Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot ended today's tough opening day of the Rally Argentina in fourth. The Belgians steered clear of serious problems in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car on a day when gravel tracks ...
Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot ended today's tough opening day of the Rally Argentina in fourth. The Belgians steered clear of serious problems in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car on a day when gravel tracks winding across the vast Argentine pampas sidelined more than a third of the entry. Team-mates Markko Martin and Michael Park escaped serious injury after a violent accident this morning which destroyed their Focus RS. Both were taken to hospital for precautionary tests after the 170kph, sixth gear accident in which their car rolled end over end.
This eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship began in front of massive crowds last night when the 69 starters tackled two speed tests at the Pro-Racing motorsport complex near the rally base of Villa Carlos Paz. Almost 30,000 fans flocked to watch the spectacular action in which two cars at a time raced side by side around the purpose-built gravel track. Martin ended the evening in second, after being fastest on the second pass over the special stage.
The rally began in earnest today with competitors facing two identical loops of four stages on sandy and dusty roads in the Punilla Valley, north of Villa Carlos Paz. A repeat of the two Pro-Racing tests ended the leg which comprised 12 stages and 168.28km of competition.
Duval and Prevot endured a difficult morning but ended the opening loop in sixth. "The car felt difficult to drive because the anti-lag system wasn't working properly under braking. We also went off the road at a right bend just 150m after the start of the opening stage. The car slid between two walls and we were lucky not to hit anything," explained 23-year-old Duval.
Despite bending his car's rear suspension link during the afternoon, Duval climbed to fourth as many of the top drivers encountered troubles. "After the suspension damage, the balance wasn't good, especially on the high speed sections where the car felt unstable. It's not been an enjoyable day for me but I'm in fourth place and that is a good position after the opening leg. The car hasn't felt perfect but I think we can solve that tonight and I'm looking forward to driving the car tomorrow when the handling should be better.
"I'm going to take it easy tomorrow. There are large time gaps in front and behind me and it's important to finish in the points for Ford so I won't take any risks. The morning stages are all new to me so that's another reason for being cautious and not brave," added Duval.
Martin and Park were lying second in their Castrol-branded Focus RS when they crashed 8km after the start of the fifth stage, the 16.76km Villa Giardino - La Falda. Their car rolled several times, coming to rest on its roof.
Martin was flown to hospital in Cosquin by air ambulance after complaining of blurred vision and feeling dizzy. He was then transferred to hospital in Cordoba where he underwent a scan and X-rays to his head, neck and chest. Doctors kept him under observation after Martin continued to suffer double vision before releasing him this evening. However, he must return for further tests at 09.00 tomorrow. Park, who has still not fully recovered from a viral infection earlier in the week, was badly shaken and bruised. He was flown by helicopter back to the rally base in Villa Carlos Paz. He was taken to the medical centre there and then onto hospital in Cordoba. He underwent X-rays to his head, neck and chest before being given the all-clear and released.
"The jump came at the end of a long straight," explained Park. "We took a slightly different line and on landing the car's differential guard hit a rock. The impact kicked the car into the air and it landed on its nose before rolling end over end down the road. The first impact took much of the speed out of the accident so the car didn't roll too many times. Markko's door was ripped open so we both climbed out that side and I went back down the road to warn following cars.
"It's the biggest accident I've had and I don't want another like it. The time and effort that has gone into constructing the safety cell around the cockpit on the Focus has been huge and I'm so thankful that's the case," he added. Data showed the accident happened at 170kph with an impact force of 10G.
Ford BP Rallye Sport team director Malcolm Wilson said: "The data shows this was a very violent accident indeed. The incident occurred on a fast part of the stage but thankfully the strength of the Ford Focus RS World Rally Car prevented serious injury to either Markko or Michael. It is too early to say how this will affect the team's plans for the next few weeks."
News from our Rivals
Petter Solberg (Subaru) led last night and extended his advantage this morning. But on stage five he entered a watersplash too quickly, buckling the bonnet and squashing his engine's air intake pipe. The incident cost 30 seconds and he slid to fourth. On stage nine the same watersplash brought him to a halt again, this time for more than seven minutes. Although Solberg completed the test, an engine fire stopped the car at the finish and he retired. Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) moved ahead after Solberg's initial problems but a charging Carlos Sainz (Citroen) took the lead on stage eight. The Finn fought back to regain top spot on the next stage and they ended the day just 8.4sec apart. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) suffered from an alternator problem during the opening loop but lies third. Amazingly Mikko Hirvonen (Subaru) stopped at the same watersplash as team-mate Solberg on both occasions. He lost 50sec in the morning, when water flooded into the engine through the air intake pipe, and almost five minutes this afternoon when the same happened. He is sixth. Harri Rovanpera (Peugeot) held fifth after the morning loop but a broken hydraulic pump in his car's axle cost almost nine minutes and he slipped to eighth. Gilles Panizzi (Mitsubishi) had to drive without fourth or fifth gears for most of the afternoon and that, combined with a broken turbo, cost almost 10 minutes. He is 16th.
The second leg is divided between the flowing stages in the Calamuchita Valley, south of Villa Carlos Paz, and a return to the sandy roads of the Punilla Valley where today was based. After re-starting at 06.17, drivers face four tests around Santa Rosa de Calamuchita before three more north of Villa Carlos Paz. The day ends with a third and final pair of tests at the Pro-Racing complex. Competitors return to Villa Carlos Paz at 20.23 after 129.39km of action.