GrÃ¶nholm wins leg to climb Rally de EspaÃ±a leaderboard BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus GrÃ¶nholm and Timo Rautiainen were fastest over today's second leg of the Rally de EspaÃ±a to power their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car back up the...
Grönholm wins leg to climb Rally de España leaderboard
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen were fastest over today's second leg of the Rally de España to power their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car back up the leaderboard into fourth place. The Finns were fastest on three of the six asphalt speed tests to put yesterday's time loss behind them and move to within just 4.1sec of a podium place.
Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen were second fastest on the leg as the Focus RS emphasised its pace on its debut on a pure asphalt event. The Finns restarted this fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship in 15th this morning after identical turbo wastegate troubles to Grönholm yesterday. They shared a fastest time with their team-mate as they climbed to 11th and both Focus RS WRCs hold points scoring positions.
The flowing roads in the hills above the Costa Daurada resort of Salou, south-west of Barcelona, were again bathed in sunshine for the six special stages covering 111.36km. The dry conditions ensured none of the tyre selection dilemmas so often associated with this rally when it is wet, and both Focus RS drivers settled with BFGoodrich's medium compound rubber all day.
Grönholm restarted 10th and shared fastest time with Hirvonen on the opening stage before winning the next outright. He returned to the midday service having climbed to sixth and a third win this afternoon allowed him to move to the fringes of the top three. Apart from the two stages when he had no turbo boost yesterday, 38-year-old Grönholm has never been out of the top two stage times.
"Yesterday was disappointing but that is in the past and we are now back fighting for points," he said. "My driving has been as good as it was yesterday. I've not been right on the limit, but close to it. Fourth was my target. We've achieved that and now a podium is possible. I think we can do it, but maybe we don't need fastest times to make it.
"I'm really enjoying driving this car. We have good speed but there is more to come and our pace here leaves me confident that we can also fight with Loeb in Corsica on the next round. The car is easy to drive and while it might not look the most spectacular on the stages, the times are great," added Grönholm.
Team-mate Hirvonen was consistently fast in his BP Ultimate and Castrol-branded Focus RS. The 25-year-old Finn posted a trio of top three times as he climbed the order. He was only deprived of a top 10 position this evening when event officials adjusted the total time for Gilles Panizzi after the Frenchman was held up yesterday when another car crashed and blocked the road.
"We set strong times and that's all I can do," he said. "While I would have liked to be leading, I know that I can fight with Loeb in this car. My start position today was good. Second on the road meant there wasn't any dirt on the stages this morning and that's something the drivers further back had to put up with. I'm not driving at maximum pace - but fast enough. With luck I think I can get to seventh or eighth. I will drive flat out and see just who we can catch. It's easy for anyone to make a mistake so I have to stay 100 percent focused.
"I had a lucky escape on the first stage this afternoon. About 5km after the start I arrived at a fourth gear, very fast right corner. I slid wide into the gravel and started to spin at 130kph. Just when I thought I was off the road, the car found some grip from somewhere and I was back on line. I eased off after that because that was too close for comfort," added Hirvonen.
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Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) made a cautious start this morning before increasing his pace to set two fastest times. He ended the leg with a 34.4sec lead over team-mate Dani Sordo, the young Spaniard setting his first WRC fastest time this afternoon. Xavi Pons (Citroen) was a comfortable third until the opening stage this afternoon when the Spaniard slid off the road on a slow, but gravel-covered, corner and retired. That allowed Alex Bengue (Peugeot) to take third. Behind Grönholm, Jan Kopecky (Skoda) is fifth with François Duval (Skoda) sixth, the Belgian struggling this morning with brake problems and a dragging sump guard. Petter Solberg (Subaru) slipped from fourth to seventh. The Norwegian dropped 40sec with a spin this morning but struggled throughout the rest of the day. Team-mate Chris Atkinson (Subaru) fell from the leaderboard after dropping a minute on the penultimate stage when he went off the road. He lies 12th.
The final leg is the shortest of the rally with 97.82km of competition. Drivers leave Salou at 06.40 and tackle two identical loops of two long speed tests, which are split by service. The second stage in the loop, the 26.48km Pratdip, follows the same route as the opening day's Colldejou test but in the opposite direction. Competitors return to Salou for the finish ceremony at 14.56.