Hirvonen closes on second place for Ford in French mountains BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team ended the second day of Rallye Monte Carlo with both cars in points positions after tough competition in France's ArdÃ¨che mountains. Mikko Hirvonen...
Hirvonen closes on second place for Ford in French mountains
BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team ended the second day of Rallye Monte Carlo with both cars in points positions after tough competition in France's Ardèche mountains. Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen remain third in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car but the Finns have closed in on second place. Team-mates and fellow countrymen Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila recovered strongly to climb to ninth in another Focus RS after last night's time loss.
After yesterday's tough opening in ice, snow and darkness, today was much kinder to competitors. Higher temperatures removed any threat of ice and snow in the mountains south-west of the rally base in Valence and daylight offered easier conditions. Drivers tackled two identical loops of three speed tests, covering 116.96km in the region where the rally originally built its legendary reputation.
Hirvonen was third quickest on each special stage of this morning's opening loop to pull away from fourth-placed Chris Atkinson. This afternoon the 27-year-old was second fastest on two of the three tests to reduce the gap to second-placed Dani Sordo from 41.2sec to 26.2sec.
"I've not settled for third because second is possible and I will be close to full attack tomorrow," he said. "I was faster this afternoon and last year I was quick on tomorrow's stages, which are quite abrasive, so I will try my hardest. It won't be easy but I'm not giving up because there are still two days remaining in this rally.
"I'm still trying to learn Pirelli's tyres and that's not easy in these conditions. I thought the new tyre rules (which essentially restrict drivers to control rubber) would make the competition tighter and I'm closer to the leader than I was in 2007. I'm developing a better feeling with them and learning as I go on," he added.
Latvala set about regaining the time lost last night when he stopped to change a wheel on his Focus RS after clipping a wall. He restarted in 18th and climbed to 15th this morning, despite being unhappy with his driving. He maintained his upward charge and claimed ninth on this evening's final stage.
"I couldn't find any confidence driving with the new tyres," said the 22-year-old. "The car was fine and I only needed to look in the mirror to find the problem -- me! The car was too soft and rolling a little so I stiffened the settings for this afternoon to make it more stable. That made a big difference. My driving was better but I'm still not at the pace I want to be. I'm driving sideways too much and that's where I'm losing the time. I need to drive more smoothly tomorrow. I've made small changes to the differential set-up tonight to see if that helps."
Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr climbed to 10th this morning in a third Focus RS but they retired on the opening stage this afternoon after hitting a bank on the final corner and breaking the suspension. "I was chasing ninth position and doing well in the stage but on the final bend there was a lot of loose gravel on the road. The car broke away from me and I hit a rock by the side of the road, which broke the front left suspension. It was disappointing but that's a risk of pushing hard," said Al Qassimi. It is not yet known whether he will restart tomorrow under SupeRally rules.
BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson said the Focus RS cars had run faultlessly all day. "It was a much better day for Mikko and he has reduced the gap to Dani Sordo in second. I'm pleased Jari-Matti is in the points and if he continues at the same pace, I'm sure he can climb higher. It's disappointing for Khalid because this was his best performance on a WRC event," said Wilson.
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Overnight leader Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) won five of the six stages to extend his lead to 56.6sec over team-mate Dani Sordo, who fell back this afternoon after a broken front differential left him with two-wheel drive only. Behind Hirvonen, Chris Atkinson (Subaru) and Francois Duval (Ford) battled hard for fourth, the Australian eventually pulling out a 14sec advantage. Petter Solberg (Subaru) rounded off the top six, despite an engine problem on this afternoon's opening stage and stalling at the start of the next test. Gigi Galli (Ford) retained seventh despite losing a minute with a power steering problem on the final stage. Per-Gunnar Andersson (Suzuki) incurred a 40sec time penalty leaving service this morning after a gearshift problem. He drove the morning loop using the manual gearshift system but set good times this afternoon to climb to 12th. Team-mate Toni Gardemeister (Suzuki) lost time all day after a mysterious problem left the Finn's car without full power.
Competitors return to the Ardèche again tomorrow, but this time the action is located north-west of Valence. After starting at 05.55, drivers face two identical loops of three stages with service in Valence dividing the laps. The six stages cover 132.78km, the longest day of the event. After the evening service in Valence, there is then a free transit section to take competitors on the 400km journey to Monaco in readiness for Sunday's final day of action.