Gronholm sets top pace for Ford on second day in Argentina BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen were fastest over today's second leg of Rally Argentina. The Finnish duo won four of the eight gravel speed tests in...
Gronholm sets top pace for Ford on second day in Argentina
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen were fastest over today's second leg of Rally Argentina. The Finnish duo won four of the eight gravel speed tests in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car as they recovered from yesterday's transmission troubles to climb to 10th and into a points-scoring position for BP-Ford.
Gronholm began the leg in 18th after a jammed central differential brought yesterday's opening leg to a premature end while leading this sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship. He incurred a 15-minute penalty for not finishing the final three special stages, but BP-Ford mechanics replaced the entire transmission package and Gronholm restarted today under SupeRally rules and carried on where he left off.
Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen were unable to restart after stopping yesterday afternoon with engine difficulties. "The internals of the engine were too badly damaged to allow Mikko to restart this morning," explained BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson. "We will need to strip the engine and analyse it, but after initial inspection it appears to be a valve problem."
Today's action was split into two distinct halves. This morning's four stages covered roads in the Punilla Valley, north of the rally base in Cordoba, that were used yesterday. Rutted and rough after the initial passage, overnight rain made them muddy and thick fog created an additional hazard. The four afternoon tests south of the city covered faster, smoother and more flowing roads in the Calamuchita valley. Drivers tackled 150.41km of competition.
Gronholm opted for BFGoodrich's soft compound tyres this morning, with cuts carved into the rubber to clear the mud. Running second in the start order helped in such conditions and he was fastest on the opening two tests and second fastest on the next two to climb to 12th. He won two more stages this afternoon, and was third on the other two, to climb back to the leaderboard.
"I tried to push hard today, but I wasn't at 'fighting' speed," said Gronholm. "I have done some testing as well so it was important to drive quickly to ensure data from that. Early this morning it was damp and foggy. The first stage was muddy after the rain last night while the next was more patchy, but still slippery. Then there was a lot of fog on the third stage. I had good grip in the mud, even when the surface changed a lot. BFGoodrich's rubber is very constant and I had a good feeling with the tyres.
"I don't enjoy tomorrow's stages. They are rocky, bumpy and narrow and not so nice to drive. It's just the scenery up in the mountains that is so stunning," he added.
Team director Wilson added: "The changes we made to the transmission have been effective and the car has run without any problems today. Marcus has scored four fastest times, which is encouraging when Solberg and Loeb have been driving hard and fighting for the lead."
News from our Rivals
Championship leader Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) started the day with a 19.8sec lead over Petter Solberg (Subaru). The Frenchman was outstanding in the mud and fog this morning to extend that to 57.5sec at lunchtime. He controlled his advantage through the afternoon tests to return to Cordoba tonight with a 43.1sec lead. Solberg's gear paddle, mounted on his steering wheel, broke on the opening stage, and he had to use a pair of pliers to change gear for the next three tests. Gigi Galli (Peugeot) strengthened his grip on third while Henning Solberg (Peugeot) overcame brake problems this morning to climb to fourth. Team-mate Manfred Stohl dropped a place after spinning twice in the fog but is only 4.3sec behind. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) ousted Dani Sordo (Citroen) from sixth.
The final leg covers just 41.30km of competition, but contains two of the classic speed tests of the FIA World Rally Championship. Giulio Cesare and El Condor are located in the barren Traslasierra mountains, south-west of Cordoba, and the latter reaches a height of 2195 metres. Rough and rocky ribbons of road wind through a spectacular moonlike landscape, the kind of scenery seen nowhere else in the WRC. The rally then returns to Cordoba's soccer stadium, where the event began on Thursday evening, for two more passes over the super special stage. A crowd of more than 40,000 is expected with live TV coverage around the world. Competitors leave Cordoba at 07.30 and return for the finish ceremony at 13.28.