Both BP-Ford World Rally Team pairings held top six places after today's opening leg of the Rallye Deutschland.Â Finns Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen led the team's challenge in fifth place in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, just a handful...
Both BP-Ford World Rally Team pairings held top six places after today's opening leg of the Rallye Deutschland. Finns Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen led the team's challenge in fifth place in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, just a handful of seconds ahead of the similar car of Czech duo Roman Kresta and Jan Tománek. A third privately-entered Focus RS, driven by Spain's Dani Solà and Xavier Amigo, is 10th.
This 11th round of the FIA World Rally Championship is the first asphalt event since the opening round in Monte Carlo in January. Based in Trier, Germany's oldest city which lies close to the Luxembourg border, the rally was today centred in the picturesque Mosel vineyards. The bumpy, narrow roads comprised fast straights linked by tight hairpin bends and square junctions and the tall vines made visibility difficult. Two identical loops of three speed tests covered 119.38km.
Yesterday's heavy rain left wet patches in the shaded areas this morning, but as the overcast skies cleared and temperatures gradually climbed during a generally cool day, the roads dried. Michelin's dry pattern asphalt tyres were the choice of Gardemeister and Kresta throughout, although the Finn opted for a soft compound version this morning.
A close encounter with the vines left Gardemeister sixth after the opening loop. "I was about 20km into the first stage when I slid into a vineyard at a left bend just over a crest," said the 30-year-old. "I went a long way off and all I could see were grapes smashing into the windscreen. When I stopped I had to put the wipers on to clear the mess. I couldn't see where the road was for all the tall vines but somehow I found it and got back on. I punctured the front left and rear right tyres on some wires that were on the ground. I think I own the vineyard now - I know the grapes were white because there were plenty in the car! It also happened right in front of my manager…"
Harder compound tyres suited Gardemeister better this afternoon and he was fourth fastest on all three stages, moving ahead of his BP-Ford team-mate on the penultimate test. They are split by just 6.2sec tonight, while Gardemeister closed the gap between himself and Petter Solberg in fourth to just 5.9sec. "It was a mixed day. I couldn't drive any faster even though I wanted to. Maybe I lack experience with the car on dry asphalt. Tomorrow is a long, hard day and I hope I can find some more speed to move up the order," he added.
Kresta, reunited with his regular co-driver after Tománek missed the last eight rallies with a neck injury, completed the morning's competition in fifth. "I had a couple of scares in the mud on the first stage although I didn't take any risks," said 29-year-old Kresta. "I also hit a bank quite hard in the second stage but it wasn't a problem. I followed Manfred Stohl for quite a long way in the third stage, because he had crashed and regained the stage just in front of me. There were a lot of people in the road trying to get a good view of Manfred without realising I was close behind. It was a shame I didn't have a clear run because the conditions there suited my tyre choice perfectly."
Kresta dropped 20 seconds on the opening stage this afternoon. "I was just too fast into the braking area for a long left-right sequence of bends. I spun and hit some hay bales with Jan's side of the car. I was quite lucky not to drop more time but I wish I hadn't made that mistake because I think I could have been fourth tonight otherwise," he added.
Solà, driving a Focus RS for the first time since the Rally Mexico in March, concentrated on finding a comfortable pace after so many months away from competition. He was quickly back in the groove and ended the morning loop in ninth. However, he was hindered this afternoon when French driver Stephane Sarrazin spun into a ditch and partially blocked the track on the penultimate test. He was pushed back onto the stage just as Solà reached the scene and the Focus driver could not find a way by before the end of the stage. The time loss, in addition to a few seconds lost when he spun on the final stage, dropped him to 10th, just 0.2sec behind Armin Schwarz.
"I have a good feeling but just need time to gain confidence because I've slowed in some places where I didn't need to," said Sola. "I want to drive naturally but I've done too much thinking today. I'm still unsure about what the car can do but I learned a lot and I'm sure I'll learn more tomorrow."
News from our Rivals
Team-mates Sebastien Loeb and François Duval (both Citroen) dominated the day, recording the fastest two times on all six stages. Loeb led initially but quickest time for Duval on the third test edged him in front by 3.2sec. However, Loeb was fastest on all three afternoon stages to lead by 11.7sec. Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) lies a lonely third, 1min 11.5sec behind Loeb and more than a minute clear of Petter Solberg (Subaru), who spun on the opening stage. Markko Märtin (Peugeot) held fourth but dropped down the order after clipping a wall on the third stage and ending the test with the right rear wheel down to the rim. Stephane Sarrazin (Subaru) lost sixth when he was hindered by a faulty handbrake on stage three and the Frenchman dropped two minutes on the penultimate test after spinning into a ditch. Team-mate Chris Atkinson lost time all morning with a lack of turbo boost. Alex Bengue (Skoda) retired on the third stage after crashing.
The second leg is the longest and toughest of the rally. Much of it is based on the challenging Baumholder military land, more commonly used by US soldiers for tank training exercises. The road surface varies almost constantly, including fast, wide asphalt, highly abrasive broken concrete, and treacherously slippery sand-covered cobblestones. There are more than 100 surface changes in only 48km of speed tests. The two Baumholder stages will be used twice, as will a more flowing Saarland test before the day ends with a spectacular stage through the streets of St Wendel. The seven tests cover 145.94km and after leaving Trier at 07.00, drivers return there at 20.01.