Hirvonen heads BP-Ford duo as pace hots up in Finland Both BP-Ford World Rally Team pairings hold points scoring positions after a blistering second leg of the Rally Finland today. Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen are fifth in their Ford Focus...
Hirvonen heads BP-Ford duo as pace hots up in Finland
Both BP-Ford World Rally Team pairings hold points scoring positions after a blistering second leg of the Rally Finland today. Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen are fifth in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, while Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen lie seventh in a similar car despite losing two minutes and three positions on the longest speed test of the event this evening.
Special stage records were shattered as average speeds topped 129kph, even higher than yesterday, on the dry and smooth forest roads. The day was one of the most eagerly awaited of the FIA World Rally Championship season, featuring some of rallying's greatest stages. The eight stages, covering 144.76km, included two passes over the awesome Ouninpohja, a roller-coaster road full of blind crests and huge jumps and viewed as the sport's ultimate test of skill and bravery.
Gardemeister and Honkanen had little difficulty in maintaining their overnight fourth position in their Castrol-branded Focus RS. The Finns pulled clear of Petter Solberg and looked comfortable until the penultimate 40.96km Moksi-Leustu, when 30-year-old Gardemeister dropped two minutes with a punctured front left tyre. He recovered to set fastest time on the final stage and is only 3.8sec behind Harri Rovanpera.
"There were many stones in the early part of the stage and maybe that was the problem, I don't really know," he said. "But it wasn't until 25km after the start that the tyre started to vibrate and then it just burst as we entered a fast corner. We continued but there was no rubber left at all by the time we reached the finish. All we can do now is try to get ahead of Rovanpera for sixth because there are not enough kilometres left tomorrow to do anything else.
"The speeds were higher today than I've ever known. I think I pushed too hard in Ouninpohja this morning, going sideways too much and losing time. My tyre choice was too soft for the repeat stages there this afternoon and they started to move around a bit. The road surface was cleaner and I tried to drive more smoothly than this morning but it didn't make any difference to my times," he added.
BP-Ford team-mates Hirvonen and Lehtinen took full advantage of a better start position today to match Gardemeister's pace. "Yesterday was a medium plus day for me, this morning was a medium minus but this afternoon I was back to a medium plus again. I compared my times with Toni and Petter and I won a second here, and lost a second there, so it was up and down all day. Before the rally I thought that if I was going to lose time it would be today, but that wasn't the case.
"I'm still sliding a little, but I think it's more my driving style than anything to do with the car. I need to get rid of that if I don't want to have other guys in front of me. We've had some scary moments but that's because of the speed here. I will try hard to catch Solberg but it won't be easy, although tomorrow's stages are more familiar to me. But I have the perfect car, the perfect tyres, and the perfect weather - and there are two really good-looking guys inside the car as well!" he added.
Roman Kresta and Jan Mozny concentrated on gaining as much experience as possible of the Finnish roads in their BP-Ford Focus RS. However, it was a difficult day for the Czechs. They went off the road in the third stage this morning, losing almost nine minutes. "I entered a left bend too fast and slid into a ditch," said Kresta. "Jan opened the door to climb out just as I spun the wheels and he was covered in mud! There were many spectators there who pushed and lifted the car back on the road. Without their help we would not have continued so a big thanks to them."
They lost more time with a hydraulic problem this afternoon when a filter exploded in their car's power steering system. "It failed before the Ouninpohja stages and it also affected the differentials and the semi-automatic gearchange, so I had to revert to the back-up manual system," he said. The team changed the power steering belt, the hydraulic pressure belt and filter, but power steering troubles returned 10km after the start of the next test and Kresta lost five more minutes. He lies 31st.
"This rally doesn't seem to suit us. I hope that everything is OK tomorrow and we have a clean run," he added.
Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud, driving a privately-entered Focus RS, are ninth, despite losing a minute when their car stalled at the start of the second stage and losing a minute before it fired up. Antony Warmbold and Michael Orr, in another M-Sport prepared Focus RS, crashed out of 16th on the penultimate stage.
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Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) dominated the day. The Finn was fastest on six of the eight stages to open a 67.0sec lead over Sebastien Loeb (Citroen). Gronholm, who admitted to not attacking the jumps to protect injured co-driver Timo Rautiainen's back, had his hopes of victory boosted when Loeb lost 35 seconds on the last stage after hitting a rock and puncturing a front left tyre. Markko Martin (Peugeot) holds the final podium place, the Estonian much happier with the revised suspension fitted to his car for this event. Fourth-placed Petter Solberg (Subaru) lost time on stage 14 when his car's rear brake line split but he recovered to hold off the charging Hirvonen. Sebastian Lindholm (Peugeot) failed to start this morning when co-driver Tomi Tuominen was advised by doctors not to continue after being one of several co-drivers to suffer a back injury during a vicious jump on the Vellipohja stage yesterday. Gigi Galli (Mitsubishi) re-started under the SupeRally rules but went off the road on the first stage and retired for good while Manfred Stohl went off on the same stage and broke his car's suspension. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) also re-started under SupeRally but rolled into retirement at a fourth gear bend on the penultimate stage.
The final leg is the shortest of the three. It comprises just two identical loops of two stages west of Jyvaskyla, covering 66.56km but with no opportunity for service in between. Competitors leave the town at 09.00 before returning for the finish ceremony at 14.34.