FranÃ§ois Delecour and Daniel Grataloup remain on course for a points-scoring finish on their Safari Rally debut after completing today's tough second leg in fifth position in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. The French pairing continued to...
François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup remain on course for a points-scoring finish on their Safari Rally debut after completing today's tough second leg in fifth position in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. The French pairing continued to revel in the wild conditions endured on the speed tests in the spectacular Rift Valley, north of Nairobi, making light of their inexperience on this most specialised round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Ford Martini team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya, lying second overnight in their Focus RS, were early casualties of this gruelling second leg, retiring with engine problems early in the morning's opening competitive section.
Thirty-eight-year-old Delecour refused to be sucked into a speed battle on rocky and rutted roads made treacherously slippery by yesterday's torrential storm which turned the dusty surface into glutinous mud. He preferred to select his own pace and look after his car in gruelling conditions which have sidelined 22 of the 41 starters.
Drivers tackled five competitive sections covering 426.24km in a route of 1327.81km. Wet and muddy tracks during the early morning became drier as the day progressed and warm sunshine broke through the overcast skies, raising temperatures to 27°C.
Delecour dropped time with punctures on the first and last sections, the most time-consuming on the opening 124.48km road from Marigat to Gari Ya Moshi, the longest test in the championship season. A right rear tyre deflated on his Focus RS early in the section and he had no option but to stop and change the wheel, losing six minutes.
"I had no water left in the washers and in the mud I couldn't clear the windscreen properly," said Delecour. "It was difficult to see and I think the car clipped a bridge which probably caused the puncture. The wheel nut gun didn't work properly and it took us much longer to change the wheel than normal."
Minor power steering and gearchange difficulties this afternoon cost little time and Delecour ended the leg 5min 01sec behind Armin Schwarz in fourth. "It's a big gap and I don't think I'll be able to catch him but much can happen yet. Tomorrow's tests are the same as the opening day but after all the rain yesterday the roads will probably be rougher so much can still happen, despite the large time gaps separating the top drivers," he added.
Sainz's hopes ended less than a third of the way into the first section. "About 35km after the start we started to slow down for an animal in the road and the engine dropped onto three cylinders and stalled," said the Madrid-based driver. "There was no warning and it seems a piston failed which seized the engine. It's disappointing because we were going well and I thought we could fight with Tommi and win here."
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson confirmed the reason for Sainz's retirement was piston failure. "Having examined the engine, it was definitely a piston problem but we won't know why until more in-depth investigations have been carried out," he said.
"François has continued to impress. It's important that he finishes and continues to gain experience of the roads here for next year but unless those drivers ahead of him hit trouble, he's unlikely to climb any higher. It's the first rally this season on which we're not going to score manufacturer points and that's disappointing. I thought we could score good results here with Carlos and Colin and the performance showed that was likely when the cars were running," added Wilson.
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Competitors expected the middle day to be easier than yesterday and so it turned out. However, while the leg was not the car-breaker that the opening day proved, it was far from easy. Leader Tommi Mäkinen's (Mitsubishi) main concern was a noise from the propshaft after a heavy jump on the penultimate section. He eased off and the team fitted a replacement at service. Team-mate Freddy Loix had a more difficult day. He lost 19 minutes on the first test with an engine misfire and after the motor worsened the team changed the head gasket and cylinder heads before the final section. They achieved it in 35 minutes and although Loix incurred additional time penalties, he retained seventh. Harri Rovanperä (Peugeot) enjoyed a troublefree day in second apart from sliding off the road briefly while Petter Solberg (Subaru) is on course for his third consecutive top five finish in Kenya. His only problems were a broken rear differential and rear driveshaft which cost two minutes and suspension troubles on the final section. Armin Schwarz (Skoda) kept out of serious trouble to hold fourth while team-mate Bruno Thiry is sixth, despite power steering difficulties and a broken front right driveshaft this morning.
The final day's route is an exact repeat of the opening leg. Drivers leave Nairobi at 05.00 and tackle four competitive sections covering 351.76km based around the Whistling Thorns service park, south of the city, before returning for the finish at 16.25. The day is far from simple with two sections exceeding 112km and the leg itself almost comprising the distance of a normal three-day world championship rally.