Sainz thrives in NZ but crash ends Martin's hopes. Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya kept Ford Rallye Sport on target for a points finish in the Rally New Zealand after finishing today's gruelling second leg in fifth position. The Spaniards enjoyed a...
Sainz thrives in NZ but crash ends Martin's hopes.
Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya kept Ford Rallye Sport on target for a points finish in the Rally New Zealand after finishing today's gruelling second leg in fifth position. The Spaniards enjoyed a much more fruitful day at the wheel of their Focus RS World Rally Car, climbing from an overnight 10th place despite road conditions which did little to help their cause.
Team-mates Markko Martin and Michael Park's rally ended in disappointment when they rolled their Focus RS out of this 12th round of the FIA World Rally Championship midway through the afternoon. The accident brought to an end their impressive record of finishing every rally they have started this season and also a run of points finishes stretching back six rallies to Argentina.
Glorious sunshine blazed down on the fast and flowing gravel roads close to the town of Ruawai, 160km north of Auckland, around which today's action was based. Ten speed tests comprising 204.13km and 17 hours behind the wheel lay in wait for the drivers, including the massive 59km Parahi / Ararua test, the longest in the championship calendar outside Kenya's Safari Rally.
The roads were coated in loose gravel, a major handicap for the early runners who paid the penalty of having to sweep the stones clear for the benefit of those tackling the tests further down the order.
As fifth car through the stages, Sainz had to contend with the poor conditions, but the 40-year-old Madrid driver quickly found the confidence that was lacking yesterday. He climbed two places on the opening special stage and continued his upward progress throughout the day. He returned to Auckland this evening 47.8sec behind fourth-placed Tommi Makinen and a comfortable 68.3sec ahead of Juha Kankkunen.
"I felt much happier with the car today and more confident than yesterday," said Sainz. "We've moved up the leaderboard and considering our poor road position that represents good progress. We have a big gap in front of us and an even bigger one behind so tomorrow we will take no risks and hope to profit from the mistakes and problems of others.
"We tried a revised car set-up today for testing purposes but we weren't fully happy with it, so tomorrow we'll go back to our original settings. Unless we try these things we never know whether they are an improvement or not so it was a worthwhile exercise," added Sainz.
Martin benefited from changes made to his Focus yesterday afternoon. He set a consistent pace and climbed to sixth during the morning stages, despite driving with something left in reserve. "The car was fine so it was down to me to go faster. I was driving on the limit yesterday and finding it hard, but the car felt so much better today that I was setting faster times without driving to the maximum," he explained.
However, his rally ended in the 16.03km Brooks test when he went off the road on a third gear left bend. "We approached it a little too fast and clipped a bank on the inside," said the 26-year-old Estonian driver. "We rolled across the road and down a bank on the opposite side. It was quite a slow accident and the car wasn't badly damaged but it ended a couple of metres below the road."
The car's hot exhaust set fire to the undergrowth around the Focus RS and Martin and Park reacted promptly to put the flames out. They had just finished when another competitor left the road at exactly the same point and collided with the Focus and three people, including representatives of an official television crew. Organisers reported their injuries were not serious.
Ford Rallye Sport team director Malcolm Wilson sympathised with Martin following his retirement. "I'm sad to see Markko's track record come to an end. He had driven an impeccable rally up to that point and hadn't put so much as a scratch on the car."
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Overnight leader Richard Burns (Peugeot) was fastest on four of the opening six stages to increase his lead to 44.3sec. However, he rolled into retirement close to the finish of stage 15, handing an overnight 55.3sec lead to team-mate Marcus Gronholm, who is now virtually assured of his second world title. Only a bizarre set of circumstances, involving team-mate Gilles Panizzi winning here and in Australia and Britain, with Gronholm failing to score at all, can deprive the Finn. Panizzi currently lies eighth. Martin's retirement assured Peugeot of their third consecutive manufacturers' title. Petter Solberg (Subaru) leads his inter-team battle with Tommi Makinen, overhauling the Finn on the opening stage and pulling away throughout the day, assisted by a spin by Makinen on stage 15. Behind Sainz, Juha Kankkunen and Freddy Loix (both Hyundai) climbed the leaderboard steadily, Kankkunen ending the day in a points position in sixth. The day's other major retirement was Finn Jani Paasonen, who rolled on the long stage 11 and broke his car's radiator.
There is no respite for drivers who face another 06.00 start for the final, and shortest, leg of the rally. They face eight more stages covering 90.19km before returning to Auckland for the finish. It promises to be a tough finale as the final six tests in Maramarua Forest will be run in quick succession with no opportunity for service in between.