WRC

Rally Mexico: Ford leg one summary

Kresta tops Ford Focus quartet in sixth on Rally Mexico BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Roman Kresta and Jan Mozny produced a superb display on today's opening leg of the Corona Rally Mexico to head a four-strong group of Focus RS World Rally...

Kresta tops Ford Focus quartet in sixth on Rally Mexico

BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Roman Kresta and Jan Mozny produced a superb display on today's opening leg of the Corona Rally Mexico to head a four-strong group of Focus RS World Rally Cars on the leaderboard. The Czechs, competing together and in Mexico for the first time, are sixth, heading many drivers familiar with this third round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

Spain's Dani Sola and Xavier Amigo, nominated for points on this event by Ford, are eighth on their debut in a privately-entered Focus RS with BP-Ford drivers and world championship leaders Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen 10th. The pair are separated by another privately-entered Focus RS of Antony Warmbold and Michael Orr.

More than 25,000 fans packed the narrow cobblestone streets of the beautiful city of Guanajuato last night to view the colourful start ceremony. People even perched on rooftops to see the vibrant dancing and hear the evocative music that preceded the arrival of the world's leading rally drivers. The action began in earnest today as competitors faced two identical loops of three slippery gravel speed tests close to the rally base of León, comprising 146.84km. The skies were overcast this morning, but the clouds gave way to bright sunshine this afternoon and air temperatures rose to 26°C. The rally is the highest in the championship, peaking at 2737 metres, and all competitors faced a noticeable drop in power output caused by the thinner air.

Kresta faced a tough day. Apart from two stages in Greece last year, this was his first experience of gravel since the 2003 Rally GB. With Mozny partnering him for the first time after regular co-driver Jan Tomanek stepped down for medical reasons, Kresta's challenge was even more difficult. However, they were seventh on the opening special stage before collecting punctures on each of the next two tests. But a superb third fastest on the next stage carried them up the order into sixth.

"I hit a bank on the second stage and punctured the right rear tyre and then punctured the left rear on the third stage," said Kresta. "I lost time with the second puncture. On right hand corners the car was sliding because the air pressure wasn't correct, so I was careful. I tried hard this afternoon because I wanted a good road position for tomorrow and I have it. It was hotter this afternoon so I chose harder compound Michelin tyres and it was a good decision. Conditions were hard. Once you move off the clean line and onto the gravel, there is no grip and there was much loose gravel."

Sola and Amigo started carefully, the Spaniards determined not to take any risks as they came to terms with their new car. Their pace increased as the day continued, Sola posting two top five times during the afternoon as he gained in confidence.

"The plan was to learn about the car and then go faster this afternoon," said Sola. "The feeling was good this morning but the settings were too soft. We made the car a bit harder at the lunchtime service. My engineers knew exactly what I wanted and it worked. I'm not sure of the limits of the car yet. Sometimes I can drive at 100 per cent but on other occasions I am at only 80 per cent because I'm not sure what I can do with the car. I need to learn more, but that will happen the more kilometres I drive," added Sola, whose thoughts for much of the leg have been with the victims of the train bombings in Madrid exactly a year ago today.

Gardemeister and Honkanen endured a tough day in their Castrol-branded Focus RS. Twenty-nine-year-old Gardemeister is suffering from a heavy dose of 'flu. And as championship leaders, the Finns had the dubious privilege of being first to start the special stages. Loose gravel on the road handicapped them as they swept the stones clear to leave a cleaner line for those behind.

Thirteenth on the opening two tests emphasised the difficulty. But the third stage, the 21.80km test from Santana to the landmark monument at the summit of El Cubilete, was cleaner and Gardemeister was second quickest to climb to ninth. The afternoon stages remained slippery but he remained on the leaderboard and will benefit from a better running position tomorrow.

"The first two stages were very slippery," he said. "I overshot a junction in the second stage and dropped about 15 seconds. I came down a long downhill straight into a square left bend. It was so slippery and I just missed the corner. I had to drive over some stones to get back on the road. Like every other driver, I had troubles with my brakes. About 3km from the end of the second stage the pedal went to the floor and I had to pump it to make it work. I bled the brakes before the third stage and they were better.

"I spun and stalled the engine after a tricky crest midway through stage five so I'm not happy with the day and I hope it will be better tomorrow. I think I have been pushing too hard and over-driving the car. My 'flu isn't as bad as yesterday but I have a bad cough and feel very tired," he added.

Warmbold and Orr were the leading Focus RS drivers midway through the day in seventh, the German driver really enjoying the Mexican roads. "My tyre choice was perfect for the morning stages. It's hard when you jump into a car for a rally without a test but I'm happy," he said.

News from our Rivals

Petter Solberg (Subaru), debuting his team's 2005 car, led from the start. Fastest on three stages, he ended an untroubled day with a 20.5sec advantage. Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) was Solberg's closest pursuer throughout, the Finn one of many drivers to suffer from fading brakes during the morning loop. Team-mate Markko Märtin is third, the Estonian steadily climbing the leaderboard despite also suffering from fading bakes. Despite a first stage spin and difficulty in leaving the start during the morning stages, François Duval (Citroen) led the French team's challenge in fourth. Team-mate Sebastien Loeb was second fastest on the opening stage but detected a damaged right rear damper after the test. He drove the next two stages with the wheel twisted on the axle, dropping almost four minutes. He lies 14th. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) is fifth on only his second event in a World Rally Car, despite a half-spin on the first stage. Jani Paasonen (Skoda) retired after crashing on the second stage.

Tomorrow's Route

The second leg follows a similar format, containing two identical loops of three stages in its 146.48km of competition. The first 9km of the opening test of each loop, north of León, are based on roads used today but in the opposite direction, with the other two stages located east of the city. Drivers start at 08.30 and return for the final overnight halt at 19.24.

-frs-

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team