Rally of Turkey: Ford preview

Heat the biggest enemy for Ford BP in roasting Turkey Ford BP Rallye Sport is preparing for what it believes will be its toughest event of the season when the FIA World Rally Championship heads into the harsh environment of southern Turkey. The...

Heat the biggest enemy for Ford BP in roasting Turkey

Ford BP Rallye Sport is preparing for what it believes will be its toughest event of the season when the FIA World Rally Championship heads into the harsh environment of southern Turkey. The Rally of Turkey (24 - 27 June) is the last episode in a trilogy of hot weather, rough road events in the eastern Mediterranean and the combination of baking temperatures and rock-strewn gravel tracks will place high demands on both cars and drivers.

Although this will be Turkey's second championship appearance, in many ways it will be a step into the unknown for the Ford BP team and drivers Markko Märtin and Michael Park and team-mates François Duval and Stéphane Prévot. Last year's rally was in early March when the region was emerging from severe winter storms that devastated the mountain roads. Conditions will be totally different this year when the event will be in the height of summer with temperatures in the coastal resort and rally base of Kemer currently at 35°C.

Temperatures in the Anatolian mountains will not be as high as the three days of speed tests are held at an average altitude of close to 1200 metres. But the twisty, and in many places, steep roads will ensure relatively slow average speeds which provide little airflow to cool hard-working engines and transmissions on the team's Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars.

"I have always thought that going to Turkey at the end of June would be the hottest rally of the year," said Ford BP technical director Christian Loriaux. "Although the Cyprus Rally was hot, the Acropolis Rally in Greece was cooler than usual and I believe the Rally of Turkey will beat both. Cars have to negotiate some nasty uphill climbs and in hot temperatures they put great strain on cars but we're prepared for that."

Ford lies second in the manufacturers' standings while Märtin and Park are third in the drivers' championship with six of the 16 rounds completed. Having finished sixth last year, they have as much experience of the roads as anyone else but 28-year-old Märtin believes the knowledge gained in 2003 will be of little benefit.

"I'm approaching the event as I would do for a new rally," he said. "Conditions last year were wet and muddy with snow patches in some places. They were nothing like we can expect this year so it's like preparing for an unknown rally. There won't be such a big difference to the pace notes but the areas that are going to change totally are the set-up I'll use on the car and the importance of cooling.

"The roads aren't as twisty as those in Cyprus but they do have similar characteristics. There are more open sections in Turkey where you can drive flat out. Like the other two hot gravel rallies, the start order on the opening day is important because there will be loose gravel on the surface which is a big handicap for the first cars. I'll start third which gives me an advantage over the two drivers ahead of me in the order and the championship. But I don't think we'll know what the best start position could be until we see the roads on the recce," added Märtin.

Duval created history in Turkey last year when, at just 22, he finished third and became the youngest driver to claim a podium position in the history of the championship. "It was a difficult rally because it was my first time together with Stéphane but the result was fantastic. This year should be easier in some ways, but just as difficult in others because it will be very hot and tough for both drivers and cars," he said.

"Road conditions will be different too and maybe that will mean some big changes to my pace notes. Last year we had ice marked in some areas and I don't think we're going to need that this time! The roads are quite narrow and when you find big stones on the inside of corners or in the middle of the track, there's not a lot of room to avoid them. Another podium finish would be perfect for me. The roads will be rough but the Focus is a strong car and I think it's possible to finish in the top three again," added Duval, who is equal fifth in the championship.

Team News

* Märtin completed the opening two days of a three-day test in northern England earlier this week. The development test allowed the team to trial several new components on the Focus RS WRC as well as undertaking tyre work with Michelin. The opening day was based in Kershope Forest before the team moved south to Grizedale Forest, both former stages on the Rally GB. Briton Mark Higgins and Swede Tobias Johansson took over the driving duties for the final day.

* Cosworth Racing has been working on a development upgrade for the Focus RS Duratec R engine and during the test Märtin reported an improvement in performance. However, Cosworth engineers remain cautious about the engine's durability for a rough event, such as Turkey. A decision on whether the new engine specification will be used will be made in conjunction between Cosworth and M-Sport on Monday.

* Johansson has just started a work experience programme at M-Sport. The 22-year-old, who finished 11th on this year's Swedish Rally in a Focus RS WRC, will spend the rest of the year at the team's Dovenby Hall base. He will assist technicians in the workshop in preparing event cars and work on tests and rallies to learn all aspects of the 'grass roots' of the sport.

Rally Route

The holiday resort of Kemer, 40km south of the larger city of Antalya, is again the base of the rally and where the single service park will be located. However, Thursday night's start and crowd-pleasing super special stage are in Antalya. This year's stage is at a new venue at the university and the 2.50km test, where two cars race side by side, is repeated again at the end of Friday's opening leg. The remainder of the 383.33km of competition is based on rough gravel roads high in the Anatolian mountains, west of Kemer. The stages use essentially the same roads as last year, although most include some variation. However, there are three new tests and eight of the 17 stages will be repeated. The second leg is the longest of the event, totalling 153.60km of action.


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Series WRC
Teams M-Sport