Ford duo chase points as Hirvonen victory bid ends with crash BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus GrÃ¶nholm and Timo Rautiainen and team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen both hold points scoring positions after today's second leg of...
Ford duo chase points as Hirvonen victory bid ends with crash
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen and team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen both hold points scoring positions after today's second leg of Rally Mexico. But neither Ford Focus RS World Rally Car was challenging for a podium place on this third round of the FIA World Rally Championship after Hirvonen crashed out of second place this morning to follow Grönholm's accident yesterday.
Both must now rely on SupeRally. Hirvonen retired from the leg and will restart tomorrow's final day in 17th after accumulating a 35 minute penalty for not completing today's speed tests. Grönholm started today under SupeRally rules and climbed from 23rd to 11th. Both are currently in points positions for BP-Ford in the manufacturers' championship.
Drivers tackled two identical loops of three gravel special stages in the mountains north and east of León before a second pass over the superspecial stage on the edge of the town - a total of 148.92km of competition. Temperatures were again sizzling with 49?C recorded on the ground in the mountains, placing high demands on tyres, and the thermometer nudging 30?C in the air in León.
Hirvonen and Lehtinen started in second just 4.8sec behind Petter Solberg. However, the Finns' victory bid ended just 1.7km into the opening 25.23km El Zauco stage. Hirvonen cleared a crest too quickly and his Focus RS rolled. Although it was not badly damaged, the car ended a long way from the road and there was no opportunity to regain the track.
"I thought I would attack a bit more today," said 25-year-old Hirvonen. "But I came over a crest and the car lifted a bit. As I landed a rear wheel hit the bank and the impact rolled us across the road and down into a deep ditch. I didn't have it marked as a jump in my pace notes and I simply came too fast over the crest."
After yesterday's retirement, Grönholm and Rautiainen were again first on the road today. Once more it meant that on the morning pass through the stages they were handicapped by slippery loose gravel on the surface which their Focus RS swept clear to give a cleaner passage for those behind. Despite this, Grönholm, who opted for BFGoodrich's medium compound tyres with cuts carved into the rubber to clear the gravel, set two third fastest times to climb to 16th by the lunchtime service.
"I didn't enjoy being first on the road again," said Grönholm. "It's a difficult rally to be in that position but there are so many rocks and stones and sometimes I just had to drive over them because there was nowhere else to go. Everything was OK until the last stage. I overshot a junction before halfway and had to reverse back onto the road. Then I came round a corner and found about 20 goats in the middle of the track. I managed to avoid all of them except one. And, worst of all, I came across some large rocks which had been placed across the road."
The Finn opted for harder tyres this afternoon in the higher temperatures and posted top four times on all four tests. "They are difficult stages for the tyres but we had no problems at all with durability in the heat," he said. "Early in stage 12 I found a rock the size of a tyre in the road, with several smaller ones around it. I avoided the big one but had to drive over the smaller ones. I've not been testing anything, just driving to get as many kilometres in the car on gravel as I can."
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson admitted he was disappointed but said: "I think Marcus could climb back into the drivers' points while the team has done a good job in repairing Mikko's car. I think tomorrow is the most difficult section of the rally so anything can still happen."
Irish crew Gareth MacHale and Paul Nagle lie sixth in a privately-entered Focus RS on only their second world rally after a troublefree day. Argentines Luis Perez Companc and Jose Maria Volta are 13th in a Stobart VK M-Sport entered Focus RS after restarting today in SupeRally while team- mates Matthew Wilson and Michael Orr retired on the opening stage after hitting a bank and breaking the front suspension. They will restart tomorrow under SupeRally rules in 18th position.
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Leg 1 leader Petter Solberg (Subaru) and Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) enjoyed a fierce battle for supremacy with no more than a handful of seconds covering the duo for most of the day. Loeb took the lead on the opening stage but Solberg moved ahead again on the next test. The Frenchman regained the advantage midway through the afternoon and extended it to 37.7sec after Solberg hit a rock early in the penultimate stage and broke his car's power steering and then spun on the final test. Loeb won six of the seven stages. Manfred Stohl (Peugeot) was much happier with his car's handling and maintained a steady third ahead of Dani Sordo (Citroen), despite almost hitting a herd of cows. Sordo's only problem was a spin on the penultimate test. Henning Solberg (Peugeot) opted for caution as he struggled with brake problems all day but is a comfortable fifth. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) restarted under SupeRally rules and climbed to 10th.
The final leg is the shortest of the rally, containing just 60.42km of competition in three stages. It begins with the 37.99km Leon test, the longest of the event, and ends with a third and final pass over the superspecial stage on the edge of the city which will be broadcast live on television. Drivers depart León at 07.45 and return for the finish ceremony at 12.30.