Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya kept their Ford Focus World Rally Car firmly on course for a podium finish in the Rally of Portugal after another demanding day's driving over gruelling gravel roads. The Ford Martini duo ended the second and...
Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya kept their Ford Focus World Rally Car firmly on course for a podium finish in the Rally of Portugal after another demanding day's driving over gruelling gravel roads. The Ford Martini duo ended the second and penultimate leg of this fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship in third after adding another special stage victory to their tally.
Ford team-mates Petter Solberg and Phil Mills produced another superb performance, the young Norwegian driver impressing seasoned observers as he climbed to fourth and set fastest time on the day's fourth stage, his first at the top level on only his 10th championship rally. However, his day ended in disappointment when he retired on the penultimate test with clutch failure.
The weather was again hot and huge dust clouds followed the cars as they sped through the tests in the inland Arganil region of Portugal. Conditions were so bad that with the rally running late and into darkness, organisers extended the gap to three minutes between the top cars for the final stage.
Sainz maintained an impressive level of consistency, setting seven top three times during the nine stages, covering 179km. His only troubles came on the last 25.38km test when severe dust and a broken driveshaft on the Focus cost around a minute, but did not drop him any places.
"It was very dusty in the final stage," said Sainz. "In places where I should have been in fourth gear I had to stop because I couldn't see more than a metre in front of me. But I also broke the left front driveshaft and because the car was so hard to control in two-wheel drive, I also had a spin. I think the two leaders are now too far ahead for us to catch tomorrow but I'm confident that we can maintain our third position."
Solberg, although disappointed, was far from downhearted. "I've sat alongside Carlos in the Focus during testing and learned many small but important things from him and it's fantastic that today I've been able to set similar times to his. I've really enjoyed being able to drive at the speed I know I'm capable of and I hope I've made people notice what I can do. It's my first retirement since joining Ford at the start of last year, so that's not too bad is it?" he said. "It was a great kick to score my first stage win in the world championship," said 25-year-old Solberg. "I felt really happy and when I arrived at the time control at the beginning of the next stage, all the other drivers pipped their horns to congratulate me. I felt so proud," he added.
The determination of Solberg and Mills was clear for all to see when they arrived at the entrance to the Arganil service park after six stages and their Focus stopped, the car having run out of fuel. With no assistance allowed, they pushed the car up a steep 50 metre hill and into the time control, arriving out of breath but on time.
However, their efforts were to no avail as on the penultimate 23.13km stage, their Focus stopped shortly before halfway with a broken clutch.
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson looked forward to the possibility of a fourth consecutive points scoring finish for the team tomorrow. "It's been a good, solid performance from Carlos today and it was unfortunate that a combination of dust, a broken driveshaft and a spin cost him time tonight. But the good thing was that he didn't lose any positions. I'm very disappointed that Petter had to retire but it was a great display. In the last two days he showed he will be a force to be reckoned with in the future," said Wilson.
News from our Rivals
Richard Burns (Subaru) dominated the day, posting fastest time on five stages to regain the lead he lost yesterday afternoon. However, running in the dust of overnight leader Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) on the final two stages cost him around 30 seconds and he goes into the final day 14.6sec behind the Finn. Both Grönholm and team-mate Francois Delecour complained about dust finding its way into the cockpit of their cars while Delecour was further delayed by a broken shock absorber and low fuel pressure. Freddy Loix (Mitsubishi) endured a frustrating day, brake problems and being trapped in the dust of Adruzilo Lopes' limping car costing valuable seconds but he climbed onto the leaderboard in seventh. Seat duo Didier Auriol and Toni Gardemeister are still going, but it has been a bad day for former world champion Auriol. Steering and brake problems and a broken rear driveshaft which left him with front-wheel drive only for three stages left him in 10th. Gardemeister lies ninth after an untroubled drive. Armin Schwarz and Luis Climent (both Skoda) are also still in the rally, Schwarz climbing to eighth, despite a puncture and Climent to 12th. Apart from Solberg, the only other major retirement was Kenneth Eriksson (Hyundai) who retired on the day's third stage with an engine fire.
The final leg is a short, sharp snap. After leaving Porto at 06.00, competitors head north towards the Spanish border for three early morning stages covering 60.30km around the town of Ponte de Lima, with no opportunity for service in between. They return to Porto for the finish ceremony at 12.00.
<pre> Leaderboard after Leg 2 1. M Gronholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 3hr 50min 29.4sec 2. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 3hr 50min 44.0sec 3. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus 3hr 52min 07.6sec 4. H Rovanperä/R Pietiläinen FIN Toyota Corla 3hr 52min 36.1sec 5. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Peugeot 206 3hr 53min 29.4sec. 6. M Martin/M Park EE Toyota Corolla 3hr 55min 37.0sec 7. F Loix/S Smeets B Mitsubishi Carisma 3hr 56min 36.6sec 8. A Schwarz/M Hiemer D Skoda Octavia 3hr 56min 58.1sec 9. T Gardemeister/P Lukander FIN Seat Cordoba 3hr 57min 22.2sec 10 D Auriol/D Giraudet F Seat Cordoba 4hr 01min 32.2sec