Portugal Ford Team Notes - Leg Two

Ford World Rally team drivers Juha Kankkunen and Ari Vatanen experienced contrasting fortunes during today's demanding second leg of the Rally of Portugal, a tough day which took its toll on several leading competitors. But while many...

Ford World Rally team drivers Juha Kankkunen and Ari Vatanen experienced contrasting fortunes during today's demanding second leg of the Rally of Portugal, a tough day which took its toll on several leading competitors. But while many fell by the wayside over the difficult gravel special stages, both Escort World Rally Car drivers will begin the final leg tomorrow with a good opportunity of adding to their World Championship points tally. Ari Vatanen and co-driver Fred Gallagher enjoyed a superb day in their Valvoline-backed Escort. After restarting this morning in ninth position, 45-year-old Vatanen used all his considerable experience to storm up the leaderboard, returning to Porto this evening in a superb fifth position. Vatanen, replacing the injured Bruno Thiry for this fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, grew in confidence as the day went on and clearly stated his intentions by posting second fastest time on the third stage this morning. "I've stepped up my pace today, especially during the morning, but without ever taking any risks because it's important for myself and the team that I finish this event," he said. "I've been able to move up the leaderboard and that's been down to a combination of my growing confidence in the Escort, especially in the way it handles on true gravel stages, and increasing my pace. You can't really separate those reasons. Tomorrow I have only one aim - to keep ahead of Piero Liatti. The difference between us tonight is just 7.2 seconds so I think we'll have a great battle." Team-mates Juha Kankkunen and Juha Repo, lying second overnight, attacked hard through the morning stages to close the gap on leader Colin McRae from 44.2 seconds to 35.5 seconds. Their Escort also withstood a strong surge from a trio of cars behind, despite having the worst of the conditions as the roads were liberally covered with a coating of loose gravel. But mechanical difficulties forced the Finnish pairing to complete the day's final four stages with their Escort in only rear-wheel drive and the time loss dropped them to seventh position. Kankkunen was unaware of any difficulties as he arrived at a service park in the town of Arganil but eagle-eyed Ford World Rally team mechanics discovered the Escort's sump guard was covered in oil and quickly traced it to a broken pinion shaft in the front differential. Rally rules only allow teams to change a differential at the end of a leg but without immediate action it would have seized within the next few kilometres, bringing instant retirement for Kankkunen. So the team removed the front driveshafts and propshaft and locked the centre differential to keep the Escort in rear-wheel drive only. Kankkunen then nursed the car through the day's final four stages, covering nearly 45km, losing almost four minutes and slipping to seventh, 64.6 seconds behind sixth-placed Piero Liatti. Team mechanics carried out a complete transmission change at the final service park this evening, replacing the front differential, gearbox, front and rear driveshafts and propshaft to restore the Escort to full health for the final leg. "It was very disappointing after we had tried so hard to close the gap on McRae but we must look on the optimistic side," said Kankkunen. "If the shaft had broken at the beginning of the next stage we would have been out of the rally. Now we still have a chance to move into the top six and score points. It won't be easy to close a gap of that size but there are eight more stages tomorrow and we will drive flat out from the very first kilometre and see what we can do." Despite his disappointment, Kankkunen had not lost his sense of humour. "Driving an Escort with only rear-wheel drive reminded me of my first rallies in Finland when I competed in a Mk2 Escort. It was just like the old days - lots of sideways power slides with the car hardly ever pointing in the direction in which we were travelling. Great fun!" Ford World Rally team director Malcolm Wilson praised the resilience of Kankkunen in a difficult situation. "I felt so sorry for him because his performance has been fantastic. He just accepted that he would only have two-wheel drive and drove with great patience through the remaining stages when the temptation was there to drive too quickly and risk causing further damage. That's the mark of a great professional. If Juha had attempted another stage with the car in four-wheel drive, it would have lasted no more than 5km before the transmission smashed itself to pieces." Tomorrow's third and final leg is the shortest or the event. After leaving Porto at 06.45, drivers face eight more stages totalling 100.58km before returning to the city for the finish at 17.00. The route takes competitors north-east of Porto and they repeat four of the stages tackled during Monday's opening leg. Leaderboard after Leg 2 1 C McRae/N Grist GB Subaru Impreza 3hr 11min 26.2sec 2 F Loix/S Smeets B Toyota Corolla 3hr 11min 37.5sec 3 C Sainz/L Moya E Toyota Corolla 3hr 11min 54.0sec 4 R Burns/R Reid GB Mitsubishi Carisma 3hr l2min 01.2sec 5 A Vatanen/F Gallagher FIN Ford Escort 3hr l3min 55.8sec 6 P Liatti/F Pons I Subaru Impreza 3hr l4min 03.0sec 7 J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Ford Escort 3hr 15min 07.Ssec 8 G de Mevius/J-M Fortin B Subaru Impreza 3hr 15min 51.6sec 9 R Madeira/N Da Silva P Toyota Celica 3hr l0min 04.7sec 10 K Holowczyc/M Wislawski PL Subaru Impreza 3hr l9min 37.5sec

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Series WRC
Drivers Colin McRae , Juha Kankkunen , Ari Vatanen , Piero Liatti , Juha Repo , Malcolm Wilson