Gardemeister tops Focus quartet on Turkey leaderboard BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen ended the opening day of the Rally of Turkey in sixth as four Focus RS World Rally Cars claimed top 10 places. ...
Gardemeister tops Focus quartet on Turkey leaderboard
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen ended the opening day of the Rally of Turkey in sixth as four Focus RS World Rally Cars claimed top 10 places. Team-mates Roman Kresta and Jan Mozn lie ninth in a similar Focus RS, just behind the privately-entered version of Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud and one place ahead of Antony Warmbold and Michael Orr.
This seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship proved a day of contrasts. Glorious sunshine and high temperatures this morning swept away the memories of the torrential rain and fog which blighted the recce period. But this afternoon the unseasonable weather returned to the Anatolian Mountains of southern Turkey and competitors faced fog, rain and even hail on the demanding gravel speed tests.
The 76 starters tackled eight speed tests covering 148.14km, seven in the mountains and the last of the day at a spectacular super special stage on the edge of the bustling holiday resort of Antalya. The rally has earned a reputation for rocky, car-breaking roads but comprehensive regrading work by the organisers ensured the tracks were smoother than normal. Despite the heavy rain earlier in the week, the roads had dried well, with only the odd mud patch until this afternoon's downpour.
Gardemeister, who led Ford to a record-breaking 50th consecutive points finish on the previous round in Cyprus last month, recovered well after an uncertain start this morning. The 30-year-old Finn completed the opening group of two stages in ninth and was unhappy with his performance. He stepped up his pace during the afternoon with a string of top six stage times to climb to a solid sixth overall.
"The first 20km of the opening stage were OK but I dropped time towards the end and I don't understand why," said Gardemeister. "The car felt too soft so I made the dampers harder and it handled much better on the next tests. The first stage of that next group was muddy like hell. I think I drove too aggressively and there was a lot of sliding into banks. It wasn't good. But the next two were quite dry. The times were better and I was happier."
Gardemeister ended the day with third fastest time in front of large crowds at the super special stage in Antalya after a difficult afternoon in the rain. "I made the dampers softer because of the rain but I didn't fully trust the grip. And then the settings were too soft for the next stage which was very rough.
"I lost quite a lot of time early this morning but I'm going to push hard and try to keep climbing the order. Much of the recce was completed in thick fog and so some of my pace notes were a bit strange when it was bright and sunny. It's difficult to judge distances in the fog and sometimes my estimates, and therefore my speed, were wrong. It's been a tough day also with the changeable conditions. I prefer it when the conditions are more consistent," he added.
Kresta, competing in Turkey for the first time, adopted a cautious policy but quickly established himself on the leaderboard. He punctured two tyres on the opening stage and also punctured a front left tyre when he hit a big stone in a braking area on the penultimate stage, the latter impact knocking the suspension geometry out of line. Co-driver Mozn felt unwell for much of the day and received medical treatment for a sore throat and swollen glands.
"It wasn't so easy to drive quickly when trying to learn the characteristics of the roads," said the 29-year-old Czech. "But they are really nice stages and I made no mistakes. This morning the gravel was quite loose, damp and slippery, but not muddy like it was during the recce. It was tricky when it rained this afternoon. The windscreen wipers were on all the time and the roads were slippery. Tomorrow I will try to keep the same steady pace - fast but not taking any risks."
Solberg lost time this morning with brake problems and dropped a handful of seconds this afternoon when the compression canister on the front left damper broke, making the shock absorber soft. However, the Norwegian was undaunted and has set his sights on climbing the order tomorrow. Warmbold admitted he was unhappy in the changing conditions and the German felt he was too cautious, concentrating too much effort on trying to keep the car on the road.
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Championship leader Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) was in sublime form. The Frenchman was fastest on eight of the nine stages. He lost his lead briefly on stage four when, as first car through the stage, he had to plough a line through the thick mud. He ended the day with a 69.6sec lead. A surprise second was Gigi Galli (Mitsubishi), the Italian consistently fast and edging ahead of Loeb on stage four. Petter Solberg (Subaru) held third all day, despite opting for tyres that were too hard this morning, but he lost the place when Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) slipped by on the penultimate test. The returning Carlos Sainz (Citroen) was quickly back in the groove and lies fifth. Behind Gardemeister, Markko Martin (Peugeot) is seventh after dropping 50 seconds when his windscreen misted up in the fog on stage seven. Harri Rovanpera (Mitsubishi) held sixth until he retired on the penultimate stage with broken rear suspension. That test also saw the demise of Janne Tuohino (Skoda) who stopped with a broken front left wishbone. Ironically it was exactly the same rock that caused the retirement of team-mate Armin Schwarz with the same problem on the first pass this morning! Chris Atkinson (Subaru) retired in the service park after the third stage. He hit some rocks after sliding wide and ripped off the left rear wheel. The accident also holed the fuel tank.
The second leg is the longest of the rally with 150.49km of competition, split between seven stages. Drivers leave Kemer at 07.00 for three loops of stages back in the same mountain region that hosted today's action. The leg again ends with a second and final run over the super special stage on the edge of Antalya. Competitors return to Kemer for the final overnight halt at 19.01.