Fighting spirit keeps Ford duo in podium chase Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya and Ford Rallye Sport team-mates Colin McRae and Nicky Grist remained in the midst of the battle for a top three position after an intriguing second leg of the Monte Carlo...
Fighting spirit keeps Ford duo in podium chase
Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya and Ford Rallye Sport team-mates Colin McRae and Nicky Grist remained in the midst of the battle for a top three position after an intriguing second leg of the Monte Carlo Rally today. The Spanish duo lie third in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car with their British colleagues fifth after a demanding day on the narrow asphalt roads in the French Alps.
Clear blue skies and bright sunshine meant there was no snow to worry competitors but icy patches lingered in the shaded areas. In the main, though, dry sections alternated with damp parts and tyre choice, always the most difficult aspect of this opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship, rested between slightly different versions of Pirelli's soft dry weather rubber.
Sainz and Moya blamed a poor tyre choice for sliding off the road on the morning's second stage. "About 8km from the end the car slid wide on a slippery right-hand bend which was covered with gravel," said Sainz. "The back hit a bank and pulled the front in as well." Although the incident punctured both left tyres on his Focus, Pirelli's anti-deflation system kept them inflated and the time loss was no more than 20sec.
Madrid-based Sainz fought back as a string of consistent times enabled him to close on both McRae and Marcus Grönholm and he leap-frogged both on the final test, run in darkness, plunging temperatures and in front of huge crowds on the famous Col de Turini. He lies 4.5sec ahead of Grönholm and 35.5sec in front of McRae.
"I'm happy with the car's set-up but we'll check the conditions and may change things in the morning if the weather alters. It was quite slippery tonight but in comparison with other Monte Carlo rallies it's really been nothing to worry about," added Sainz.
After slipping behind Grönholm during the morning stages, 33-year-old McRae retaliated during the two loops of two tests this afternoon. Despite a spin and a 10sec penalty incurred when a gearbox replacement took longer than expected, he overhauled Grönholm before a last stage problem dropped him to fifth.
"The engine lost power near the top of the Col de Turini, just a couple of kilometres from where I retired last year," explained McRae. "Then it went onto three cylinders and I eased off because I didn't know what the damage was and I wanted to make sure we reached the end of the stage. We lost about 45sec. I was happy with third but now I have a little more work to do tomorrow." The team changed the spark plugs and coils and the engine fired up perfectly after this evening's short service.
Ford Rallye Sport team-mates Markko Martin and Michael Park have grown in confidence on their debut in a Focus RS. They lie 12th, the 26-year-old Estonian driver posting top 10 times as he came to terms with both the car and the stages, on which he is competing for the first time.
"I've felt more at ease with the car today," he said. "It felt safer on the softest compound tyres but I had to throw it around to make it handle as I wanted. I've tried adjusting many things but I think perhaps the thing I have to adjust is myself. It's very easy to make a mistake but I'm driving cautiously because I want to finish."
News from our Rivals
Surprise of the rally Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) retained his overnight lead although he came under fierce attack this afternoon from Tommi Mäkinen (Subaru) chasing his fourth consecutive Monte Carlo win. Mäkinen set three fastest times as he reduced the deficit to the Frenchman, winner of two stages, to 28.2sec. Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) benefited from McRae's problems to hold fourth but team-mate Richard Burns was unable to fend off a charging Petter Solberg (Subaru) for sixth. Solberg's hopes received a setback earlier when he slid into a rock face at the same point as Sainz, breaking the power steering and damaging the bodywork. He lost about 90sec. Alister McRae (Mitsubishi) hit a wall at the top of the Col de Turini on the final stage and lost more than three minutes, dropping to 14th. Retirements included Roman Kresta (Skoda) who crashed into a wall and Harri Rovanperä (Peugeot) whose car stopped with a broken steering rod. Both went out on the second stage. Freddy Loix (Hyundai) underwent surgery today on a small fracture in his left foot after yesterday's accident. A decision will be taken next week on his fitness for the Swedish Rally.
Junior World Championship
Belgian Francois Duval led the Junior World Championship category in his Ford Puma as three Pumas featured in the top six points-scoring positions. Lying second, Duval was the only driver capable of challenging leader Gianluigi Galli and when the Italian went off on the penultimate stage tonight, Duval took a near-five minute lead. Lebanon's Roger Feghali continues to impress in third with Swede Daniel Carlsson fourth and Norwegian Alexander Foss trying hard to break into the points in seventh. Briton Martin Rowe is the only Puma retirement, stopping before the penultimate stage with an alternator problem.
The final leg comprises two loops of two stages, both virtually identical to this afternoon's tests but used in the opposite direction. The first on each loop includes the climb to the Col de Turini, used in the traditional way from Moulinet. The four stages cover 98.80km and after leaving Monaco at 07.33, the drivers return for the finish at 15.02.
Leaderboard after Leg 2
1. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen Xsara 2hr 49min 19.5sec
2. T Mäkinen/K Lindström FIN Subaru Impreza 2hr 49min 47.7sec
3. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus RS 2hr 51min 36.4sec
4. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 2hr 51min 40.9sec
5. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus RS 2hr 52min 11.9sec
6. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 2hr 52min 56.6sec
7. R Burns/R Reid GB Peugeot 206 2hr 53min 18.5sec
8. G Panizzi/H Panizzi F Peugeot 206 2hr 53min 46.0sec
9. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Mitsubishi Lancer 2hr 54min 09.5sec
10. T Gardemeister/P Lukander FIN Skoda Octavia 2hr 55min 09.4sec