MÃ¤rtin heads Ford challenge in rocky Cyprus mountains Intense heat and twisty boulder-strewn mountain tracks combined to create a difficult opening leg of the Cyprus Rally today for Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Markko MÃ¤rtin and Michael Park.
Märtin heads Ford challenge in rocky Cyprus mountains
Intense heat and twisty boulder-strewn mountain tracks combined to create a difficult opening leg of the Cyprus Rally today for Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Markko Märtin and Michael Park. The winners of the Acropolis Rally in Greece earlier this month finished the first day's competition of this seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship in seventh in their Focus RS World Rally Car, after overcoming hydraulic troubles on the longest speed test of the three-day event late this afternoon.
Their Castrol-branded Focus RS headed the Ford team challenge ahead of the similar car of François Duval and Stéphane Prévot, who recovered well to lie 11th after similar difficulties earlier in the day. A third Focus RS, the M-Sport run car of Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen, was just one place behind Duval in 12th.
Competitors faced just four speed tests high in the Troodos Mountains in the centre of the sun-kissed Mediterranean island. They included two passes through the longest special stage of the rally, at more than 38km a daunting test of stamina in energy-sapping heat which lifted ground temperatures to 46°C during the morning. The four tests covered 99.84km and the gravel roads were so twisty that average speeds reached a maximum of just 76kph, with straights of more than 100 metres a rarity.
Märtin admitted he found it hard to settle into a rhythm on the opening loop of two stages and he returned to the Limassol service park in sixth. "I didn't expect too much this morning because it's hard to find a good rhythm on such twisty and slow roads. It's all about trying to find a good balance and rhythm and I didn't manage that. Once you've found the right speed then you have to stick with that and not take any risks," he said.
However, the 27-year-old Estonian was fourth fastest on the penultimate stage before hitting problems just 6km after the start of the 38.32km test from Lagoudera to Spilia. "The car started to miss gears and when Michael checked the hydraulic pump readings, the pressure was fluctuating. Then it went to zero so we stopped and changed from the automatic gearchange to the manual back-up system.
"I drove for more than 30kms with the differentials not working. It meant we couldn't use the handbrake which was a real handicap on the tight and twisty corners. We were all over the road and I had to remind myself how to do the Scandinavian Flick," explained Märtin, referring to the style of driving adopted by Finns many years ago to set-up two-wheel drive cars for tight corners. Märtin lost 45 seconds but only one place and the team fitted a new hydraulic system to the Focus at the final service.
Duval slipped to 16th after experiencing similar problems midway through the first pass of the long stage this morning. "The differentials weren't working and about 5km from the finish we lost all the gears, except fourth," said Duval. "We stopped and switched the gearchange system to the manual back-up version and that gave us all our gears back." The difficulties cost Duval almost one minute.
However, the 22-year-old Belgian recovered well this afternoon after the team replaced the hydraulic pump and filters. "It's been a really hot and rough day. The second pass through the long stage felt much longer than it had this morning. I didn't want to push too hard because the roads were so rough and I didn't want to risk breaking anything on the car," added Duval.
Hirvonen was sixth fastest on the opening stage, his first ever taste of competition in Cyprus, and the 22-year-old Finn went on to enjoy a troublefree day. He lies just 6.9sec behind Duval. "The first three stages were perfect and I was really happy with my driving," he said. "But in the last stage we dropped time and I don't know why. Maybe I was being too cautious on the rough roads."
His only incident of note came early in that last stage when the Focus RS landed heavily after a jump. Hirvonen and Lehtinen's headphones, worn on liaison sections only, broke free from their storage position in the rear of the car and landed on the dashboard in a jumble of cables. Lehtinen had to clear the mess while continuing to read the detailed pace notes of the road ahead.
Ford BP Rallye Sport team director Malcolm Wilson reflected on a tough day. "I'm surprised with the positions of Markko and François considering their problems and the time lost but I guess it shows that other drivers have had their problems too. I'm happy with our road position for tomorrow and if the problems are addressed tonight, we're still in a strong position," he said.
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Harri Rovanperä (Peugeot) dominated the day, setting fastest time on three of the four stages. The Finn benefited in the morning from a lower starting order which offered cleaner, gravel free roads. But a slow time on the long final stage, when he encountered a heavy rain shower, allowed team-mate Marcus Grönholm to take the overnight lead by 6.8sec. Gilles Panizzi (Peugeot) was also helped by a good start position and he held second for much of the day before being overhauled in the last test by both Grönholm and Petter Solberg (Subaru). Less than 14 seconds covers the leading quartet. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) climbed from ninth to fifth on the final stage despite a spin. Championship leader Richard Burns (Peugeot) lies eighth after a power steering problem on the final stage allied with the difficulty this morning of running first through the stages on slippery, loose gravel. Tommi Mäkinen (Subaru) lay third midway through the day but he dropped almost 10 minutes after stopping on the final stage after hitting a rock and breaking a wheel. He replaced the wheel but the impact also damaged the power steering system, a major handicap on such twisty roads. Didier Auriol and Toni Gardemeister (both Skoda) suffered fuel vaporisation problems while Armin Schwarz and Freddy Loix (both Hyundai) struggled in the long stages with overheating differentials. Surprisingly given the rough roads, only one manufacturer car retired, Justin Dale (Hyundai) stopping on the liaison section after the second stage with a blown head gasket.
The second leg is the longest of the rally. After leaving Limassol at 06.00, drivers face eight more stages covering 158.35km before returning to the town for the final overnight halt at 19.35. The route covers tests in the Troodos Mountains as well as roads further to the west, with the final two stages being repeats of tests used earlier in the day.