BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Markko Martin and Michael Park continued to defy the odds to end the second day of the Rally Finland in second place. Despite not being fully fit as he continues his recovery from last month's massive accident in...
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Markko Martin and Michael Park continued to defy the odds to end the second day of the Rally Finland in second place. Despite not being fully fit as he continues his recovery from last month's massive accident in Argentina, the 28-year-old Estonian driver powered his Ford Focus RS World Rally Car up from third during today's mammoth 16-hour leg to head the challenge to leader Marcus Gronholm.
Finns Janne Tuohino and Jukka Aho returned to the rally base in Jyvaskyla in fifth in a similar Focus RS after a difficult day. And Ford BP team-mates Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot hold ninth in another Focus RS as Ford proved the dominant manufacturer tonight on the leaderboard of this ninth round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Today's schedule offered arguably the most spectacular day's competition of the season. Drivers faced eight speed tests, covering 167.80km, over some of rallying's most famous and challenging roads. The special stages south-west of Jyvaskyla differed from those used yesterday. They were wide, flowing and incredibly fast, average speeds topping 130kph. In most places the gravel was so hard and smooth it was similar to driving on asphalt.
And then there were the stomach-churning roller coaster jumps for which this rally is so famous, typified by the awesome 33.24km Ouninpohja stage which is widely regarded as rallying's ultimate test. The stages demanded maximum commitment and precision driving in equal measure. Only the brave prosper on these classic roads and enormous crowds were enticed into the Finnish countryside to watch the world's best drivers meet the challenge.
After discovering yesterday just how much his south American crash had affected him, Martin increased in confidence and performance again today. Last year's Rally Finland winner climbed to second early this morning and maintained a consistent pace. He won the final test at the Killeri trotting track for the second night, and set two second fastest and four third quickest times, ending the day 35.1sec behind Gronholm. Martin won a watch for his performances, being crowned the 'King of Killeri'.
"I've driven safely but not flat out," he said. "There is a big gap between Marcus and myself and we'll need outside help if we are to win because there's no way I can catch him unless he hits trouble. I have to ensure I don't make any mistakes now and there is no point in attacking too much tomorrow. We need to regain more than 30 seconds and the most we could probably achieve is a handful. I hope I can keep second at this pace but there are many kilometres remaining. Many drivers have held a top three placing and lost it, so I'll try not to do that."
Martin's performance was improved when the team lowered the rear ride height on his Castrol-branded Focus RS after the opening two stages. "It jumped and landed much better as a result. It felt perfect after that," he said.
Co-driver Park believes Martin is rediscovering his confidence. "We're not driving at rally winning pace but we were faster this afternoon and Markko is starting to develop a better rhythm," he said.
Tuohino re-started this morning in fourth but endured a difficult day, slipping behind both Carlos Sainz and Sebastien Loeb on the leaderboard. He dropped a handful of seconds after stalling the engine at the start of stage 13 and will start tomorrow's final leg 6.9sec behind Loeb.
"It wasn't a bad day but it wasn't a good one either," said 29-year-old Tuohino. "The only problem was with the driver and I didn't really set any good times. I didn't find the right braking line and I don't know why. I made a few small mistakes and it just didn't go as well as yesterday. I really like tomorrow's stages so maybe we will be better. The car has been working really well so it's just me that needs to increase my pace."
Duval and Prevot climbed to seventh this morning, despite adopting a cautious approach on gravely and slippery roads. However, a heavy landing during the second pass through Ouninpohja damaged the exhaust on their Focus RS and the Belgians dropped a minute and a further 25 seconds on the following stage.
"We landed OK after a yump and it felt no different to any other jump," said Duval. "It wasn't a big jump but the landing damaged the exhaust and the car was down on power." The exhaust manifold had broken near the turbo and Duval and Prevot strapped it together with lock wire before starting the next test. The team fitted a new manifold and replaced an engine fan in service, the Belgians incurring a 50 second penalty after exceeding the time allowed. That cost them two places but Duval fought back and ended the day just 4.5sec behind Toni Gardemeister in eighth and another 4.8sec behind Daniel Carlsson in seventh.
"Today has been as difficult as expected but my performance has shown a big improvement on last year. I think I need to do these stages two or three more times to be fully on the pace. But I've set good times today, my pace notes are working well and I will try to recover some of the lost time tomorrow," he added.
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Overnight leader Marcus Gronholm's (Peugeot) task became easier on the second stage this morning when team-mate Sebastian Lindholm rolled into retirement. He extended his lead over Martin to more than 45 seconds before having to drive three stages and more than 54km of competition without fourth gear. Remarkably, he lost only 15 seconds and increased his advantage to 35.1sec at the end of the day. Carlos Sainz (Citroen) moved ahead of Tuohino on the opening stage and was followed up the leaderboard by team-mate Sebastien Loeb. The Frenchman saw off Jani Paasonen (Skoda) on the opening test and moved ahead of Tuohino later in the day to claim fourth, despite neck pains after heavy landings over the Ouninpohja jumps. Paasonen again impressed to hold sixth and team-mate Toni Gardemeister shrugged off yesterday's turbo problems to join him on the leaderboard in eighth. Having claimed Lindholm this morning, Ouninpohja took another major driver when Kristian Sohlberg crashed into a ditch, breaking his car's suspension. Petter Solberg, who restarted this morning under the SupeRally rules, set five fastest times despite continuing to suffer from the 'flu.
The final day brings competitors back closer to Jyvaskyla. After a 07.00 restart, drivers tackle two identical loops of two stages close to the town of Keuruu, west of the rally base. They face 95.26km of competition before the finish ceremony back in Jyvaskyla at 14.40.
Leaderboard after Leg 2 1. M Gronholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 307 2hr 21min 37.3sec 2. M Martin/M Park EE Ford Focus RS 2hr 22min 12.4sec 3. C Sainz/M Marti E Citroen Xsara 2hr 23min 01.9sec 4. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen Xsara 2hr 23min 34.2sec 5. J Tuohino/J Aho FIN Ford Focus RS 2hr 23min 41.1sec 6. J Paasonen/J Vainikka FIN Skoda Fabia 2hr 24min 31.9sec 7. D Carlsson/M Andersson S Peugeot 206 2hr 26min 48.4sec 8. T Gardemeister/P Lukander FIN Skoda Fabia 2hr 26min 53.2sec 9. F Duval/S Prevot B Ford Focus RS 2hr 26min 57.7sec 10 H Solberg/C Menkerud N Peugeot 206 2hr 27min 36.8sec