Ford Focus drivers pack leaderboard in Germany. Ford Rallye Sport has four Focus RS World Rally Cars on the top 10 leaderboard after today's demanding second leg of the Rallye Deutschland, which lived up to pre-event forecasts as one of the most...
Ford Focus drivers pack leaderboard in Germany.
Ford Rallye Sport has four Focus RS World Rally Cars on the top 10 leaderboard after today's demanding second leg of the Rallye Deutschland, which lived up to pre-event forecasts as one of the most difficult days of the FIA World Rally Championship year.
Colin McRae and Nicky Grist maintained a consistent fourth throughout, ending the eight speed tests, covering 164.44km, 30.1sec ahead of team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya, who climbed from ninth to fifth. Markko Martin and Michael Park moved from 13th to seventh after a tremendous three-car battle with Francois Delecour and Toni Gardemeister. Germans Armin Kremer and Dieter Schneppenheim lie 10th to the delight of the tens of thousands of home fans who packed into the stages.
The daunting Baumholder tank training area, south-east of Trier, was the venue for today's leg, a challenging enough location in the dry but as slippery as ice in the heavy rain which fell this morning. Ironically, when the rain stopped, the roads dried far faster than anyone expected and tyre choice became a dilemma as the wet weather rubber selected by most proved too soft for roads that became dry and dusty.
A surface which frequently switched from asphalt to concrete, smooth in places and badly broken in others, hampered drivers' efforts to settle into a rhythm and proved highly abrasive on tyres. Huge kerb stones, designed to keep tanks on the road, lined the stages ready to catch the unwary who made a mistake on tracks which varied from the width of a car in some places to as wide as a motorway in others.
McRae enjoyed a relatively troublefree day, save for a few overshot junctions, but he was far from alone in that. The Scot regretted not having more cuts carved into his intermediate Pirelli rubber for the opening two rain-soaked tests this morning and then, ironically, had too many for the early afternoon stages when the puddles disappeared.
"Tyre choice was hard," said the 34-year-old Scot. "Today is comparable with Sweden in that the surface is so unique that ideally you require rubber developed especially for that surface. Tomorrow we'll try to hold our position, our battle is really with Carlos. But the three cars in front are having quite a fight so there's potential for at least one of them to trip up. It'll be narrow and fast and, again, not easy."
Sainz echoed McRae's views on tyre selection and proved the value of Pirelli's anti-deflation inserts this afternoon. He punctured both the front and rear left tyres on the 35.56km Panzerplatte test, the longest of the rally. With only one spare allowed in the car, he changed the front rubber and relied on the system to keep the rear tyre inflated on the next 20.87km Erzweiler test. It worked superbly and Sainz protected fifth place.
"I was getting used to these stages by the end of the day but now we switch to different roads tomorrow and I must start all over again," said the 40-year-old Spaniard. "It was hard this morning. There was a lot of standing water and it was easy to go off. Then we were too cautious with our tyre choice this afternoon, expecting conditions to be worse than they were."
Martin enjoyed a better day than yesterday although the rain provided a tough challenge. "When our gravel crews checked the stages it was dry, but by the time we started the roads were streaming and all the information gathered earlier was useless. It was so slippery that on most corners I knew we were going to slide backwards. I adjusted my driving style to slide into the corners and then use the car's power on the exit of the bends. It was fun to drive like that! Tomorrow the roads are different in their nature and it will be like driving our third different rally this weekend. They'll be tricky, whatever the weather," he said.
Kremer was delighted to climb onto the leaderboard after a frustrating opening day. The team fitted a new turbo and clutch before this evening's final stage through the streets of St Wendel to ensure the Focus is in prime condition for the final leg.
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Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) could not repeat the same level of control he exerted yesterday. He was fastest on two stages but when he hit a rock and damaged the steering, he almost fell into the clutches of Richard Burns (Peugeot). The gap between the two is just 10.1sec. Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) was the star of the day. Sensational in the wet this morning, he was fastest on five tests to climb to third after yesterday's time losses. The day took a heavy toll on many others. Freddy Loix (Hyundai) retired just 500 metres after the re-start this morning with no oil pressure in his car's engine and team-mate Armin Schwarz rolled heavily on the second stage, breaking and dislocating a rib in the impact. Philippe Bugalski (Citroen), lying third overnight, went out after leaving the road in the opening stage, ripping off an oil pipe and losing all engine fluid. Petter Solberg (Subaru) retired from fifth after going off the road and ripping the right rear wheel from his car and Toni Gardemeister (Skoda) rolled, damaging his radiator too badly to continue.
The final leg again heads south-east of Trier, but this time into the Saaland region, for two loops of three stages before a repeat of the test through the streets of St Wendel. The cars return to the finish in Trier at 16.00 after another 102.93km of competition on narrower but more flowing roads than those used today.