages.
The Mitsubishi Motorsport WRC team looks set to round off the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship season on a high note, following fierce battles and a potential podium position at the end of the second leg of Rally Australia. Harri RovanperÃ¤ and Risto PietilÃ¤inen have been on great form, the Finns claiming three fastest stage times to take an overnight third position. Team-mates "Gigi" Galli and Guido d'Amore climbed to fourth during the day, but slipped to fifth in the final forestry stage after losing time with an overshoot.
Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen: "It was a big kangaroo, like a horse!" said Harri. "A few kilometers into the stage, at top speed, the kangaroo jumped into the side of the car. The lock broke and the door flew open and we had to complete the rest of the stage like this. It's the worst place in the world for this to happen, with the amount of dust coming into the car. I'm feeling very confident and good with the car though, and the set-up of the suspension, so tomorrow we'll continue pushing hard and see what happens."
Gigi Galli/Guido d'Amore: "We're lucky to be here after the overshoot; it must have been the only corner in Australia without a tree," said Gigi. "After that I lost my rhythm and we dropped more than 40 seconds, but fortunately not any positions. Overall though, the day has been good, especially as today's stages were all new to me."