Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot are bidding for a podium finish on the Rally Argentina after climbing to third during today's second leg. The Belgian duo took no risks behind the wheel of their Ford Focus RS World...
Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot are bidding for a podium finish on the Rally Argentina after climbing to third during today's second leg. The Belgian duo took no risks behind the wheel of their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, having learned from yesterday's 'day of madness' that a cautious policy could pay dividends on this demanding eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Following yesterday's retirement of team-mates Markko Martin and Michael Park, it is crucial that Duval and Prevot bring their Focus RS to the finish in the points. That, and the fact that much of today's competitive distance was new to the 23-year-old driver, encouraged him to adopt a safety-first policy in the hope of capitalising on the kind of troubles that hindered so many drivers on the opening leg.
The four morning speed tests in the Calamuchita Valley, south of the rally base of Villa Carlos Paz, were new to Duval. The rally returned to the sandy roads of the Punilla Valley during the afternoon and the leg ended with a third and final pass over the spectacular super special stages at the Pro-Racing complex. In all drivers tackled nine stages covering 129.39km.
Duval started the day in fourth. With large time gaps both in front and behind, he was under no pressure over the opening loop and consolidated his position. "I didn't take any risks, although I allowed myself to drive a little faster on the stage we repeated," he said. "I didn't have as much traction as I thought I would have in the twisty sections, but it was fine on the faster stretches. The first and last stages were OK but the other two were quite twisty and I had a bit of understeer. They were nice roads, with some good jumps but also extremely fast."
Duval remained error free during the afternoon tests and climbed into third this evening when rally leader Marcus Gronholm crashed. He has large time gaps both in front and behind. "The car felt too hard this afternoon and it was quite hard on my neck. But I've been happy with the Focus today and the afternoon stages were nice and flowing. The super special stages tonight were cut up but it wasn't a big problem.
"The last two tests tomorrow will be difficult. There are huge stones both on the inside and outside of bends so I must drive carefully. Stephane believes they are the most difficult stages in the whole championship. Third would be a good result for me but it's more important to score the points for the team," he added.
Ford BP team-mate Markko Martin returned to hospital in Cordoba this morning for further tests following yesterday's violent accident. The 28-year-old Estonian was requested to return by medical staff after suffering from double vision following the end-over-end roll. He is due to return again tomorrow for a final set of tests before returning to Europe.
"I have some problems with my eyes but I feel very lucky to be able to walk away from an accident like that," he said. "I knew when we were in the air over the jump that it was going to be bad but it was far worse than I expected. It was my mistake and one that came from the recce. It was a new stage and with only two passes over the road in practice, I did not pick up the rock that we landed on. My line was about half a metre wrong and that was costly. It was pretty clear that there would be no SupeRally this time!"
Ford BP team director Malcolm Wilson watched over routine service on Duval's car. "The plan was to be sensible and not take any risks because Francois could not catch any cars in front and could not be caught from behind unless he made a mistake. He has driven exactly as requested. The plan is the same tomorrow, but Francois must be careful on the final two stages. They are a real sting in the tail," he said.
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Overnight leader Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) and Carlos Sainz (Citroen) fought tooth and nail for supremacy today. Gronholm was fastest on three of the opening four stages to extend his lead to 16.4sec. However, he could not shake off Sainz. The Spaniard reduced the deficit to 12.9sec with two fastest times before Gronholm crashed out on stage 19.
Sainz ended the day with a 1min 36.2sec lead over team-mate Sebastien Loeb. The Frenchman's only problem came when he incurred a 20 second penalty after his mechanics had to repair a cracked alternator bracket. Behind Duval, Mikko Hirvonen (Subaru) recovered from yesterday's time loss to hold fourth, despite sliding off the road into a field on stage 15. Harri Rovanpera (Peugeot) enjoyed an untroubled day to climb to fifth ahead of Argentine private entrant Luis Perez Companc. Gilles Panizzi (Mitsubishi) recovered to eighth but team-mate Kristian Sohlberg retired from fifth on stage 19 with no drive. Petter Solberg (Subaru), who re-started under the SupeRally system after retiring yesterday, was withdrawn by his team after stage 14 with engine problems.
The final leg is the shortest of the rally. After leaving Villa Carlos Paz at 07.57, competitors repeat the three tests in the Punilla Valley used this afternoon. Then they head high into the Traslasierra mountains, among the lunar-like landscape, to tackle the famous Giulio Cesare and El Condor tests. Rocky and rough, these two stages will provide the toughest of endings for the surviving competitors. They tackle five stages comprising 84.96km of competition before the finish at Cordoba's soccer stadium.