Status quo in Corsica as Ford duo sings same tune in second leg BP-Ford World Rally Team continues to hold second and fourth places after today's second leg of the Rallye de France Tour de Corse. Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen maintained...
Status quo in Corsica as Ford duo sings same tune in second leg
BP-Ford World Rally Team continues to hold second and fourth places after today's second leg of the Rallye de France Tour de Corse. Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen maintained second in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car after a troublefree day in the demanding mountains on the sun-kissed Mediterranean island. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen climbed to third this morning but were edged out of a podium place on the final stage after a thrilling battle.
Today's action on this fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship followed the same format as yesterday, with two loops of speed tests in the morning that were repeated in the afternoon. This time, however, the action was located north of the rally base in Ajaccio. The opening test of each loop, at 34.66km, was the longest of the rally and drivers tackled 121.72km of competition on this longest leg of the three-day event.
Gronholm opted for BFGoodrich's medium compound tyres this morning and was third and fourth fastest on the opening tests. The 38-year-old Finn softened the damper settings on his Focus RS this morning but was unhappy with the feeling after the opening stage and changed them himself before the second test to the same harder set-up that he used yesterday. His stage positions were identical this afternoon and he returned to Ajaccio 39.7sec behind Sebastien Loeb and almost a minute clear of Dani Sordo in third.
"Loeb has been exceptionally quick and I've not been happy with my pace," said 38-year-old Gronholm. "My feeling with the car wasn't 100 per cent this morning. I didn't push hard enough but the stages were quite difficult. They were covered in gravel and were slippery and twisty. The handling on the first stage didn't feel as sharp. As the damper settings were the only thing that was different to yesterday, I changed them back again.
"The other top drivers opted for harder tyres than me this afternoon and that could be why I dropped some time to Loeb, but I honestly don't know. Tomorrow I won't try to attack. Second is a good position and there is no point in me risking that in trying to achieve the impossible," he added.
Hirvonen was fifth through the opening stage to move ahead of Alex Bengue from an overnight fourth into third. The 25-year-old Finn was then fastest through the next test from Sordo, who had become his nearest challenger, arriving back in Ajaccio 8.8sec ahead of the Spaniard. Their fierce battle continued this afternoon and although Hirvonen was fourth and third quickest, Sordo edged him out of third to end the day just 5.7sec ahead.
"Everything felt better today and I made no mistakes but Dani was just that little bit faster than me," said Hirvonen. "I enjoy a good battle, that's how rallying should be, and that's exactly what Dani and I have had. I couldn't go any faster but I will try to catch him tomorrow - it's not over yet. There was nothing I could do against him on the narrower sections but on the wider roads I was able to take time back. Asphalt isn't my best surface and I think I still need to improve my driving on it.
"We made some set-up changes to the centre differential last night and in turning the Focus felt more agile. This morning I couldn't keep the temperature in the tyres at the right level so I didn't have as good a feeling as I would have liked. I opted for harder rubber this afternoon and was happier with that choice," he added.
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson said: "We are conscious of the manufacturer points and it's important to preserve them on an event which in my opinion is Loeb's rally. It's also important that Mikko scores good driver points to improve his start position for the forthcoming gravel events."
Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila , driving a 2005-specification Focus RS for the Stobart VK M-Sport team, crashed out of seventh on the second stage while team-mates Matthew Wilson and Michael Orr retired in similar fashion early in this morning's opening test.
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Championship leader Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) was fastest on the first stage of each loop and leads tonight by 39.7sec. The Frenchman's only discomfort came this morning when he opted for tyres that were too soft. Behind Gronholm, Dani Sordo (Citroen) claimed two fastest times, although the young Spaniard suffered brake troubles at the end of the first stage. Alex Bengue (Peugeot) dropped from third to fifth, the Frenchman suffering handling difficulties this morning and then spinning on the final stage. Brake problems hindered Xavi Pons (Citroen) this morning but he lies within striking distance of Bengue, just 8.0sec behind. Nicolas Vouilloz (Peugeot) crashed off the leaderboard on the opening stage as did Andreas Aigner (Skoda). Francois Duval (Skoda) had to tackle most of the morning loop with no brakes after a calliper broke and the Belgian retired on the final test when he crashed.
The final day is the shortest of the rally and is based just to the south of Ajaccio. After restarting at 07.00, drivers again face two identical loops of two stages, divided by service back in Ajaccio. They cover 112.10km of competition before the finish ceremony in the town at 13.50.