Solid opening leg for Ford pair on Sanremo Rally
Both Ford World Rally team drivers Bruno Thiry and Juha Kankkunen enjoyed troublefree runs in their Escort World Rally Cars during today's opening leg of the Sanremo Rally, round 11 of the FIA World Rally Championship.
The strongest entry of any championship round this season ensured a furious pace over the asphalt special stages in the mountains above the Italian coastal town. Thiry and co-driver Stephane Prevot ended the leg in sixth with team-mates Kankkunen and Juha Repo in 12th in the second Valvoline-backed Ford Escort.
Thirty-seven-year-old Thiry has been a model of consistency throughout the eight stages, covering 120km. He opened his account with sixth fastest on the first stage and maintained his position for the rest of the leg, run in bright, warm sunshine, in contrast to last week's rain-soaked practice.
"After my disappointing performance in Finland on the last rally, it was important to regain my confidence in competition and I've done that today," said Thiry. "We've made a few modifications to the suspension set-up because while I was very happy with our times on the uphill stages, I felt we lost a little bit here and there on the downhill tests.
"Sixth is not a bad position at this point of the rally and the time gaps to the cars in front of us are not huge. Tomorrow is a very long and difficult day, the hardest of the rally without doubt, and while it has been warm and sunny today, the weather could be different tomorrow. That could play a big part in determining the outcome," added Thiry.
Before the rally Thiry carried out a comprehensive tyre test to evaluate Michelin's new rubber, specially designed for this event, and the Belgian has been delighted with their performance today. "For sure our time loss on the downhill sections had nothing to do with Michelin's tyres because they have been ideal for today's stages, which have been mainly dry but with a few damp patches in the shade," he added.
Kankkunen, competing on his least favourite surface, lay inside the top 10 for much of the day but slipped off the leaderboard during this evening's final test.
"It's not been my best day's rallying but the Escort has run perfectly and that's very important with tomorrow's hard leg in front of us," said the Finn. "The roads will be much trickier to drive and there will be a lot more gravel on them. While it's impossible to cut corners on today's mountain roads, tomorrow's stages are much more open. The first few cars will drag gravel onto the road, making it very slippery for the others who follow.
"As we thought there have been a lot of damp patches underneath the trees on today's stages. There are places where the sun doesn't reach and that has made it quite tricky at some points," added Kankkunen.
Ford World Rally team director Malcolm Wilson reported only routine maintenance to both Escorts today. "The cars are in great shape for tomorrow's leg, which is technically far more demanding than today's. I always thought that the second day would be the crucial part of this rally and nothing that has happened today has made me change my mind. We're ready and we can look forward with confidence," he added.
The quickest Ford during the early morning stages was the Jolly Club Escort World Rally Car of Italy's Franco Cunico, a former winner of the rally. Superb times on the opening two stages put the M-Sport-prepared Escort into fourth place but a mistake from Cunico on the next test proved costly.
Under heavy braking for a hairpin, Cunico's Escort hit a patch of mud and slid into a wall, breaking a front driveshaft and a track control arm. Although they were able to complete the stage, the incident cost Cunico and co-driver Luigi Pirollo 45 seconds, dropping them to 17th. But a determined fightback through the remaining five stages was enough to lift the Italians back to 10th place tonight.
"It was a costly mistake because without that we would have been inside the top five. But the Escort is a superb car to drive and we plan to attack hard to regain more of our lost time," said Cunico.
Tomorrow's second leg is the longest and most demanding of the event. It begins from Sanremo at 05.30 and competitors face the long drive to the Savona region of northern Italy before the action starts in earnest. Once there, they face five more stages, each tackled twice, before making the return journey to Sanremo, arriving in the town for the overnight halt at 22.47. The day's 10 stages cover almost 174km.
Leaderboard after Leg 1
1. T Makinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 1hr 22min 45.6sec
2. P Liatti/F Pons I Subaru Impreza 1hr 22min 49.3sec
3. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Toyota Corolla 1hr 23min 06.7sec
4. C Sainz/L Moya E Toyota Corolla 1hr 23min 16.3sec
5. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Peugeot 306 1hr 23min 22.1sec
6. B Thiry/S Prevot B Ford Escort 1hr 23min 37.7sec
7. P Bugalski/J-P Chiaroni F Citroen Xsara 1hr 23min 46.3sec
8. G Panizzi/H Panizzi F Peugeot 306 1hr 23min 55.9sec
9. C McRae/N Grist GB Subaru Impreza 1hr 23min 58.5sec
10 F Cunico/L Pirollo I Ford Escort 1hr 24min 04.3sec
11 J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Ford Escort 1hr 24min 10.1sec