Flu-hit Gardemeister takes fourth as Mexico gets tough BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen ended today's second leg of the Corona Rally Mexico in fourth place after a tough day which sidelined several top...
Flu-hit Gardemeister takes fourth as Mexico gets tough
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen ended today's second leg of the Corona Rally Mexico in fourth place after a tough day which sidelined several top drivers. Despite continuing to suffer from the 'flu, Gardemeister battled through the six gravel speed tests in his Ford Focus RS World Rally Car to climb from 10th position this morning.
Team-mates Roman Kresta and Jan Mozný retired their similar Focus RS this morning with broken front suspension while the privately-entered Focus RS of Dani Solà and Xavier Amigo crashed out of fifth place this afternoon. Antony Warmbold and Michael Orr, driving a second privately-entered Focus RS, lie seventh after another impressive display.
High temperatures again made it hot work for the drivers during two identical loops of three special stages covering 146.48km close to Leon. The first and last stages of the loop were fast and flowing, characteristic of this third round of the FIA World Rally Championship, but the middle test was slower and more twisty.
Twenty-nine-year-old Gardemeister kept clear of the type of trouble that struck his rivals. He struggled to find a rhythm on the slippery roads but his consistent pace was enough for him to climb the leaderboard throughout the day. He was one of several drivers to hit a rock on stage eight but the strength of the Castrol-branded Focus RS ensured he escaped relatively unscathed. The sump guard took the full force of the impact but did its job in protecting the engine sump, while the rock also bent the front cross-member and the gearbox cross-member.
"The roads were slippery this morning because the cars ahead dragged gravel onto the tracks," said Gardemeister. "It was difficult to set good times because it was so slippery and I couldn't find a good rhythm. I started the last stage of the group with a puncture on the rear left tyre. It had punctured on one of the earlier stages but we had to put it back on the car and it took time for the mousse to warm up. I dropped some time also on the final stage this afternoon. The rear dampers were not working properly and I had to drive cautiously.
"I feel quite lucky to be in fourth. I tried to keep the car on the road and out of trouble and it worked. But although the position is good, I'm not happy with my performance. Tomorrow I will try hard to keep my position and I expect a battle with Harri Rovanpera and Sebastien Loeb," added Gardemeister. He will start the final leg 1.4sec ahead of Rovanpera and 36.4sec clear of Loeb.
Kresta and Mozný maintained sixth on the opening stage this morning but the Czechs broke the front right suspension on their Focus RS on the following test. They lost about 40 seconds in the stage and tried to repair the damage after the finish. They started the liaison section to the next stage but the damage was too great and they had to retire.
"I was on the right line but I braked in the rocks and a bolt broke on the track control arm," said Kresta. "We fixed it at the end of the stage but the damper had come away from the top mount. It would have caused a lot more damage if I had continued. I wasn't pushing that hard because it is so easy to make a mistake on these roads even when you are driving on the right line. It was a good rally and I was happy with everything until now. I drove at a constant speed and gained good experience of the car on gravel."
Solà, who was nominated for points by Ford, climbed from eight to fifth, despite four punctures in three stages this morning. However, his rally ended with a heavy accident 4km after the start of the penultimate stage. "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," he said. "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."
Warmbold climbed from ninth to sixth, before settling for seventh tonight. The German overshot a junction on stage 10 and hit a small wall on the final bend of the last stage but was happy with the day. "I was told that I should drive this car as straight as possible. I did that this morning but lost about 20 seconds in the first stage. Now I know you must be neat in the slow corners but must attack everywhere else," he said.
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Petter Solberg (Subaru) controlled his lead over Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot), setting three fastest times to end the day 29.6sec ahead of the Finn. His only worry came on stage eight when his car's engine temperature climbed to 126C. Gronholm again suffered brake problems, and carried new pads in the car which he changed after every stage. Markko Martin (Peugeot) and Francois Duval (Citroen) swapped places twice over the opening two stages in their fight for third. But when Duval retired on the liaison section to stage 10, the result of damaging his engine when he hit a rock on stage eight, the Estonian was able to ease his pace. Harri Rovanpera (Mitsubishi) lies fifth, despite incurring a 90 second penalty this morning when the team changed the engine management system after the car fired up on only three cylinders. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) was fastest on two stages to climb back to sixth after yesterday's four-minute time loss. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) held fifth until he hit a rock and damaged the power steering in stage nine. Just a few kilometres later the right front wheel was ripped from the car after hitting a hole and he retired.
The final day is short but tough. After leaving Leon at 08.30, competitors face just two stages before returning to the city for the finish at 12.30. But the final test is 44.39km long, likely to be the longest of the season. Drivers face 62.65km of competition in total.