Duval holds fifth for Ford BP in treacherous Turkey Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot ended today's opening leg of the Rally of Turkey in fifth place. The Belgians mixed speed with caution in treacherous conditions...
Duval holds fifth for Ford BP in treacherous Turkey
Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot ended today's opening leg of the Rally of Turkey in fifth place. The Belgians mixed speed with caution in treacherous conditions in the Anatolian mountains of southern Turkey. Their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car gradually climbed the leaderboard to end the day in the midst of a three car fight for third.
Team-mates Markko Martin and Michael Park endured a difficult day in their Castrol-branded Focus RS. They led after last night's short opening speed test, but several problems today cost over 50 minutes. Although they ended the leg 41st and last, it requires only one manufacturer entered car to retire to put them back in the FIA World Rally Championship points.
This seventh round of the series began last night with a spectacular super special stage in front of large crowds on the edge of the city of Antalya. Two cars at a time raced around the 2.50km purpose-built track and Ford BP made the perfect start when Martin was fastest and Duval equal second. The rally restarted this morning when the action moved to the mountains above the rally base of Kemer. Drivers faced another 149.33km of competition over six more stages which included a second pass through the Antalya test. Temperatures reached 33C in the mountains and a sizzling 40C in the Kemer service park as blue skies prevailed all day.
That was in contrast to the last few days when torrential rain threatened to make a predominantly dry recce almost meaningless. Drivers, who practised most of the twisty gravel roads in the dry, were left to guess what conditions would be like. They turned out to be wet, muddy and treacherously slippery. Duval, like many others, opted for tyres that were too hard for the conditions and he lost 30 seconds on the opening two tests.
"Conditions had changed a lot since the recce but without gravel crews, we could only guess at how wet the roads would be. They were very wet and quite dangerous in places. There was so much water that we came across watersplashes in the middle of corners that were not there during the recce. We had many lucky escapes. I estimate we could have gone off the road on about 10 different occasions," explained 23-year-old Duval.
Duval settled into sixth and moved to fifth as he posted two second fastest stage times this afternoon. "It was a pity about our tyres this morning but apart from that it's been a good day," he added. "Sainz and Solberg are not too far ahead so we will see what happens. The dust was bad on the final stage tonight and three times I nearly had to stop. I've tried hard to regain some of the seconds we lost this morning and to lose them again like that is annoying."
Like Duval, Martin regretted his tyre choice for the opening two stages in which he lost more than a minute. "It was hard trying to keep the car on the right line because it was so wet and muddy. I think there were probably only about 5km that were dry in total. There were many places with standing water and it was so slippery in the braking areas. Midway through the third stage I stalled the engine when braking for a corner and dropped about 10 seconds. We based our tyre selection on the information we had but we didn't get the lottery right," he said.
The 28-year-old Estonian lost more ground during the second pass through the Phaselis stage. "We went into a watersplash about 50 metres after the start and the force of the water pushed the bonnet upwards. It broke the pin on the right hand side and the bonnet blocked the intercooler. I thought it might have broken the cooling fans so we stopped to check but they were OK and we continued. The engine became hot because there was no air flow and went into 'safe' mode, so we were low on power for the rest of the stage," said Martin.
"I was careful going through there this morning, perhaps too careful, so I went faster this time. But there was much more water in it. Maybe the passage of the cars this morning had dug it deeper. After the stage we cut the bumper away to improve the air flow to the engine and it was fine on the next test," he said. He lost 2min 30sec and the team replaced the intercooler, radiator, fans and power steering cooler in service.
However, just 2km from the end of the next stage, Martin's Focus RS stopped when exiting a watersplash with a freak crankshaft sensor problem. Team director Malcolm Wilson said that one sensor had been smashed while the wire on the back-up had been cut clean through. "It's remarkable because in the history of the Focus we have never had a crankshaft sensor fail and here we have two. The positioning of the sensors means it is hard for them to be damaged and my feeling is that it might be a legacy of Markko's problems in the watersplash earlier today."
Team engineers instructed Martin via telephone to use wire from a headlight to rewire the sensor and he was able to restart after 45 minutes. "Now I feel like a proper mechanic!" he joked afterwards.
News from our Rivals
Despite the roads being smoother then expected, it proved a day of attrition with only 41 of the original 65 starters returning to Kemer. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen), who had most to lose if conditions had been dry by running first on loose gravel, capitalised on the wet roads. He took the lead on the day's opening stage and was never headed, opening a 7.5sec advantage over Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot), who had no hydraulic pressure for the mid-afternoon stages. Petter Solberg (Subaru) challenged for second, despite a fourth gear spin on the opening stage, until he damaged his car's air inlet pipe at the same watersplash as Martin had problems and lost 30 seconds. Harri Rovanpera (Peugeot) drove the opening two stages with no pressure in the rear differential but, once repaired, he climbed from ninth to sixth. Mikko Hirvonen (Subaru) suffered in the infamous watersplash in stage four and later in the stage he hit a rock and holed his car's radiator. Gilles Panizzi (Mitsubishi) retired with electrical problems in stage four and team-mate Gigi Galli was another victim of the watersplash. He dropped more than 10 minutes after damaging the radiator fan and stopping to make repairs.
The second leg promises to be just as gruelling. Competitors leave Kemer at 07.30 and tackle six more stages covering 153.60km, making it the longest day of the rally. The route covers similar territory to today with two loops of two tests before two more stages closer to Kemer complete the action. Drivers face two passes through the 36.10km Kumluca test, the longest of the rally. They return to Kemer for the final overnight halt at 19.57.