SOLBERG SMELLS SUCCESS IN CORONA RALLY MEXICO The second leg of Corona Rally Mexico has proved to be a tough one for many of the remaining crews and although Petter Solberg continues to lead, the Subaru Impreza WRC 2005 driver had it far from...
SOLBERG SMELLS SUCCESS IN CORONA RALLY MEXICO
The second leg of Corona Rally Mexico has proved to be a tough one for many of the remaining crews and although Petter Solberg continues to lead, the Subaru Impreza WRC 2005 driver had it far from easy. The Norwegian has a 29.6 second advantage going into the final day of competition, and second and third positions remain unchanged and firmly in the hands of Peugeot drivers Marcus Gronholm and Markko Martin.
Today's second leg took in another 146.48 competitive kilometres over two identical loops of three stages and while many continued to experience brake problems, some of the leading contenders have fared far worse. Chris Atkinson, Subaru's young hotshot who shone in the opening leg, was forced to retire after knocking the front right wheel and hub assembly off in the third stage while holding fifth overall. He is, however, anticipated to re-start tomorrow under the SUPERally regulations. Francois Duval, who had climbed into third after the opening stage, was also on the sidelines but will be restarting. The Belgian damaged the Citroen's sump after hitting a rock this morning and then suffered engine failure at the start of stage 10. Dani Sola was also a casualty of the leg, the Spaniard crashing in stage 11 and unable to restart tomorrow.
"I approached a right bend in fourth gear and could see that it was cut away on the inside from the first passage this morning," said Sola . "The front wheel dropped into the hole on the inside and the back spun round and hit a bank. It flipped the car over and I rolled about 30 metres down the road and off the stage. I don't know how many times the car went over but it is badly damaged. I was in a good position and it was a stupid mistake. I'm sorry for the team because they have worked so hard for me all rally."
Petter Solberg has experienced engine problems, soaring temperatures forcing him to ease the pace at times. He has nevertheless set three fastest stage times and heads into the final leg with a comfortable lead, albeit too aware that victory is never in the bag until you cross the finish line.
"We saw on the recce that the first day was like Tarmac and that the second leg was rough, so last night we set up the car for safety and raised it a bit," said Petter. "The stages are very tricky and it's very easy to hit rocks. If you are going at 100% it can happen, and we've been quite cautious and not taken any big risks."
Marcus Gronholm, at a loss to know how else to solve his brake problems, has been carrying enough brake pads to change them himself after each stage! The Finn, who has nearly a minute in hand to his team-mate, is however on track to notch up his best result of the season and all-important points after a disappointing retirement in Sweden.
"We're fitting different brakes tomorrow but we're going to have to settle for second," said Marcus. "I need the points."
Markko Martin has little chance of catching Gronholm, but also has an almost unassailable lead over fourth-placed Toni Gardemeister. The Estonian has had intermittent brake problems and clouted a big rock in stage eight, but has now eased the pace to reach the finish.
"There is nobody close behind me now so there is no need to push so hard," he said. "When it's like that though, it's difficult to get the confidence in the car."
Toni Gardemeister has battled against the flu throughout the rally and the Finn has had a couple of punctures and then rear suspension problems in the final stage of today's leg. In his first outing in Corona Rally Mexico, he is also finding it a tricky event and taking as much care as possible not to damage Ford's lead Focus. "It is good that the day is over!" he said.
Harri Rovanpera has climbed from seventh to fifth back in Leon this evening, despite taking a 1 minute 20 second penalty for leaving first service eight minutes late. With the engine running on three cylinders, the Mitsubishi team was forced to change the Lancer WRC05's ignition system, fuel lines and ECU. Even so, the Finn upped the pace throughout the leg and holds fifth overnight.
Sebastien Loeb has also powered up the leaderboard in the Citroen Xsara WRC, moving from 14th to hold a position in the overall top six, despite acting as a road sweeper in the first loop of three stages. "This morning I would never have thought I would be back in the points tonight; it's becoming interesting again," said Seb.
Armin Schwarz is piloting the lead Skoda, but the German is down in ninth position. He too has experienced brake and handling problems, although a change of diff settings this afternoon aided his cause.
In the chase for FIA Junior World Rally Championship honours, Guy Wilks is now in a league of his own. The British Suzuki driver has more than 10 minutes in hand to second-placed team-mate P-G Andersson, who was forced out of the leg in stage 11 with a broken engine mount and ultimately a holed sump.
Ricardo Trivino still leads the Mexican crews and the Peugeot 206 WRC driver holds 13th overall.
The final leg of Corona Rally Mexico takes in just two stages, but a whopping 43% of the day's 144.96 kilometres is competitive. 62.65 competitive kilometres lay in way and the event is rounded off with the longest stage of the rally -- the 44.39 kilometre run from Alfaro to El Establo.