MÃ¤rtin powers Focus into fourth in Swedish snowfields. Ford Rallye Sport's Markko MÃ¤rtin and Michael Park took full advantage of improved driving conditions to climb to fourth position during today's second leg of the Swedish Rally. They ...
Märtin powers Focus into fourth in Swedish snowfields.
Ford Rallye Sport's Markko Märtin and Michael Park took full advantage of improved driving conditions to climb to fourth position during today's second leg of the Swedish Rally. They benefited from roads swept clear of fresh snow to power their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car from an overnight seventh, with a string of consistently fast times over speed tests on the frozen tracks of central Sweden.
Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen continued to gain in confidence and experience on the dauntingly fast roads to end the penultimate leg of this second round of the FIA World Rally Championship in 12th in their Focus RS. Fellow Finns Janne Tuohino and Jukka Aho were one place ahead in a privately-entered Focus RS.
Temperatures hovered around freezing for most of a misty and damp day. But the roads on the six special stages, covering 140.37km, remained mainly icy, with slush in places and especially on those tests being used for a second time. Speeds remained high with the 25.04km Lejen being won at an incredible average of 125.86kph.
Märtin's early starting position yesterday proved a handicap as his Focus RS had to sweep fresh snow from the roads to provide a cleaner and faster driving line for those behind. Today, he had no such problems as a lower start position ensured the tracks were clean. He capitalised quickly this morning, leapfrogging Jussi Pykälistö (Peugeot) and Toni Gardemeister (Skoda) to take fifth on the opening stage, a repeat of the 43.69km Granberget test, the longest of the rally.
The 27-year-old Estonian climbed to fourth on the following stage, a position he must defend on tomorrow's final leg from a charging Colin McRae (Citroen). "I think there will be a big battle tomorrow between ourselves, McRae and maybe Petter Solberg. That fight will be for fourth position because our only chance of a podium is if someone ahead makes a mistake but I would be happy to finish there. The last thing tomorrow will be is boring!" joked Märtin.
"Today has been better than the opening leg. Our road position meant we had much more grip and more grip brought more speed. We gambled by choosing snow tyres for the final three stages rather than the more usual ice tyres. It was risky but I think it was the right choice. We damaged the bumpers on the Focus this afternoon but the car is perfect, it's just that the roads are too narrow!" he added.
Hirvonen has made steady progress up the placings, despite suffering the same kind of problems as Märtin endured yesterday. "There was quite a lot of fresh snow on some of the stages and second on the road was not the best starting position for us," he said. "I chose ice tyres this morning but then switched to snow tyres for the next two stages which was a wrong decision. We went back to ice tyres again for the final group of tests.
"I still don't have enough experience of four-wheel drive rally cars but this afternoon I really felt that I had learned how to drive the Focus. I felt confident with the handling, my speed into corners and my braking. We made a minor change to the front differential this morning and that gave me a better feeling," added 22-year-old Hirvonen.
Tuohino, eighth overnight, was unable to maintain his place on the leaderboard and fought a daylong battle against his tyres. He had to use snow tyres rather than rubber more suited to the icy conditions and felt that cost him time. He survived a fright in stage nine when he came over a crest to discover two moose in the road. He braked hard and swerved up a snow bank to narrowly avoid a collision and said afterwards: "It was a very, very scary moment."
Ford Rallye Sport team director Malcolm Wilson said Märtin had produced 'a faultless display' today. "He's driven superbly but I think we have to be realistic and accept that he can't catch anyone in front unless they hit problems. He will also feel the pressure from Colin McRae tomorrow. I'm pleased that Mikko has got further than he did in Monte Carlo. If he can complete the job on the final leg and finish it will give him fabulous experience for the future," he said.
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World champion Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) set four fastest times to increase his lead to 38.8sec over Tommi Mäkinen (Subaru). His only problem came on the opening stage when he hit a hole close to the start of the 43.69km test, damaging the wheel alignment. Richard Burns (Peugeot) remained an untroubled third. Colin McRae (Citroen) charged up the leaderboard from 13th to fifth, moving ahead of a frustrated Petter Solberg (Subaru) who could identify no problems but could not match the pace of his team-mate. The most bizarre incident of the day came on the second stage when the privately-entered Juuso Pykälistö rolled. Spectators lifted the car back onto the road just as fourth-placed Harri Rovanperä (Peugeot) reached the scene and his car collided with that of his fellow Finn. Pykälistö was taken to hospital for a precautionary check-up while Rovanperä was sidelined with broken front suspension. The stage was immediately cancelled.
The final day provides an intriguing mix of repeated stages and new ones. Three of the five tests will be run for a second time with two on unused roads. The leg, which is again based around the Hagfors service park, contains a tough finale with the final two stages covering 31.66km and 39.85km respectively. After leaving Karlstad at 06.00, drivers return for the finish at 17.05 after another 120.75km of competition.