Gardemeister prospers on dramatic day in French Alps BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen ended today's second leg of the Monte Carlo Rally in a podium position after a day of attrition in the mountains of...
Gardemeister prospers on dramatic day in French Alps
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen ended today's second leg of the Monte Carlo Rally in a podium position after a day of attrition in the mountains of southern France. Their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car lies third, and is closing on second-placed Marcus Gronholm, with one leg remaining on this first round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Team-mates Roman Kresta and Jan Tomanek also enjoyed a successful day in the team's other Focus RS, until they struck problems late this evening. The Czech duo climbed from 10th to seventh as the demanding asphalt roads in the mountains above the Côte d'Azur took a heavy toll on many of the leading drivers. However, a seized gearbox on the liaison section back to Monaco brought their Focus RS to a halt. It will be repaired so that they can continue tomorrow, but the five minute penalty incurred dropped them to 10th.
A cool, but clear morning gave way to another glorious day. Temperatures climbed steadily and this year's rally will go down in the history books as one of the driest and warmest on record. Spectators basked in shirt sleeves in the mountains but the temperatures also fluctuated wildly. At the start of the Pont des Miolans - Les Sausses test it was just -2C, but just 8km later the thermometer had risen to +11C!
Earlier accidents forced delays of almost an hour and this evening's final two tests were run in darkness, adding an extra challenge to what was already a tough day.
Gardemeister, lying fifth last night, climbed to fourth on the opening stage and third on the next. He then set about hunting down fellow Finn Gronholm, slashing an overnight gap of 28.8sec to just 13.6sec this evening. The 29-year-old posted three third fastest times over the day's five special stages covering 128.48km (one stage was neutralised after an accident). He varied his choice of Michelin's dry weather tyres from soft compound in the cool morning, to hard in the higher midday temperatures and back to medium compound as darkness fell.
"I could have driven faster this morning but I kept a good speed and stayed safe," said Gardemeister, who is making his debut with the BP-Ford team. "I've tried not to think about the battles with Gronholm in front and Solberg behind, preferring to drive at my own pace. My confidence has been good but I just don't know the limits yet. Sometimes I've been at maximum speed, but not everywhere, and I need to learn a lot more before I can drive flat out everywhere.
"It has been a good day and I'm becoming more comfortable with the car all the time. I'm learning from my mistakes and the car feels easy to drive. Tomorrow I'll try hard to keep Solberg behind me but it will not be easy. He has a lot more experience of his car than I do of mine," he added.
Kresta climbed the order steadily during the day, but encountered troubles in the darkness of the final stage. The 28-year-old hit a rock, breaking the front left suspension on his Focus RS. He completed the test without losing much time but the damage was such that he had to undertake repairs before starting the 97km journey back to the Monaco service park.
While engineers relayed advice via the team radio, Kresta and Tomanek removed the driveshaft themselves, before replacing the wheel and heading back to Monaco. However, they stopped on the motorway about 20km from service with a seized gearbox. Team director Malcolm Wilson said it was thought the driveshaft, which was flailing after the impact in the stage, had damaged an oil pipe in the gearbox, causing the transmission to seize.
"Everything felt much better this morning," said Kresta, who is being cheered on by a large number of fans who have made the journey from the Czech Republic to support him. "I felt much happier than yesterday and had more confidence. The roads were quite slippery in places. There were constant changes in surface from wet and slippery sections to dry and abrasive asphalt, and that was the most difficult part.
"I'm disappointed to have stopped this evening but unfortunately there was no way we could get back to Monaco. But even with a five minute penalty, I am still 10th. I'm sure the team can replace the gearbox and repair the suspension tonight so everything should be OK to continue in the morning," he added.
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Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) again dominated, stretching his lead to 1min 54.7sec. However, second-placed team-mate Francois Duval crashed into a telegraph pole near the end of stage 6. Co-driver Stephane Prevot was taken to hospital but released with bruising to his leg. Their demise left an untroubled Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) in second. Behind Gardemeister, Petter Solberg (Subaru) is chasing hard. The Norwegian is only 9.2sec behind, yesterday's braking difficulties now solved. Gilles Panizzi (Mitsubishi) abandoned his car's new paddle-operated gearchange on the steering wheel in favour of the traditional gearlever. It seemed to work as the Frenchman climbed to sixth, setting one fastest time. Private entrant Didier Auriol retired from seventh with engine problems while Stephane Sarrazin (Subaru) understeered into a barrier 1km from the end of stage six and broke a steering arm. He was sidelined but, under new regulations, will return tomorrow with a time penalty added to his total for each stage missed. Armin Schwarz (Skoda) rolled out on stage seven, the German taken to hospital with bruising to his left shoulder. Team-mate Alex Bengue was impressive, winning two stages before breaking a wheel on the final test. He could not make repairs and had to stop. Like Sarrazin, he will restart tomorrow with a time penalty.
The final leg is based in the mountains immediately to the north of Monaco and comprises two identical loops of three stages. The first two stages of each loop are essentially today's opening stage split into two, with a short liaison section in the middle. The third features the classic Col de Turini, where spectators will gather in enormous numbers to watch competitors cross the top of the mountain before the downhill swoop towards Moulinet. After leaving Monaco at 06.52, drivers face 116.08km of competition before the finish back in the Principality at 14.13.