Duval heads twin Ford attack on podium in Monte Carlo Two Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars lie in the top three of the Monte Carlo Rally after a shortened, but no less dramatic, second leg in the French Alps today. Belgian duo FranÃ§ois Duval and...
Duval heads twin Ford attack on podium in Monte Carlo
Two Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars lie in the top three of the Monte Carlo Rally after a shortened, but no less dramatic, second leg in the French Alps today. Belgian duo François Duval and Stéphane Prévot hold second after a superb attack over the unpredictable, narrow and twisty mountain roads while Ford BP Rallye Sport team-mates Markko Märtin and Michael Park lie third with just one day remaining of this opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
The second leg was concentrated in the mountain region just to the north of Monaco and Grasse and conditions were less treacherous than those roads further north yesterday. However, while there was less snow and ice and more clean asphalt, slush and fog made driving equally demanding. The improved road conditions made tyre selection slightly easier and Michelin's cold weather slick rubber was the common choice of rubber for the Ford BP pairing.
Five speed tests covering 140.79km were scheduled but the opening special stage was halted after an accident partially blocked the route and the penultimate test was cancelled on safety grounds. Three stages have now been lost in the opening two days.
Duval attacked hard on the first loop of two tests above Grasse, the 23-year-old second fastest on both to climb from an overnight fifth to second. He maintained his speed during the one stage held this afternoon to return to Monaco 1min 28.7sec behind leader Sebastian Loeb. The halting of the opening test proved a blessing in disguise for Duval as his choice of snow tyres with studs on the inside proved a bad one, and had the stage run to its full duration, he would have lost a lot of time.
"Luck was on our side there," said Duval. "We were also lucky when we spun near the finish of stage nine. The road was slushy and we spun and stalled the engine. I think we lost about 25 sec. I enjoy driving in difficult conditions and made no mistakes, apart from that spin. Now it's necessary to do the same tomorrow. The car has been perfect and I've really enjoyed the day."
Co-driver Prévot praised Duval's efforts to improve his pace note system. "I knew from the recce that he had made a big improvement with his notes. It's a big step forward from 2003," he said.
Märtin, lying second overnight, dropped to fourth on the opening group of tests. A combination of thick fog on the first of the group and a narrow escape left his confidence in a fragile state for the rest of the stage and he dropped almost 45sec. "I hit some ice and we so nearly went off the road. It really jolted me because I didn't know whether the same would happen again later in the stage. I left service with the car set up for dry conditions but when we got into the mountains, it was wet, damp and foggy. I couldn't use the set up I had chosen and the fog was so bad it was hard to pick out the corners," said Märtin, who also spun at the same point as Duval, clipping a wall and flattening his car's exhaust.
Despite his troubles, Märtin moved up to third in his Castrol-backed Focus RS and stayed there during the final stage, returning to the rally base in Monaco just 13.0sec behind Duval. "We hit a rock face at the same point as Carlos Sainz had done earlier in the day. The car scraped along the cliff but fortunately it didn't pull a wheel off like Carlos. We had a few lucky escapes but we're still here and it's been a good day for Ford. My car has worked well but I need to make sure the driver does the same tomorrow," he added.
Ford BP team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted with the way the day went for Duval. "He's had a superb day in extremely tough conditions. We've seen the rewards of all the hard work that he and Stéphane have done in perfecting their pace note system in recent months. I'm a little disappointed for Markko. He had a big scare and it affected his confidence for the rest of the stage. But second and third is a great position to be in. We are too far behind the leader to win the rally unless he has problems so our tactics tomorrow will be to hold onto what we have," said Wilson.
News from our Rivals
Overnight leader Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) was fastest on all three stages today to extend his advantage to 1min 28.7sec. Behind the battling Ford duo, the top six was rounded off by Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot), Petter Solberg (Subaru) and Freddy Loix (Peugeot) but that leaderboard hides all kinds of dramas. The first pass through the 28.39km Sigale - Col de Bleine proved a decisive point in the event. Grönholm spun on the slush near the top of the col at the same point as Duval and Märtin and dropped 45 sec to slide to fourth. Fifth-placed Carlos Sainz (Citroen) crashed lower down the climb, ripping off a front wheel and sending him into retirement. Mikko Hirvonen (Subaru), lying eighth, hit a wall and broke the front suspension and the final casualty was ninth-placed Roman Kresta who stopped with a broken gearbox. Such is the rate of attrition that only 22 of the original 43 starters remain.
FIA Junior World Rally Championship
The sole-surviving Ford Puma in the JWRC category, that of Finland's Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila, completed the leg without a repeat of yesterday's drama and lies 10th in the junior championship standings. The Astra Racing pair were sixth fastest on the first stage this morning. They spent the day gaining further valuable experience of two-wheel drive machinery, the 18-year-old driver having spent most of his fledgling career to date in four-wheel drive cars.
The final leg is again based around a central service park next to the swimming pool complex on Monaco's Grand Prix circuit. After leaving Monaco at 07.30, drivers face two loops of two stages before returning to the Principality for the finish at the palace at 14.30. The first test of each loop contains the mythical Col de Turini, one of the most celebrated landmarks in the entire championship. Thousands of fans, many of whom will camp out overnight, will generate a noisy and colourful atmosphere at the top of the col as the cars begin their descent towards the stage finish. Drivers face 104.40km of competition in total.