Ford trio climbs leaderboard on Rally Argentina. Ford Rallye Sport's fortunes improved during today's second leg of the Rally Argentina and the team has three Focus RS cars in the top seven places with just the final leg remaining of this sixth...
Ford trio climbs leaderboard on Rally Argentina.
Ford Rallye Sport's fortunes improved during today's second leg of the Rally Argentina and the team has three Focus RS cars in the top seven places with just the final leg remaining of this sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya remain fifth after a fierce battle for fourth during the afternoon, Colin McRae and Nicky Grist posted two fastest times to climb to sixth and Markko Märtin and Michael Park are just behind in seventh.
Today was a carbon copy of the opening leg, re-visiting stages in the Punilla Valley and the Sierra Chicas mountains north of Villa Carlos Paz. The sandy roads cut up during yesterday's leg but drivers reported the nine tests, covering 153.79km, to be in better condition than expected. The fog and dust which created so many hazards yesterday were absent and the weather was cool, overcast and damp in places.
Sainz hardened his car's springs and anti-roll bar this morning but quickly reverted to the softer option. The 40-year-old Madrid driver closed in on fourth-placed Petter Solberg and the pair traded times in the afternoon before finishing just 8.9sec apart.
"Today has been quite a good day and we'll fight for fourth place as hard as we can," said Sainz. "I'm happy with the feeling of the Focus and there's no changes planned to the car tonight. I hope we have a good fight with Petter and I'm really looking forward to it - it's the veteran against the youngster.
"The roads tomorrow will be much rockier. The first two stages at El Condor and Giulio Cesare are both difficult, especially the second one, and if cars are going to have problems it will be there. It's very, very rough. El Condor is shorter but there are lots of loose stones waiting to catch us out," he added.
McRae enjoyed a much better day, the 33-year-old Scot quickly climbing into a points position and going on to claim two stage victories, one at the spectacular Pro-Racing superspecial and the other on the twisty downhill 9.37km La Falda to Villa Giordano.
"It's been totally different today," said McRae. "There's been no spins, no dust and no fog and I feel much happier. The time we lost yesterday means there's not a lot I can do apart from keep driving at the same pace and see what happens ahead. Tomorrow's stages can be quite tricky, not really the sort of roads on which you want to attack, so we'll see if the various battles ahead cause problems for anyone."
Märtin, competing for the first time in Argentina, climbed the leaderboard behind McRae. His car lost the rear brakes after a broken wheel rim damaged the caliper but Märtin bled them himself to restore stopping power. He also escaped unscathed from a lurid two-wheel incident just 1km from the finish of the La Falda test.
However, his major problem came 3km into the penultimate stage when spectators launched a rock at his car during a fast section where speeds approached 120kph. It shattered the windscreen, leaving 26-year-old Märtin and co-driver Park shaken.
"It was crazy and dangerous," said Märtin. "What is the point of it? It spoiled what had been a good day for us and for the rest of that stage and the last pieces of glass were spraying into the car. That was quite a dramatic test because we also stalled the engine at a hairpin and hit a big rock near the end. Apart from that incident, I feel happy with the way today has gone and I'm looking forward to learning about the rocky stages tomorrow."
Ford Rallye Sport team director Malcolm Wilson reflected on an improved day for the team. "It's been better for everyone. The cars have run well and today has shown the strength of the Focus. Carlos is ready for a good fight with Petter but after yesterday's time loss there's no way that Colin can move higher unless someone ahead hits trouble," he said.
News from our Rivals
Overnight leader Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) dropped 90 seconds with hydraulic problems on the first two tests to fall into the clutches of Tommi Mäkinen (Subaru). Mäkinen posted four fastest times to Grönholm's one to move ahead on the penultimate stage and he leads by just 0.5sec tonight. Team-mate Petter Solberg's stomach ache eased but his pains increased when his car landed after a jump at the superspecial, stopped and the gearbox automatically selected reverse gear. He lost 15 seconds before finding a solution. Skoda has two cars in the top 10, although Toni Gardemeister dropped time after stalling his engine at the start of the superspecial. Alister McRae (Mitsubishi) lies 11th after losing 2min 30sec this morning when a clip came off the turbo pipe, leaving him with no boost. Today's major retirements have included Harri Rovanperä and Gilles Panizzi (both Peugeot) who stopped with engine and engine cooling problems respectively while Freddy Loix (Hyundai) went out after the opening stage with throttle sensor troubles.
The final leg is the toughest of the rally and includes two of the most demanding, and famous, stages in the championship. The dramatic landscape of the arid Traslasierra mountains hosts the last four tests. The roads are rough and rocky and the opening El Condor and Giulio Cesare stages will prove a fearsome challenge for tired machinery. After leaving Villa Carlos Paz at 06.00, drivers tackle 73.87km of competition before the finish in Cordoba's international soccer stadium at 15.33.
<pre> Leaderboard after Leg 2 1. T Mäkinen/K Lindström FIN Subaru Impreza 3hr 15min 01.5sec 2. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 3hr 15min 02.0sec 3. R Burns/R Reid GB Peugeot 206 3hr 15min 36.2sec 4. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 3hr 16min 44.5sec 5. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus RS 3hr 16min 53.4sec 6. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus RS 3hr 18min 32.6sec 7. M Märtin/M Park EE Ford Focus RS 3hr 19min 02.3sec 8. T Gardemeister/P Lukander FIN Skoda Octavia 3hr 20min 40.4sec 9. K Eriksson/T Thörner S Skoda Octavia 3hr 21min 36.9sec 10 J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Hyundai Accent 3hr 23min 58.8sec