Consistent Duval keeps Ford BP on target for points in GB FranÃ§ois Duval and StÃ©phane PrÃ©vot kept their Focus RS World Rally Car on course for a points finish in the Wales Rally GB after climbing to sixth during today's second leg. The Ford...
Consistent Duval keeps Ford BP on target for points in GB
François Duval and Stéphane Prévot kept their Focus RS World Rally Car on course for a points finish in the Wales Rally GB after climbing to sixth during today's second leg. The Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers regained much of the confidence missing during yesterday's opening leg, and a consistent drive through the slippery forests of south Wales leaves them just one day away from completing the team's clean sweep of points finishes on all 14 rounds of this year's FIA World Rally Championship.
Yesterday's bright sunshine and remarkably mild temperatures were consigned to memory as today brought overcast skies and a biting wind that saw the thousands of spectators lining the forest tracks huddled together in their winter clothing to try to keep warm.
Drivers faced two loops of two special stages close to the Eppynt military ranges this morning before returning south for three more tests in the forests close to Swansea, including a repeat of the 43.09km Resolfen, the longest of the rally. The day ended with a third and final pass through the purpose-built super special stage in Cardiff's Docklands area. In total, competitors faced 138.71km of competition.
Duval and Prévot left Cardiff this morning in seventh but climbed to sixth even before the opening test following the retirement of Gilles Panizzi. The opening two stages in Crychan and Halfway Forests were more slippery than expected and the first passage through the tests compacted the surface and made conditions even worse for the second pass. Duval, like virtually every other driver, selected tyres which he felt were too hard for the conditions.
"I felt happier with the set up of the car this morning," he said. "Halfway was a tricky stage. We had a narrow escape on a difficult left bend which went into a crest immediately afterwards. We went wide over the crest and I struggled to keep the car on the road. We made quite a few changes to our pace notes on the first loop of stages because they were too optimistic and they were much better during the second run through the tests. The roads were quite clean and not really rough at all. There were a few rocks that had been thrown up in places but nothing to worry about."
A change to softer compound Michelin rubber this afternoon gave Duval an even better feeling with the Focus RS. "All the things I was unhappy with yesterday, I felt much better about today," he added. "Our only real difficulties came during the last forest stage when we had no front brakes for the final 7km and the traction control system didn't work properly. Rain is forecast tomorrow and I really don't want that. It would make the roads very difficult. I'm determined to keep sixth and I don't want to have to fight for it in the wet."
Finns Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila, driving an M-Sport run 2001-specification Focus RS, lie 11th after another solid day of learning for the 18-year-old driver. Latvala admitted he was braking for corners far to early this morning but his confidence grew as he came to terms with the demanding forests tracks. "I've had fantastic grip all day and the car has felt superb," he said. "The rally has been going really well so I decided to step up my pace. But on the final forest stage I overshot a junction and only just managed to stop before a ditch. I made a mistake by going a little too fast and when I braked the wheels locked up. I couldn't select reverse gear and dropped about 25 seconds."
Ford BP mechanics came to the aid of amateur drivers Neil Burgess and Jim Holder, who have captured the hearts of thousands of fans by piloting a tiny Rover Mini Cooper through the forests on what will be the model's last ever world rally. Their car stopped during this evening's long Resolfen test when the alternator belt broke and damaged the blades of the radiator fan. With their lights quickly fading in the darkness, the duo managed to struggle out of the forest, having been stopped for almost 40 minutes, and returned to the Swansea service park with no penalties. Ford BP mechanics rushed to their aid and assisted Burgess' handful of helpers to change the alternator and fit a new driveshaft to keep the Mini in the rally. "They were great guys," said Holder. "The best!"
News from our Rivals
Petter Solberg (Subaru) posted fastest time on every stage to extend his advantage over Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) to 41.2sec. If the positions remain the same tomorrow, Solberg will clinch the drivers' title while the French team will take the manufacturers' crown. Tommi Mäkinen (Subaru) and Colin McRae (Citroen) have enjoyed a massive battle for third. The gap between the pair hardly moved all day and Mäkinen, wearing specially produced gold driving boots to commemorate his final WRC rally, ended the day 6.2sec ahead of the Scot. There were few changes on the leaderboard, with the exception of the retirement of Gilles Panizzi (Peugeot) who stopped en route to the opening stage with a transmission problem.
It's another early start for competitors as the final leg leaves Cardiff at 05.20. Just three stages are scheduled, two passes through the 30.61km Rhondda, high in the Vale of Neath, before the shorter Margam Park test which ends with a spectacular section through open parkland to finish right in front of the historic Margam House. This stage will be screened live on television. The finish is in Margam Park itself immediately after the test, with a ceremonial finish in Cardiff later in the afternoon. Drivers face 73.86km of competition.