MÃ¤rtin fights illness to climb Monte Carlo Rally leaderboard. Ford Rallye Sport team leader Markko MÃ¤rtin shrugged off the effects of illness to end today's shortened second leg of the Monte Carlo Rally in fourth place. The 27-year-old...
M?rtin fights illness to climb Monte Carlo Rally leaderboard.
Ford Rallye Sport team leader Markko M?rtin shrugged off the effects of illness to end today's shortened second leg of the Monte Carlo Rally in fourth place. The 27-year-old Estonian was left listless and lacking energy after spending most of the previous night awake with severe stomach pains. Despite struggling to summon the strength to attack over the demanding mountain roads in the French Alps, M?rtin and co-driver Michael Park set superb times through the tough speed tests in their Focus RS World Rally Car to lead the challenge against French manufacturer Citroen at the top of the leaderboard.
Team-mates Fran?ois Duval and Jean-Marc Fortin also made good progress to climb to eighth in their Focus RS, ensuring that both pairings held points-scoring positions in both the drivers' and manufacturers' championships. The third Focus RS of Finns Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen retired when their Ford debut ended with an accident on the penultimate special stage.
After yesterday's monster day the second leg comprised just two loops of two stages in the mountains north of Grasse. The winding mountain roads were drier than yesterday, although there were still ice patches and areas of snow lurking on exposed north facing roads to catch out competitors. The opening stage was cancelled for safety reasons due to the huge number of spectators lining the roads and when an accident forced the closure of the motorway near Nice and prevented the Junior World Championship drivers reaching the final two tests, their day was reduced from four stages to one.
M?rtin began the leg in sixth, but looking very pale. "I didn't get much sleep last night, if any," he said. "I have a bad stomach and no energy. I could have pushed harder in the stages but I just didn't have the strength to do so. I feel better now than I did this morning when I thought I was going to be sick in the car at one point. Now I just want to go straight to bed."
Despite his illness, M?rtin was third fastest on two stages and fourth on the other. "Considering the problems, I'm quite happy with today," he said. "Two of the stages were quite dry but the other had quite a bit of snow on it which made driving very tricky. We slid off the road a couple of times, hit some snowbanks and spun once. I've never had to drive a stage like that before."
Duval climbed from 10th to eighth on the opening stage but slipped back again when he stalled the engine of his Focus several times on the penultimate test. However, the 22-year-old Belgian fought back on the final stage to set sixth fastest time, his best performance of the rally, to regain eighth.
"It was virtually impossible to drive on that first stage this afternoon," he said. "There were several quite difficult sections with a lot of snow in the braking areas and I stalled the car three times. Driving in these conditions is new to me but we're in a points position so I'm happy with that. Roman Kresta is only 20sec in front so it may be possible to catch him tomorrow."
Hirvonen retained his overnight 13th until the 22-year-old rolled soon after the start of the penultimate stage. "I made one small mistake but that's all you need here. We weren't even pushing hard when the accident happened. We had just gone over the top of the mountain, about 5km after the start, and were going down the hairpins. Some were dry, others snowy and icy. We entered a right bend too fast and the car went off the road and ended up resting against two tress about 15 metres from the track," he said.
Ford Rallye Sport team director Malcolm Wilson described M?rtin's performance as 'fantastic'. "His confidence has grown as the rally has progressed. I thought he was capable of finishing in that kind of position but didn't think he would put in this kind of performance. Fran?ois has moved up and that puts the team in a good position from a points perspective. I'm very disappointed for Mikko. He had driven a flawless rally but the other drivers have confirmed that it was a difficult part of the stage where he went off," said Wilson.
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Overnight leader Marcus Gr?nholm (Peugeot) saw his advantage reduced by Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) to under 13sec before the reigning world champion went off the road on the penultimate stage and hit a rock. The crew changed a steering rod in the stage but dropped more than 30 minutes, plunging to 15th. Loeb, fastest on two stages, ended the leg with a lead of 1min 07.9sec over new team-mate Colin McRae with Carlos Sainz completing a clean sweep of the top three for the French manufacturer. It was a bad day for Peugeot as Richard Burns lost ground with a bad tyre selection for the afternoon stages and Gilles Panizzi retired after the opening test through illness. The stage which jinxed Gr?nholm and Hirvonen also claimed Freddy Loix (Hyundai), the Belgian also crashing out.
The final leg covers traditional territory. Two laps of two classic stages in the mountains above Monte Carlo are scheduled, the first taking in the fabled Col de Turini, where huge crowds will gather at the summit at one of the most famous viewing points in the championship. Competitors will depart Monaco at 08.00 and return to the Principality at 15.00 after 104.20km in a route of 269.16km.