Ford World Rally Team lies first and second after dominating today's first leg of the Rallye de France in Corsica. Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot's Focus RS World Rally Car leads the similar car of team-mates Markko Martin and Michael Park by...
Ford World Rally Team lies first and second after dominating today's first leg of the Rallye de France in Corsica. Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot's Focus RS World Rally Car leads the similar car of team-mates Markko Martin and Michael Park by 15.1 seconds after more than 120km of flat-out driving over winding asphalt mountain roads on the Mediterranean island. Team-mates Sebastien Loeb and Carlos Sainz (Citroen) led the challenge to the Ford duo. Sainz was quicker initially, but the pair swapped positions with every stage and fastest time on the final test installed Loeb in third. Marcus Gronholm and Cedric Robert (both Peugeot) hold fifth and sixth despite a poor tyre selection for both this morning. Tyres that were too hard for the damp conditions also troubled team-mates Petter Solberg and Mikko Hirvonen (Subaru) this morning. Solberg lies seventh with Hirvonen in 12th. Armin Schwarz (Skoda), feeling better following his illness on the last round in Sardinia, is 10th but team-mate Toni Gardemeister was another to make a poor tyre choice this morning. He also spun on the opening stage and is 13th. There were no major retirements.
Xsara WRC drivers Sebastien Loeb and Carlos Sainz lie in strong 3rd and 4th positions overnight, both under 1 minute behind the leading Ford drivers Francois Duval and Markko Martin.
Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: "The roads are drier than expected. I should not have chosen cut tyres. The Ford cars have really made an excellent start to the race, but I am not focusing on their performance."
Struggling to find the necessary traction and confidence on tyres that were too hard for the damp stages in the morning, and too soft for the drier loop in the afternoon, Subaru drivers Petter Solberg and Mikko Hirvonen ended the day in seventh and twelfth place respectively. However, with more unsettled weather forecast for Leg two and more than 250 competitive kilometres remaining, there is plenty of opportunity for the overall leaderboard to change dramatically.
Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: "I'm very disappointed, but that's how it is sometimes. It's very difficult, I tried absolutely everything today, but we struggled. I knew that this would be a tough event, but we are far away and we have to work harder. It's a difficult situation but I wont give up, the end of this rally is a long way off and maybe there will be some rain tomorrow, which should help, we'll just have to wait and see."
Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen: "I don't have much experience of driving the Subaru on these sort of tarmac roads, so a lot of my morning was spent learning, trying to get the feeling with the car and the tyres in these conditions. We weren't lucky with our tyre choices but despite that, in the afternoon I felt a lot more confident in my driving and, judging my times against Petter's, I can see some improvement."
Duval and Martin battled among themselves for the lead throughout the day, the Focus RS winning three of the four speed tests south of the rally base in Ajaccio. The lead changed hands twice between the BP-Ford duo, who opened a comfortable advantage over their rivals.
Markko Martin / Michael Park: "We made a good start this morning and it was a nice feeling to have everything going well from the beginning. I drove at a comfortable pace, but could have pushed harder. The roads were wet in some places and dry in others so it was difficult to know exactly what we were going to get."
Francios Duval / Stephane Prevot: "I've made no serious mistakes and my tyre choice has been good. I really enjoy asphalt rallies and it's good for me when conditions are damp and slippery like this. Some corners this afternoon were tricky because mud had been dragged onto the road during the first pass this morning. My car has been perfect all day and I just hope I can stay in this position until Sunday afternoon.
Peugeot driver Marcus Gronholm has finished the opening leg of the Rally de France-Tour de Corse in fifth place, just ahead of his team mate Cedric Robert. The other Peugeot 307 WRC of Freddy Loix ends the leg in 11th.
Marcus Gronholm / Timo Rautiainen: "It's been a slightly strange day. I had a very bad feeling in the morning but it seemed to get better in the afternoon. The conditions have been extremely tricky and the handling of the car has not always been perfect. But we are still in a strong points-scoring place and I am sure we can make up some more positions tomorrow."
Cedric Robert / Gerard Bedon: "It's not been a bad start. The morning loop of stages was tricky, but as the day went on I grew in confidence with the car and the conditions. This has certainly been a very different experience to my last outing in the 307 WRC, on the Rallye Deutschland."
At the end of today's first leg of the Corsica Rally - the first of two asphalt events in October - Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team's Armin Schwarz is tenth overall with team mate Toni Gardemeister 13th. Over today's four long stages, Armin was only once outside the top nine stage positions. He ended the day in a battle for seventh place with just 21.5 seconds covering the gap between himself and World Champion Petter Solberg after 154.36kms.
Armin Schwarz / Manfred Hiemer: "The Fabia has been very good today but the changeable weather made tyre choice a big gamble. This morning didn't dry as quickly as we expected and this afternoon the rain only arrived on the road section after the final stage! I would quite like it to be wet tomorrow as I think we could set some very good times."
Toni Gardemeister / Paavo Lukander: "I got off to a bad start when I spun on the first stage. My tyres were too hard this morning and too soft this afternoon so I couldn't get the sort of grip that my driving style needs. I take very smooth lines, rather than turning into corners late and hard, so I need to have constant grip throughout the corner."