Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Markko MÃ¤rtin and Michael Park lead this third round of the FIA World Rally Championship after a dramatic morning in the Mexican mountains. Their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car returned to Leon after the opening group...
Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Markko Märtin and Michael Park lead this third round of the FIA World Rally Championship after a dramatic morning in the Mexican mountains. Their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car returned to Leon after the opening group of stages with a 9.7 second lead over Carlos Sainz with Ford BP team-mates François Duval and Stéphane Prévot third in a similar Focus RS.
Forty-five of the original 54 starters left a sunny Leon this morning for the longest leg of the rally. Ahead of the drivers were two loops of three gravel speed tests in the mountains near the city, covering 154.34km. Rain fell overnight but the opening loop of special stages were mainly dry with only the odd mud patch to catch the unwary. Late last night leader Petter Solberg received a five minute penalty after his car was illegally pushed into yesterday's final service park when its engine would not start, promoting Märtin to fourth and Duval to sixth.
The action started with the 25.58km Duarte - Nuevo Valle, a combination of tight, twisty sections and fast, flowing roads. Märtin was second fastest and gained another place when Marcus Grönholm's power steering failed and the Finn lost over a minute. The 28-year-old Estonian then powered past Carlos Sainz into second overall by posting third quickest time on the downhill 23.56km Derramadero to Chichimequillas. Second became first when Sebastien Loeb retired on the liaison section after that stage with a damaged sump, the result of an impact with a rock, causing a terminal engine oil leak.
Märtin was second in the final test of the loop, the 28.03km journey from El Gigante to El Zauco, and arrived at service in a happy mood. "It has been a strange morning. I finished yesterday in fifth, started this morning in fourth and now I'm leading. But I'm not complaining! My driving is better than yesterday but still not perfect. I'm fighting against myself and still can't find exactly the right rhythm so it's all a bit messy. The roads are rougher and more demanding on the car today," said Märtin, who lost a few seconds at the start of the first two stages when the car's launch control system did not work properly.
Duval benefited from Grönholm's problem with fourth fastest time on the opening stage before setting second quickest time through Derramadero - Chichimequillas to move ahead of Harri Rovanperä. Loeb's retirement allowed Duval to climb to third with fourth fastest time on the final stage of the loop, a test which cost Rovanperä 16 minutes as the Finn struggled through with broken suspension.
"The stages this morning have generally been slower than yesterday's and we reduced the pressure in the front differential to make the handling more suitable," said 23-year-old Duval. "There are some mud patches which make driving quite difficult and on quite a few occasions we came over a crest to find mud in the road. The team has also raised the height of my seat so I can see properly now."