Gronholm and Hirvonen take charge in Turkey for BP-Ford BP-Ford World Rally Team lies first and second in the Rally of Turkey tonight after another day of treacherously slippery competition in the southern mountains. Marcus Gronholm and Timo ...
Gronholm and Hirvonen take charge in Turkey for BP-Ford
BP-Ford World Rally Team lies first and second in the Rally of Turkey tonight after another day of treacherously slippery competition in the southern mountains. Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen, who powered to the front in the opening kilometres yesterday, ended the second leg of this three-day event with a 2min 05.2sec lead in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen hold second in a similar Focus RS.
Yesterday's opening leg of this 13th round of the FIA World Rally Championship was characterised by erratic weather which made conditions unpredictable on the gravel tracks above the south coast holiday resort of Kemer. Today was no different. After bright morning sunshine brought rapidly drying roads, the skies turned dark this afternoon and torrential rain again turned the roads into a mudbath. At one point a hailstorm left the roads blanketed in ice, to the amazement of drivers.
Drivers tackled six mountain speed tests before a second pass over the super special stage on the edge of Antalya ended the action - a total of 147.11km of competition. Three stages were used for a second time and ruts and holes added to the challenge faced by competitors. The constantly changing conditions made tyre choice difficult, but both BP-Ford drivers were delighted with the performance of their BFGoodrich rubber.
Gronholm began the day with a 26.1sec advantage over Petter Solberg. The 38-year-old Finn set two fastest times as he extended his lead to a maximum 43.4sec. He admitted that Solberg's pace meant he could not afford to relax, but that was until the Norwegian retired on the penultimate test, leaving Gronholm with a comfortable margin over his team-mate.
"I'm in a pretty good position so I hope that tomorrow I can keep my lead," said Gronholm. "It is better to have a big lead than a 30sec advantage. I feel confident and the car is strong but you can never tell. Petter was pushing quite hard and I needed to keep a close eye on his times because he was on my mind quite a bit.
"Conditions were a nightmare this afternoon. It was so slippery that it was almost impossible to stand up, yet we had to drive as fast as we could. It was incredible to see hail on the stages and with plenty of slippery stones on the inside of the corners, it felt like I was skating at times this afternoon," he added.
Hirvonen consolidated third position throughout the day, setting a fastest time as he eased away from Henning Solberg. Petter Solberg's retirement promoted the 26-year-old Finn to second and another stage victory on the final test widened the gap over Henning Solberg to 40.4sec.
"I was driving on the maximum most of the time this morning, although there were some places where I could have pushed a little more," he said. "Henning was pushing hard behind me so I couldn't afford to make mistakes. On the last few events I have been able to drive cautiously to save the car but that's not the case here. I have a strong car and I was driving flat out. Once I heard Petter had retired I eased off, but that's not always a good thing because you lose your rhythm. Second would be a great result, but I must remember that tomorrow won't be easy.
"The roads were awful this afternoon. There was so much mud and water that it was like driving on ice with slick tyres, and the mud meant that I really couldn't see properly. On the worst stage this afternoon I almost went off the road twice and then decided it was time to drop my pace and be safe," he added.
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson said: "It has been a perfect day and we are in a dream position tonight. We will make routine checks on both cars and look forward to tomorrow."
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Petter Solberg (Subaru) continued to lead the challenge to Gronholm. The Norwegian set two fastest times but retired on the penultimate stage when he hit a rock and was launched into a ditch. His demise allowed brother Henning (Peugeot) to climb into third. He escaped with a broken wheel after hitting a rock this morning and the engine briefly stalled this afternoon. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) enjoyed a good day, moving up from seventh to fourth. He was just ahead of Kosti Katajamaki (Ford), who lost some seconds a with a handbrake problem early this afternoon. Xevi Pons (Citroen) also went well, the Spaniard climbing from eighth to fifth before eventually ending the day in sixth. He lies ahead of team-mate Colin McRae, who dropped time this morning with a poor tyre choice.