Ford increases advantage at top of Corsica standings BP-Ford World Rally Team continued to dominate the Rallye de France by winning all four of today's speed tests to retain first and second places. Markko MÃ¤rtin and Michael Park climbed from...
Ford increases advantage at top of Corsica standings
BP-Ford World Rally Team continued to dominate the Rallye de France by winning all four of today's speed tests to retain first and second places. Markko Märtin and Michael Park climbed from second this morning to lead this 14th round of the FIA World Rally Championship at the end of the second leg in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. First day leaders and team-mates François Duval and Stéphane Prévot are second in a similar Focus RS, 20.8 seconds behind with one day remaining.
BP-Ford's dominance of the twisty asphalt mountain roads on the Mediterranean island of Corsica was even greater than yesterday. Märtin won three of the four special stages, covering 154.36km north of the rally base of Ajaccio, with Duval claiming the other. Their Focus RS cars finished first and second on three of the four stages. A clean sweep was only missed when Duval posted third fastest time on the final test.
Conditions were just as difficult as yesterday, inconsistent weather making tyre selection extremely difficult. However, accurate reports from team personnel in the stages and the expertise of the team's safety crews, who drive the roads before the competitors to check conditions, ensured that both Märtin and Duval had the perfect tyres throughout the day.
Heavy overnight rain left damp roads this morning but Michelin's soft compound dry weather rubber proved the perfect choice for the BP-Ford duo. Harder compound tyres were the natural choice as the stages dried and temperatures climbed. But an afternoon downpour drenched the mountain roads and the French company's wet weather tyres provided ideal grip for the final test.
Märtin re-started this morning 15.1sec behind his Belgian team-mates and it was quickly clear that the battle for supremacy would again be an internal one between the BP-Ford drivers. The 28-year-old Estonian powered through the opening stage more than 20 seconds faster than anyone else in his Castrol-branded Focus RS to move to the front. He extended his lead to 17.0sec midway through the leg and, although Duval narrowed the gap on the penultimate stage, Märtin pulled away again on the last test.
"It's been a difficult, but good, day," said Märtin. "We've had every type of weather you can imagine in the mountains. One moment it's nice and the next it's raining. It changed all the time and it worried me all day. I have a good set-up on my car. It's not perfect, it never is in Corsica, but it's worked superbly for me. If we don't make any big mistakes with our tyre selection, then I don't think the other teams can catch us. The stages are easier tomorrow. François is obviously my biggest threat but our main challenger could turn out to be the weather. The team needs a one-two finish and so far it has been a Ford show."
Märtin's only problem came just before the finish of the final stage. "For the final 3km there were flames coming out from under the bonnet. There was no way I was going to stop but I was probably faster over those final 3km than I would have been normally! To see flames coming out from under the bonnet was not a nice feeling. We put the fire out at the finish, but we were lucky that we were able to drive straight to service because the power steering stopped working on the liaison section," he added.
The BP-Ford team diagnosed an oil leak in the power steering rack and oil dripping onto the hot engine sparked the fire. The team fitted a new steering rack assembly and replaced burned wires during the final service tonight.
Duval lost time on the opening stage with two small mistakes. Twice he braked too late, slid wide on corners and stalled his engine. "We dropped about 15 seconds in total but I wasn't pushing too hard this morning," said the 23-year-old Belgian. "The weather has changed a lot. We were even told there was hail in the second stage this morning but by the time we got there, it was fine.
"It's difficult to know whether I can beat Markko but I'm enjoying the battle. Even if I can't beat him, second would still be a great result for myself and the team. Markko is driving very well but I have a really good feeling with the car and the tyres and I'll try my best," he added.
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson was again delighted with the performance. "I'm very happy that we have won all of today's stages. I told both Markko and François not to push on the last stage because of the changing weather conditions. We're not in a position at the moment to consider the final positions. There are still a lot of kilometres to drive and we'll look at the situation in the morning, see what the weather is like, and then decide our strategy for the day," he said.
News from our Rivals
Behind the BP-Ford duo, little changed on the leaderboard. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) consolidated third ahead of team-mate Carlos Sainz. If he finishes in the top four tomorrow, he will secure the drivers' world title. Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) retained fifth, although the Finn was no more confident in his car's handling than yesterday. Team-mate Cedric Robert was the day's principal retirement. The Frenchman aquaplaned on standing water on the opening stage and spun into a wall, breaking the radiator. Petter Solberg (Subaru) lies sixth, the Norwegian struggling to find the same formula on asphalt that has seen him win the last three rallies on gravel. Freddy Loix (Peugeot) rebuilt his confidence after daylong handling troubles yesterday to climb into a points position in eighth. Team-mates Armin Schwarz and Toni Gardemeister (Skoda) complete the leaderboard in ninth and 10th respectively, although Schwarz dropped a minute this morning when his car's hydraulic system failed.
The final leg remains unaltered from last year and is the shortest of the rally. Competitors leave Ajaccio at 07.20 and tackle two identical loops of two stages to the south, divided by a return to the service park in the city. The four stages comprise 112.10km. Cars return for the finish ceremony in Ajaccio at 14.30.