Kresta sets sights on points to extend Ford's record BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Roman Kresta and Jan TomÃ¡nek climbed into a points scoring position during today's second leg of the Wales Rally GB. The Czech pair are ninth in their Ford...
Kresta sets sights on points to extend Ford's record
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Roman Kresta and Jan Tománek climbed into a points scoring position during today's second leg of the Wales Rally GB. The Czech pair are ninth in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car and on target to score the manufacturers' points which will extend Ford's unrivalled scoring record in the FIA World Rally Championship.
The Blue Oval has scored points on 55 consecutive rallies, a record dating back to the Monte Carlo Rally in January 2002. No other manufacturer can lay claim to such a feat in the sport's history and 29-year-old Kresta has his sights firmly set on improving that record on tomorrow's final leg of this 12th round of the series.
Today's action comprised two identical loops of three gravel speed tests close to the Epynt military land in south Wales. The special stages were fast and dry, the mud and slime of yesterday morning merely a memory as they were replaced by spiralling clouds of dust. But the highlight of the day was the final test at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium where a crowd of more than 20,000 people created a superb atmosphere, sounding horns and roaring on their favourites. The noise echoed around the arena as the sliding roof was closed to make this the first indoor stage in WRC history. Drivers faced 103.86km of competition.
Kresta and Tománek climbed three places to ninth on the opening loop of stages, and maintained their position through the afternoon repeat of the tests. They are 36.6sec behind Manfred Stohl in eighth and 12.2sec ahead of Mark Higgins in 10th.
The dry roads ensured a furious pace and Kresta admitted to several lucky escapes, the biggest coming on the final stage of the morning. "I didn't hear a pace note properly and I went straight on at a hairpin in sixth gear," said the 29-year-old Czech. "I managed to miss everything but I was lucky because it was a big, big moment. There were some cars parked down the slip road and I'm still not sure how I managed to miss them. I half spun the car and then had to turn round to regain the track.
"The roads were pretty dry, although there were a few puddles in the opening stage where cars had cut corners and dragged water and mud onto the track. This afternoon the loose gravel had been swept away and the roads were extremely fast. It felt like driving in Finland at times with lots of time in sixth gear. I chose soft compound Michelin tyres this morning and harder rubber this afternoon and it felt right. My target for tomorrow is clear - to stay in the manufacturer points for Ford," he added.
Missing from the starters this morning were BP-Ford team-mates Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen. The Finns were excluded by event stewards last night after their Focus RS was found to be underweight at yesterday's final service at Swansea. It was weighed five times and was 4kg under the 1230kg limit. Team director Malcolm Wilson accepted the decision and no appeal was lodged. "The team made a miscalculation and we accept the decision of the stewards. It was a genuine error on our behalf and the stewards understood that there was no deliberate attempt to gain an advantage," he said.
Britons Mark Higgins and Bryan Thomas climbed onto the leaderboard tonight by winning the final stage in the Millennium Stadium and overhauling Colin McRae for 10th place. Higgins' Eddie Stobart Motorsport Focus RS started the day in 16th but made progress throughout the leg, the Isle of Man-born driver reporting no major problems.
Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud, who were the leading Focus RS crew in seventh last night, did not enjoy such a good day. The Norwegians had a massive 160kph spin on the opening 19.47km Crychan test, from which they were lucky to escape. "It was my fault," admitted Solberg. "I approached a right bend which had a log pile on the left side, which I did not mark in my pace notes. The rear of the car hit the logs and spun across the road into some hay bales. I was lucky the bales were there, otherwise I would have hit trees.
"The impact flattened the exhaust and bent the rear left wheel. I went off twice on the next stage because the steering was out of line and I wasn't sure where the car was going," he added. The impact also damaged the car's exhaust gas recirculation valve and Solberg struggled through the afternoon unable to use full power from his Focus' engine. He lies 14th, 19.5sec behind a similar privately-entered Focus RS of Germany's Antony Warmbold.
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Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) dominated the day to take a step closer to his ninth victory of the season. The Frenchman was fastest on all six forest stages to increase his leg one advantage of 9.9sec to 44.7sec. Petter Solberg (Subaru) retained second but was powerless to match the championship leader. Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) continued his recovery from yesterday's brake troubles and climbed to third on the penultimate stage, although he was hounded all the way by a hard-charging François Duval (Citroen). Harri Rovanperä (Mitsubishi) held third all day until a gearbox problem deprived him of third gear for the final two stages and he dropped more than 30 seconds. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) saw his good run end when he went off the road and down a bank on the opening stage while team-mate Stephane Sarrazin also retired when he too went off the road, damaging the front of the car too seriously to continue.
The final day comprises only four stages but promises to offer a real sting in the tail. Drivers face two loops of the 29.39km Resolfen test and the 27.42km Margam, which ends with the spectacular section in front of Margam House. They leave Swansea at 07.00 and tackle 113.62km of competition before the finish in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium at 14.00.