Onwards and upwards for Gronholm in close fight in Germany BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen climbed to second during today's feared second leg of Rallye Deutschland. The Finns won one speed test in their Ford...
Onwards and upwards for Gronholm in close fight in Germany
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen climbed to second during today's feared second leg of Rallye Deutschland. The Finns won one speed test in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car to come out on top in a three-car battle for second place which also included team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen. Hirvonen holds fourth in another Focus RS with one day remaining of this 10th round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Today's leg was the longest of the rally and visited the tricky asphalt country road stages in Saarland and the tough military roads at Baumholder in the west of the country. Baumholder is used for tank training exercises and surfaces ranging from narrow asphalt to broken and abrasive concrete placed high demands on cars. Sand and gravel make the tracks slippery in the dry and evil in the wet, and huge kerbstones (hinkelsteins) that are used to keep the tanks on the roads leave no room for error.
Fortunately for the BP-Ford drivers today's weather was dry and sunny and the challenge over the eight speed tests covering 164.86km was eased. BFGoodrich's dry weather tyres were the natural choice throughout the day.
Gronholm, third after leg one, made a slow start to slip behind team-mate Hirvonen into fourth. However, a stage win and two second fastest times lifted the 39-year-old into second as the cars returned to the rally base in Trier for lunchtime service. He maintained his position during the afternoon to end the day 37.8sec behind Sebastien Loeb and 12.6sec ahead of Francois Duval.
"It was an up and down type of day," said Gronholm. "I must have got out of bed on the wrong side because the first stage was terrible. The car and tyres felt soft and it was moving around a lot. I had no confidence and couldn't find any rhythm. But I fought back and settled for second at the end of the day. I have moved up one place on each leg so who knows what will happen tomorrow.
"I'm closer to Loeb than I have been in previous years but not close enough to challenge him in the morning. However, I can't relax because Duval and Mikko are close behind me. Duval will push hard so I need to keep pushing too. This rally isn't a favourite of mine but in good weather like we had today it's not so bad," he added.
Hirvonen was fastest on the opening stage but could not hold off Gronholm. He also slipped behind Duval after hitting a straw bale and returned to Trier for service in fourth, just 0.5sec behind the Belgian. "Halfway through the stage I went wide on a fast right corner that was covered in gravel and hit a big bale with the rear. It caused a lot of panel damage and I was lucky it wasn't a hinkelstein. I normally like Baumholder more than the country roads but I didn't have a good feeling. There was more gravel than we thought," said the 27-year-old Finn.
Hirvonen fought tooth and nail with Duval during the afternoon, winning the repeat pass over the opening stage, and lies just 5.1sec behind him tonight. "It was a good day but it's hard fighting on these stages. Conditions were dry so it was easier. I will try to catch Duval but I have more to lose than him. I have had good speed here, better than in previous years, and I hope it's dry in the morning because those conditions are better for me. I want a podium on asphalt. It has been a long time since I had one," added Hirvonen.
Abu Dhabi driver Khalid Al Qassimi and co-driver Nicky Beech retired from 13th at the end of the penultimate stage in a third BP-Ford Focus RS after their car's engine stopped on the startline and would not restart for almost 30 minutes. They had the same problem earlier in the day but hope to restart tomorrow under SupeRally regulations.
"We went through the usual start procedures but when I released the handbrake the car stalled," said 35-year-old Al Qassimi. "We tried to get it going again with the help of our engineers on the telephone. After eventually completing the stage we retired from the leg to allow the team to resolve the problem so that we can return tomorrow. Things do not always go as we hope and I have to accept this as part of the sport."
News from our Rivals
Francois Duval (Citroen) who snatched the lead on the final stage last night, lost it on the opening test this morning when he spun into a field and overshot another junction, losing almost 20sec. He stalled the engine on the next stage to slip to fourth, but regained third and held on despite severe pressure from Hirvonen. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) took over at the top and won three stages as he built a 37.8sec lead over Gronholm. Toni Gardemeister (Citroen) fell behind Jan Kopecky (Skoda) in their battle for fifth after losing hydraulic pressure midway through stage 10. After a fierce afternoon battle the Finn regained position on the penultimate test, only to fall behind again on the last stage by 2.7sec. Petter Solberg (Subaru) had steering troubles this morning but was much happier this afternoon as he pulled clear of team-mate Xevi Pons, who spun on the opening stage. Another team-mate, Chris Atkinson, won two stages this afternoon as he climbed back onto the leaderboard after yesterday's crash. Manfred Stohl (Citroen) retired on stage nine with engine failure while Henning Solberg (Ford) broke his car's rear right suspension after hitting a rock in stage 13.
The final leg is the shortest of the event and returns to the Mosel vineyards. After leaving Trier at 08.00, drivers tackle two identical loops of two stages among the vines, split by a spectacular pursuit-style super special stage based around the city's historic Porta Nigra. They return to the finish in Trier at 15.00.