MÃ¤rtin shrugs off note troubles to take third in Japan Markko MÃ¤rtin and Michael Park climbed to third during today's second leg of the Rally Japan as both BP-Ford World Rally Team cars continued to hold top six places. Their Ford Focus RS ...
Märtin shrugs off note troubles to take third in Japan
Markko Märtin and Michael Park climbed to third during today's second leg of the Rally Japan as both BP-Ford World Rally Team cars continued to hold top six places. Their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car posted a string of top three times on today's demanding gravel speed tests to close the gap to second-placed Sebastien Loeb with one day of this 11th round of the FIA World Rally Championship remaining.
BP-Ford team-mates François Duval and Philippe Droeven are sixth in their Focus RS. The Belgian duo claimed a special stage victory during an untroubled day in the forests of Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido and will start the final leg just 8.6 seconds behind fifth-placed Marcus Grönholm.
Drivers spent almost 15 hours behind the wheel, the route again centred on the small town of Rikubetsu in the Tokachi region. Today's special stages were slightly further south and drivers tackled two identical loops of five tests, split by a return to the service park just outside the rally base of Obihiro. The leg ended with a second pass over the Satsunai super special stage on the edge of the city, bringing the competitive distance to 124.98km.
The day was again characterised by bright sunshine but the nature of the stages differed from yesterday. Drivers compared the flowing roads to those of New Zealand. A liberal covering of loose gravel on the surface offered a disadvantage to the early cars, which swept the stones clear to provide a cleaner and faster line for those behind.
Märtin and Park started the day in fourth but climbed to third this morning after the 28-year-old Estonian posted three second fastest times on the opening five stages. However, he continued to struggle with his pace notes behind the wheel of the Castrol-branded Focus RS.
"I don't know what I was thinking when I made some of these notes because they were far too fast," he said. "There's no way I could make as many changes as I needed too and sometimes it felt like I was on a third pass of the recce. It wasn't just fine tuning, I think they were worse than yesterday. Although I drove at 100 per cent, it was 100 per cent with a bit of guesswork. I did a lot of driving on what I could see, rather than with the notes. On the wide open sections it was OK, but on the narrower roads it was hard.
The morning alterations paid off because he was much happier during the afternoon. He set another three second fastest and two third fastest times to reduce the gap to Loeb to 31.1 seconds and extend his advantage over fourth-placed Carlos Sainz to 25.9 seconds.
"We didn't have any problems at all this afternoon," he added. "Everything was much easier. It's very clear to me that our preparation for this rally, in terms of making the pace notes, was not very good. I've never had notes this bad so I must learn from this. We have more new stages tomorrow so we'll have some more surprises, I'm sure. It's always nice to be in a podium place and I hope we can keep that."
Duval and Droeven maintained their overnight sixth in their Focus RS. The 23-year-old Belgian driver elected softer suspension settings this morning, which reduced yesterday's understeer and ensured better traction. He also felt happier with his pace notes, which were more precise, although he too made corrections for the afternoon stages. Duval felt increasingly comfortable with stand-in co-driver Droeven and the pair were fastest through the short 2.80km Rikubetsu test this afternoon, although a small misfire on the final two stages proved a nuisance.
"We found a good rhythm this morning although we still changed quite a lot of pace notes," said Duval. "Our tyre choice was good and the Focus handled better after making the suspension softer. We kept that good feeling this afternoon. The roads felt nicer to drive than yesterday and I'm in a good position now. I would be happy to finish there."
BP-Ford mechanics changed the ignition coils and spark plugs on Duval's car at the final service this evening to cure the misfire.
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Petter Solberg (Subaru) dominated the day to extend his lead over Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) to 69.2 seconds. The Norwegian was fastest on all five of the morning stages and two more this afternoon. Loeb slipped behind Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) early on but when the Finn lost all but third gear later in the morning, the Frenchman moved back ahead. Grönholm dropped to fifth but with a new gearbox fitted at service, he climbed ahead of Carlos Sainz (Citroen), only to slip behind again when a bad tyre choice cost time late this afternoon. The gap between the two is 11.6 seconds. Mikko Hirvonen's (Subaru) slim hopes of catching Duval were effectively ended when he incurred a one minute penalty for checking into a control early. There were no major retirements today and all the manufacturer-entered cars are still running.
The final leg is based north-west of Obihiro in natural forest. Drivers again leave the city at 05.30 to tackle two identical loops of three stages, split by a third and final pass over the Satsunai super special and a service break at Kita Aikoku. They face 111.94km of competition before returning to the service park for the finish ceremony at 16.00.