Duval excels in rain-soaked Germany to claim second BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers FranÃ§ois Duval and StÃ©phane PrÃ©vot were fastest through today's treacherous second leg of the Rallye Deutschland to climb to second position. The Belgian...
Duval excels in rain-soaked Germany to claim second
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers François Duval and Stéphane Prévot were fastest through today's treacherous second leg of the Rallye Deutschland to climb to second position. The Belgian duo were outstanding in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car despite awful weather conditions and grabbed second place from Carlos Sainz on the final speed test.
Team-mates Markko Märtin and Michael Park lie fourth on this 10th round of the FIA World Rally Championship in a similar Focus RS, after a day marked by torrential rain which swamped the roads and caused several leading drivers to crash out.
The daunting Baumholder military ranges, east of the host city of Trier, were the venue for the bulk of today's 177.66km of competitive action. Concrete tracks covered in sand and loose gravel are slippery enough in the dry but the rain made conditions perilous. Furthermore, many of Baumholder's tracks are lined by kerb stones, known as Hinkelsteines, built to keep US Army tanks on the roads during exercises. They are located on the very edge of the road and, especially in wet conditions, leave no room for error.
Duval and Prévot started the day in third, 32.0sec behind Sainz. The opening stage was neutralised after an accident but the 23-year-old Belgian driver immediately set about closing in on the Spaniard. He was fastest on the first competitive test and pulled back more time on the next in the heart of Baumholder to narrow the gap to 20.2sec.
Duval was then second quickest on the 40.30km Panzerplatte Lang test on the Army land before it, too, was cancelled after another accident. Sainz had not started the stage and rally stewards awarded him a notional time, which was the same as the fastest car before the cancellation (Märtin). That was 13.1sec faster than Duval's actual time and Sainz's advantage was up to 33.3sec, wiping out all Duval's gains.
Although conditions improved for a repeat run over the four stages this afternoon, they were far from easy with plenty of mud and stones dragged onto the roads during the morning pass. However, Duval was faster than Sainz on all four tests before overhauling him on the spectacular super special stage through the streets of St Wendel. The Belgian will start tomorrow's final leg with a 5.7sec advantage.
"Conditions have been difficult all day, similar to those at home in Belgium," said Duval. "They were OK for me because I'm used to them but we had a couple of lucky escapes this afternoon. First I hit a mound of grass and damaged the rear left of the car. The bodywork was rubbing on the tyre but we were able to pull it clear. Then I slid off the road and hit some trees, again with the rear left of the car.
"Tomorrow's stages are really nice to drive and again they are similar to those in Belgium. I have been driving at maximum pace for the last two days and will do the same again. I have to try to keep Carlos behind me. I have a better road position now because I will start the stages after him so it should be an exciting day," he added.
Märtin was fifth after the opening leg but his ambitions on the first stage of the day were curtailed when Gilles Panizzi skated off the road and into a tree. Märtin was next to arrive at the scene and after seeing co-driver Hervé Panizzi holding an SOS board, he stopped at the following radio point to request medical assistance. The stage was cancelled and Märtin and the leading drivers behind him, who were also delayed, were awarded the same notional time.
The 28-year-old Estonian then set two fastest and one second quickest time to climb to fourth. With large time gaps both in front and behind, he took no risks on the afternoon stages to consolidate his position, adding another second fastest time in front of huge crowds in the St Wendel street test.
He described the conditions this morning as 'incredible'. "Water was running down the roads and the car was aquaplaning," he said. "Apart from one occasion when I hit mud and slid into a field, I stayed on the road but I was lucky. In those conditions it's easy to make a mistake and today has been all about surviving. We must nominate our tyres so early that conditions can change and the rules banning gravel crews meant we had no idea what conditions were like. Tyre choice was a gamble and I'm glad that today is over. It has been so difficult."
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted with Duval's display. "He has been superb and to climb to second on the final stage was the perfect end to the day. He's been lucky on a couple of occasions but when you see how many top drivers have had problems, he deserves that luck. Markko increased his pace this morning and consolidated fourth this afternoon so today has been a good one for us," he said.
News from our Rivals
Championship leader Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) took no risks and set two fastest times to end the day 54.7sec clear of Duval. Team-mate Carlos Sainz could not hold off Duval's charge after spinning on the final test and lies 5.7sec behind the Belgian in third. It was a good day for Cedric Robert and Freddy Loix (both Peugeot). Robert posted his first fastest time on a world rally to climb from ninth to fifth while Loix won two stages to move up from 13th to sixth, finally getting the better of Toni Gardemeister (Skoda) after a daylong battle. All today's major retirements were the result of accidents. Roman Kresta (Skoda) and Gilles Panizzi (Mitsubishi) crashed on the opening stage and Petter Solberg rolled heavily on the fourth. Panizzi and Solberg's co-driver, Phil Mills, were both taken to hospital for checks but were quickly released with just bruising.
The final leg is the shortest of the three and is based entirely on closed public roads in the Saarland region. Drivers leave Bostalsee at 06.32 and tackle two identical loops of three stages before a repeat of the super special stage through the streets of St Wendel to end the action. The seven stages cover 98.38km and drivers then head to Trier for the formal finish ceremony at 15.30.