BP-Ford duo trades places on Rally Japan leaderboard Today's marathon second leg of the Rally Japan ended with BP-Ford World Rally Team continuing to hold eighth and ninth places. However, in contrast to the opening day, it is Toni Gardemeister...
BP-Ford duo trades places on Rally Japan leaderboard
Today's marathon second leg of the Rally Japan ended with BP-Ford World Rally Team continuing to hold eighth and ninth places. However, in contrast to the opening day, it is Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen who are eighth in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car with Roman Kresta and Jan Tomanek one place and 16.7 seconds behind in a similar car.
Although today's action covered just 100.98km of competition, it was split into 12 speed tests. Five special stages this morning were followed by seven this afternoon, the leg ending with a repeat of the super special stage on the edge of the host town of Obihiro where two cars at a timed raced in front of another 20,000 crowd. All seven afternoon stages were completed on the same set of tyres, the highest number of tests on the same rubber in any rally this season.
Cloudy skies early this morning quickly gave way to heavy rain as the rally headed north-east for the first loop of stages. The downpours were expected and both BP-Ford pairings opted for Michelin's soft compound rubber on their Focus RS cars. While Kresta settled for standard soft tyres, Gardemeister went a step further with extra cuts carved into the rubber. Conditions were extremely muddy and slippery but when the rain stopped, the gravel tracks dried, although soft compounds remained the choice for the afternoon.
A combination of the wet weather and repeated use of the same roads, some of which were tackled for the fourth time, led to huge ruts appearing. Drivers were often forced to keep their cars firmly in the ruts to prevent them bouncing off the roads. The Menan test, at 16.25km the longest of the day, proved the toughest. Narrow and extremely slippery this morning, darkness was falling when the drivers tackled it for a second time and few escaped without some incident.
Gardemeister enjoyed the better morning of the BP-Ford duo. The 30-year-old Finn was fourth fastest on the opening 6.28km Sinotcaki in his Castrol-backed Focus RS and posted two more top six times before returning to service. He moved up one place on the leaderboard, overtaking Kresta to take eighth. He stretched his advantage over the 29-year-old Czech to 20.2sec before Kresta fought back over the final few tests.
"I did a lot of sliding in the wet and mud this morning but everything felt better than yesterday," said Gardemeister. "I had more confidence and I improved but it's the most difficult rally of the season so far. I had a lucky escape on the second corner of Menan this morning. It was extremely slippery and I was fortunate to stay on the road. On the same stage this afternoon I missed a junction and stalled the engine, losing a few seconds. It was hard to find good times this afternoon, although everything still felt good. I can't gain any places tomorrow unless those in front of me hit trouble. So I will work on improving the set-up and try to set some good stage times."
Kresta had no problems and enjoyed his inter-team rivalry with Gardemeister. "My tyre choice this morning was the right one," he said. "The compound was good, although the construction was a bit flexible and they moved around a little in the corners. The last stage was the most difficult. I spun just before the finish and twice more I was lucky not to go off. The car seemed too big for the road because it was so narrow.
"The roads were really, really rough this afternoon. I hit a small bridge with the bumper but apart from that we had no troubles. I tried hard but I didn't want to push too much in case I made a mistake. The stages were slower today but this morning's rain made them slippery," added Kresta.
Antony Warmbold and Michael Orr are 11th in their privately-entered Focus RS, the German driver happy to have posted times similar to Gardemeister. "The final stage this morning was difficult because my pace notes were too quick," said Warmbold. "I had a few sixth gear corners in there that definitely weren't sixth gear. In contrast, my notes were too slow in places this afternoon. It became quite misty this evening when the long stage ran alongside a river and as darkness was falling as well, conditions were tough."
Spain's Dani Solà and Xavier Amigo restarted today under SupeRally rules in their privately-entered Focus RS after retiring last night. Solà admitted his car's settings were too hard for the wet conditions and he made them softer during the lunchtime service. He moved up to 13th this afternoon before rolling heavily on a fifth gear left hand bend in the troublesome Menan stage.
The accident happened in the same test in which Gardemeister saw a brown bear in the recce. Fortunately neither Solà nor Amigo were hurt - either in the crash or by any wandering bears....
News from our Rivals
A tense daylong battle between overnight leader Petter Solberg (Subaru) and Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) ended pretty much as it started with the Norwegian 32.3sec ahead. Although the time gap between the pair differed by only 2.2sec from last night, it did not tell the story of the day. Gronholm was fastest on four of the first six stages to reduce the deficit from 34.5sec to just 20.0sec. However, Solberg hit back this afternoon to win four tests to widen the gap as Gronholm struggled with transmission troubles. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen), second after leg one, refused to be drawn into the battle. The Frenchman tested a new tyre that was unsuited to the wet conditions this morning and concentrated on preserving the podium place that would give him a second world title tomorrow. Harri Rovanpera (Mitsubishi) moved ahead of Chris Atkinson (Subaru) into fourth on the third stage but clipped a tree and broke his lights on the penultimate test to drop back to fifth. Team-mate Gigi Galli profited to climb into fourth. Atkinson fell behind Francois Duval (Citroen) into seventh this afternoon but snatched sixth back on the penultimate stage.
The final leg is the shortest of the rally, covering just 85.94km of competition over five stages. A third and final run over the Satsunai super special stage on the edge of Obihiro splits two identical loops of two tests close to Shintoku, north-west of the rally base. Unlike today, both traditional tests are quite long and will pose a demanding final day's action. Competitors will leave Obihiro at 06.30 and return to the Kita Aikoku service park for the finish at 15.05.