GrÃ¶nholm attack powers BP-Ford up to second in Rally Mexico A rejuvenated Marcus GrÃ¶nholm and Timo Rautiainen charged up the Rally Mexico leaderboard to end the second leg in second place tonight in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. The ...
Grönholm attack powers BP-Ford up to second in Rally Mexico
A rejuvenated Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen charged up the Rally Mexico leaderboard to end the second leg in second place tonight in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. The Finns emerged on top of an enthralling four-car battle in the dusty mountain roads of central Mexico on this fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship. The BP-Ford World Rally Team pair will start tomorrow's third and final leg with a 34.5sec advantage over their closest rivals.
Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen are fourth in another Focus RS, just 2.8sec behind Dani Sordo on the final step of the podium. They had a grip on third until a costly high-speed spin midway through the afternoon sent them back into the fight for the position.
Drivers tackled eight more gravel speed tests covering 158.38km north and east of the rally base in León. After two loops of three identical special stages, drivers repeated the two short crowd-pleasing tests on the edge of the city. The mountain roads were twistier than yesterday and overcast skies kept temperatures lower than in the opening leg. Every stage climbed over 2000m and the high altitude affected all competitors as engines struggled to 'breathe' in the thinner air and produced less power.
Thirty-nine-year-old Grönholm started in fifth, at the back of a four-car battle that was covered by less than 17sec, with the team having traced a small engine problem yesterday to a faulty temperature sensor. The Finn moved into top gear on the third and final stage of the morning loop. Having made small modifications to the car before the stage, he convincingly won the 23.27km Derramadero stage to leapfrog Dani Sordo, Chris Atkinson and team-mate Hirvonen in one sweep and take second.
He won two more stages this afternoon to pull clear of the chasing pack and end the leg 60.8sec behind leader Sébastien Loeb. "Today was much better," said Grönholm. "I lost time yesterday with a small problem but everything was back to normal today. My aim was to catch those ahead of me and take second and that's what I achieved.
"I made a few changes to the car between stages 10 and 11 and it feels perfect now. It's a bit late but now I'm happy with the way it feels and I was able to push hard for the first time in this rally on that last stage this morning. My pre-rally test wasn't perfect so I started with a similar set-up to the one we used in Sweden and Norway and that wasn't right for here. Now it feels right. I'm a minute behind Loeb so to catch him isn't possible unless he has problems but I want second," he said.
Hirvonen started in third and climbed to second before Grönholm moved ahead. However, the 26-year-old Finn opened a 18sec lead over Sordo before spinning on the second stage of the afternoon loop and dropping to fourth. He regained third on the next test but was edged out by Sordo on the final two super special stages.
"I lost about 25sec when I spun," he said. "About 3km after the start I went into a fourth gear right-left combination bend too fast and just slid wide and spun. I punctured both rear tyres but the mousse system worked perfectly to keep the tyres inflated. I was a little bit lucky that I only spun because it could have been more serious. To fight for second place I had to take risks otherwise my only option was to lift off the accelerator and settle for third which I wasn't going to do.
"Second is now out of reach which I'm disappointed about but I'm still in the battle for a podium place. There will be a big fight for third tomorrow and I'm ready for that. I don't want to let Dani take third from me," added Hirvonen.
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted with Grönholm's fightback. "It was a great performance. He jumped from fifth to second and pulled away from the others. Mikko has made life hard for himself. He built up a near 20sec cushion which he lost. It was a bad spin in a tight section but he can regain third tomorrow. Both cars have run faultlessly and there is just routine service tonight," he said.
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Sébastien Loeb (Citroen) won four stages to extend his first day lead to a fraction over a minute. Behind Grönholm, Dani Sordo (Citroen) was able to capitalise on Hirvonen's spin to climb to third. Second this morning was Chris Atkinson (Subaru) but the Australian could not match the pace of his rivals after fluctuating turbo boost pressure and he slipped to fifth, 9.7sec behind Hirvonen. His cause was not helped when he damaged the front of his car after being forced off the road by a non-competing car this afternoon. Manfred Stohl (Citroen) rounded off the top six despite differential troubles this afternoon.
The final leg is the shortest of the rally with just 62.06km of competition. After leaving León at 07.45, drivers face three stages to the north and east before a third and final visit to the super special stage, at which competitors will make a double pass of the test. They return to León for the finish ceremony at 13.00.