Thiry keeps Ford on course for points finish in Italy
Bruno Thiry remained on target for a points-scoring finish on the Sanremo Rally after ending today's second leg in sixth position in his Ford Escort World Rally Car. The 36-year-old Belgian and co-driver Stephane Prevot fought their way back into the points on this 11th round of the FIA World Rally Championship after a mistake midway through the day threatened to cost them dearly.
The Ford World Rally team pairing had upped their pace on the morning special stages through the vine fields and orchards of Italy's Savona region to improve their overnight sixth position to fourth. But their good work was undone after overshooting a junction and stalling the car. It took 40 seconds to restart and they promptly slipped to eighth.
But a determined Thiry responded on the following stage by charging back into sixth, extending his advantage over his immediate pursuers. He will start tomorrow's final leg 45.3 seconds behind fifth placed Richard Burns and 25.9 seconds ahead of Philippe Bugalski.
"Today has been just as hard and tiring as I thought," said Thiry. "We made a slight alteration to the Escort's set-up late last night by lowering the front of the Escort just a small amount and softening the anti-roll bar and the balance of the car was perfect today.
"Our only problem came on the fifth stage when we lost time after a spin. We were approaching a tricky hairpin, the road was a little bit greasy, but not slippery, and I locked the wheels under braking. The car overshot the junction and I pulled on the handbrake to bring the car round but the engine stalled.
"We had just completed a twisty section and the engine was so hot that I couldn't restart it again. It took around 40 seconds before it fired up. It was frustrating but simply the result of a little mistake," explained Thiry.
Extremely narrow stages made precision driving vital and with the early cars dragging loose gravel onto the asphalt stages, conditions were also slippery. The combination caught out many drivers and with no room for error, accidents were numerous.
Thiry's Ford World Rally team-mates Juha Kankkunen and Juha Repo were one of the many crews caught out. After restarting this morning in 12th, they had climbed up to 10th when a violent accident brought about their retirement at the finish of the 24.45km Turpino stage, the fourth and longest test of the day.
"We were only about 250m from the end of the stage when the rear of the car slid away and we spun into a wall," said Kankkunen. "First of all the back of the car struck the wall and that then dragged the front into the wall as well. It was quite a heavy accident and the impact ripped a front and rear wheel off the car.
"We were so close to the end of the stage that we struggled across the finish line but with another long stage to complete before we could reach our mechanics there was nothing we could do, the damage was far too great," he added. Both driver and co-driver were sore and bruised but neither suffered any serious injury as the Escort stood up well to the accident.
Ford World Rally team director Malcolm Wilson reflected on a day of consistency from Thiry, apart from his time-consuming spin. "Yes, Bruno has been pretty consistent all day. It was a pity to lose 40 seconds but having said that Bruno is now more than that behind Richard Burns so I think we can say that at the end of the day the incident hasn't cost him any positions. Tomorrow Bruno must ensure he stays in front of his closest rivals, Bugalski and Dallavilla.
"Juha's accident was a very, very big one. The car is badly damaged but the fact that both Juha and Juha Repo walked away with just bumps and bruises shows how strong the Escort is," added Wilson.
Italy's Franco Cunico, who had driven so quickly yesterday in his Jolly Club-entered Ford Escort World Rally Car, was an early retirement this morning. He crashed 6km into the opening Loazzolo stage, ripping a front and rear wheel off the Martini-backed car.
The final leg brings competitors back to the mountain roads above the riviera town of Sanremo itself. They restart at 07.00 to tackle the final six stages covering 106km, the first two tests being repeated at the end of the day. The rally ends with a real sting in the tail as the last stage, at more than 28km, is the longest of the event. The finish ceremony will take place back in Sanremo at 16.04.
Leaderboard after Leg 2
1. T Makinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 3hr 21min 37.3sec
2. P Liatti/F Pons I Subaru Impreza 3hr 22min 05.8sec
3. C McRae/N Grist GB Subaru Impreza 3hr 22min 59.6sec
4. C Sainz/L Moya E Toyota Corolla 3hr 23min 09.6sec
5. R Burns/R Reid GB Mitsubishi Carisma 3hr 24min 02.5sec
6. B Thiry/S Prevot B Ford Escort 3hr 24min 47.8sec
7. P Bugalski/J-P Chiaroni F Citroen Xsara 3hr 25min 13.7sec
8. A Dallavilla/D Fappiani I Subaru Impreza 3hr 25min 17.7sec
9. G Panizzi/H Panizzi F Peugeot 306 3hr 25min 20.7sec
10 A Navarra/R Casazza I Subaru Impreza 3hr 25min 46.8sec