Duval lies third after slippery day in Mosel vineyards BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers FranÃ§ois Duval and StÃ©phane PrÃ©vot won two speed tests on their way to third place at the end of today's opening leg of the Rallye Deutschland. Their...
Duval lies third after slippery day in Mosel vineyards
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers François Duval and Stéphane Prévot won two speed tests on their way to third place at the end of today's opening leg of the Rallye Deutschland. Their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car was the only genuine challenger to leader Sebastien Loeb during a difficult day's driving on slippery asphalt roads in the picturesque Mosel wine region of western Germany. Team-mates Markko Märtin and Michael Park recovered well after a poor start to hold fifth in another Focus RS.
This 10th round of the FIA World Rally Championship is the first all-asphalt event of the season and drivers' first taste of asphalt since the Monte Carlo Rally in January. Drivers faced two identical loops of four special stages covering 135.02km, the bulk located in the hilly vineyards close to the rally base of Trier, Germany's oldest city.
The characteristics of the vineyard stages are unique to the championship. Tall vines close to the edge of the roads made visibility difficult and a string of hairpin bends as the tracks climbed the hillsides made it hard for drivers to find a rhythm. Torrential rain in the run-up to the rally washed mud and gravel onto the bumpy narrow tracks and further downpours this morning, which contrasted with sunny spells, made conditions even more slippery.
As a result of the inconsistent weather, tyre selection was the big question on everyone's lips all day. The situation was complicated by the fact that this is the first asphalt rally since the banning of gravel crews, which meant that last minute information on road conditions was not available. Additionally, the afternoon's schedule forced teams to make tyre decisions for a stage which did not start for 4hr 30min, during which time conditions could change dramatically.
Duval and Prévot opted for Michelin's medium compound dry weather tyres this morning, with small cuts carved into the rubber to combat any water. They worked perfectly and Duval revelled in conditions and roads similar to those of his early days in the sport in Belgium. He overshot a junction on the opening stage but was fastest on the second and an incredible 12.2sec quicker than anyone else on the third test to climb into second place, just 2.4sec behind Loeb. He understeered off the road briefly on the fourth stage but reached the midpoint of the leg just 3.5sec behind the Frenchman.
However a seal on the Focus RS' hydraulic gearchange actuator system failed as he left service and 23-year-old Duval had to tackle the afternoon loop using the back-up manual system. That was not such a difficulty. But using the back-up system means that the handbrake cannot be used and that was a more serious problem on the tight hairpins.
"This morning was fantastic and I set some excellent times. But this afternoon was hard because the hairpins in the vineyards are so tight that you have to use the handbrake to get round them. I had to reverse to get round hairpins six times and stalled the car three times. I think I lost about a minute," said Duval, who lies 58.5sec behind Loeb. "The stages were dirty where drivers had cut corners but I like those conditions so it didn't bother me. Tomorrow will be difficult because the stages on Baumholder are always slippery. But we'll push as hard as we did today and see what happens," he added.
Märtin and Duval were badly affected by the weather all day. Having opted for the same tyres as Duval but without the cuts, the 28-year-old Estonian driver was dealt a harsh blow when it started to rain as he was about to begin the opening stage. "The roads turned from dry to wet and it was hard to get confidence in the slippery conditions," he said. He dropped 45 seconds.
Märtin recovered with two fifth fastest and a third fastest time to return to service in eighth. "The conditions were so changeable that it was impossible to make a tyre choice with confidence. Our tyres were too hard and I couldn't get any heat into them. I didn't have good grip and I didn't want to take any risks," he added. Märtin is well-known for his tidy driving which is kind on tyre wear but, ironically, a more aggressive method would have generated more heat in the rubber.
Expecting wet conditions again this afternoon, Märtin opted for softer Michelin rubber but, to his despair, the roads were totally dry. He climbed to fifth in his Castrol-branded Focus RS, despite stalling at a hairpin near the end of stage five, but was frustrated at his bad luck. "The best part of today is that it is over!" he joked. "My tyre selection was perfect - it's just that my afternoon choice was ideal for this morning's conditions and the tyres I had this morning were perfect for the afternoon. I guess that after the way things have gone for us, fifth position is not a bad placing tonight but the time gaps will be hard to make up."
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson watched over a complete transmission change on Duval's car at the final service and said: "I'm disappointed for François but pleased he kept third. Tomorrow will be tough for everyone and I don't really think the rally starts until then. We're in a strong position with cars in third and fifth and in this weather anything can happen."
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Championship leader Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) dominated the day and set fastest time on each of the final five stages to lead by 26.5sec from team-mate Carlos Sainz. The BP-Ford duo sandwiched Petter Solberg (Subaru) in fourth with an untroubled Gilles Panizzi (Mitsubishi) rounding off the top six. Cedric Robert (Peugeot) held fifth until he dropped 30 seconds with a spin while Armin Schwarz (Skoda), starting his 100th world rally, was sixth until brake problems ruined his afternoon. Robert lies ninth and Schwarz 15th, with Roman Kresta now leading the Czech team in seventh. Freddy Loix's (Peugeot) first world rally since February was hindered by an engine misfire at low revs this morning. He set top five times all afternoon until clutch and gearbox problems on the final stage cost more time. Team-mate Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) was the day's major retirement, the Finn crashing on the first corner of the rally, after aquaplaning on standing water, and breaking a wheel hub. Dani Sola (Mitsubishi) was also an early retirement, the Spaniard crashing heavily into a tree 200 metres into the second stage.
The second leg is the longest and most demanding, comprising 177.66km of competition. The bulk of the distance is based on the Baumholder military ranges, more normally used by the US Army for tank training exercises. Often lined by giant stones (Hinkelsteine), the roads are always covered in sand and gravel and in wet weather can be treacherous. Competitors leave Bostalsee at 08.32 and tackle two identical loops of four stages before a spectacular super special stage through the streets of St Wendel. They return to Bostalsee at 21.01.