Ford trio pack points positions on Rally Finland. One of the classic days in the FIA World Rally Championship calendar ended with all three Ford Rallye Sport drivers holding top six points-scoring positions following the second leg of the Rally...
Ford trio pack points positions on Rally Finland.
One of the classic days in the FIA World Rally Championship calendar ended with all three Ford Rallye Sport drivers holding top six points-scoring positions following the second leg of the Rally Finland. Colin McRae and Nicky Grist lie third in their Focus RS World Rally Car, Spaniards Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya are fourth and Markko Märtin and Michael Park hold sixth after a fast and furious day's competition through the sun-bathed Finnish forests.
Saturday on the Rally Finland means flat out driving over the most spectacular speed tests in the 14-round series. Smooth, flowing gravel roads and massive jumps which demand bravery and precision in equal measure, tested man and machine to the full and the Ford Rallye Sport squad met the challenge with relish.
McRae was only once outside the top five times during the six special stages covering 176.65km, as he climbed into a podium position with one day remaining of this ninth round of the championship. Sainz, too, was ultra-consistent with a quartet of fourth fastest times while Märtin climbed from an overnight 10th courtesy of a top six time on every stage.
None of the Focus RS cars missed a beat, despite temperatures which topped 26*C and average speeds which exceeded 132kph.
McRae and Sainz were involved in a daylong battle with Petter Solberg (Subaru). Starting behind the Norwegian in fifth and sixth respectively this morning, both Ford drivers moved ahead over the switchback crests of the famous 34.13km Ouninpohja test, the second of the day. Solberg fought back to move ahead of Sainz on the penultimate stage, ironically a repeat of Ouninpohja, but the 40-year-old Madrid-based driver reclaimed fourth on the last test.
McRae, who took a break after 15 hours behind the wheel to allow Grist to drive the final liaison section back to the rally base in Jyväskylä, was happy with his day's work. "It's been very long and tiring but has been relatively plain sailing for us," he said. "The stages were so fast that you have to be really confident in both the pace notes and the car to be able to attack them properly. We were at 100 per cent all day, without taking any chances, and we'll do the same again tomorrow."
Sainz was also content with the day. "I've had a good battle with Solberg today and the key to tomorrow will be keeping him behind us. It will be difficult to catch Colin because the gap is quite large but I'll push hard and see what happens. I've been happy with the car's settings and although tomorrow's roads are much narrower I'll stay with the same set-up," he said.
"We can't match the speed of the leading two drivers, their pace is quite unbelievable. But if Colin and I can finish third and fourth behind them it would be good points for Ford," added Sainz.
Märtin made steady progress throughout the day, cheered on by a large contingent of fans from Estonia who made the short journey across the Baltic Sea. His only trouble came on the 40.84km Moksi-Leustu, the longest stage of the rally, when the anti-deflation system broke in his Focus' front right tyre. "There were some very fast sections in the stage and the vibration was so bad it was hard to focus clearly at times," said 26-year-old Märtin.
"Today was a lot better than yesterday. We had a few difficulties with grip on the loose gravel and the final stage was very dusty for the last 15kms. At these speeds you have to be extra careful not to miss junctions in those conditions," he said.
Finns Janne Tuohino and Petri Vihavainen spent much of the day on the leaderboard in their privately-entered Focus RS but ended the leg in 11th. The crew showed their mechanical skills as well as their driving ability before the opening stage. Mechanics fitted a replacement gear shift activator in record time but were unable to finish the change completely in the time allowed. However, Tuohino stopped on the following liaison section and put the final touches to the complicated task himself.
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Peugeot have again dominated the leg, setting fastest time on every stage, but their control has not been without problems. Richard Burns lost 1min 30sec and the lead on the second stage after a heavy landing over a jump damaged his car's turbo. Then team-mate and new leader Harri Rovanperä retired after the next stage with broken suspension following a right front puncture near the start of what was the longest test of the rally. That left world championship leader Marcus Grönholm with a comfortable overnight lead of 1min 34.3sec over Burns. Petter Solberg (Subaru) dropped to sixth behind McRae and Sainz after two poor tyre choices and a spin on the final stage while team-mate Tommi Mäkinen, lying seventh, also spun on the same test. Alister McRae's (Mitsubishi) bad luck continued when leaking fluid from a rear damper sparked a fire on the final stage. He was able to extinguish the flames and fit a new wheel but the 20 minutes lost in the incident sent him plunging to 29th. Today's only other major retirement was Juha Kankkunen (Hyundai) who rolled on the opening stage.
The final leg runs west of Jyväskylä and comprises two loops of three stages, including a new test of which just a short section has previously been used in competition. After starting at 07.20, drivers face another 94.36km of stages before the finish at 15.46.