GrÃ¶nholm dominates opening leg to lead for Ford in Sardinia BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus GrÃ¶nholm and Timo Rautiainen lead the Rally d'Italia Sardegna after dominating today's opening leg on the rocky roads of the Mediterranean ...
Grönholm dominates opening leg to lead for Ford in Sardinia
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen lead the Rally d'Italia Sardegna after dominating today's opening leg on the rocky roads of the Mediterranean island. The Finns built a large advantage after winning all three of this morning's speed tests in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car and controlled their lead during this afternoon's repeat tests to end the day 35.4sec in front.
Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen lie third in a similar Focus RS after a strong performance. They were a model of consistency, setting five top three times from the six special stages to return to the rally base of Olbia, on Sardinia's east coast, with a comfortable grip on the final podium place.
The blistering sunshine of the last few days was replaced by grey clouds as competitors left Olbia this morning for the seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship, following last night's start ceremony in the exclusive resort of Porto Cervo. By mid-morning the sun burst through to make it uncomfortably hot in the cars, air temperatures peaking at 34?C in the shade and 44?C in the sun. Drivers tackled two identical loops of three stages covering 129.64km south of Olbia.
The opening stages had a sandy surface and Grönholm made good use of BFGoodrich's new construction gravel tyres. He opted for medium compound rubber with extra cuts hand-carved into the tyres to disperse the sand. They worked well as Grönholm raced to fastest time on all three stages to return to service with a 40.1sec lead. In the afternoon, 38-year-old Grönholm matched his speed to that of Loeb, conceding just a handful of seconds before claiming a fourth stage win on the final test.
"I was surprised to have such a large lead this morning but the car felt great and I was relaxed in the stages," he said. "We worked hard during our tests here to make improvements to the suspension, differentials and engine and it paid off. I was more confident. I still have a big fight on my hands with Loeb and I think there will be two more days like that. I don't have a big enough lead yet to be comfortable because there are too many corners remaining but it's a good feeling tonight.
"The roads were badly rutted this afternoon and it was hard for the tyres but I avoided any punctures which is a testament to their strength and BFGoodrich's efforts. Tomorrow I hope to continue at the same pace and I need to avoid mistakes and problems," he added.
Twenty-five-year-old Hirvonen ended the morning in second, just 0.3sec ahead of Loeb, despite believing his choice of hard compound rubber was wrong. He maintained a consistent pace to end the day 28.8sec behind the Frenchman and 40.3sec clear of Henning Solberg. "It has been rough and rutted but I like these stages and I've not taken stupid risks," he said. "There were many loose stones this morning and the car's sump guard took a few big hits so I knew I had to be careful.
"The top three is where I want to be and this is the kind of day I have wanted all year. The Focus felt great and the tyres worked really well on the rocks and ruts. Tomorrow I will stick at a sensible pace and try to hold position because anything can happen in these conditions," he added.
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson described the day as 'fantastic'. "The lead that Marcus built this morning was a sensational performance by him and the car. He controlled that advantage this afternoon. Mikko did what was requested of him to set a good pace and remain in touch at the top of the leaderboard," he said.
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Championship leader Sébastien Loeb (Citroen) struggled this morning as the loose, sandy surface did him few favours in terms of grip as first driver to tackle the stages. But he made little impression on the repeat run over cleaner, but rougher, tracks this afternoon. Behind Hirvonen, Henning Solberg (Peugeot) survived going off the road on the second test and a front left puncture in the third to hold fourth, ahead of Dani Sordo (Citroen). The young Spaniard altered his car's settings in service and was happier with the handling this afternoon. Gigi Galli (Peugeot) spun on the opening stage but recovered well to hold sixth. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) was second early on but slipped down the order to seventh. Team- mate Petter Solberg dropped 15 seconds after spinning on the first stage but was fourth until a string of punctures brought his car to a stop in the final stage. He will restart tomorrow under SupeRally rules. Harri Rovanperä (Skoda) retired after the penultimate stage with a broken driveshaft while Jan Kopecky (Skoda) went out on the opening test with a crankshaft sensor problem.
The second leg is again based south of Olbia but the bulk of the 137.36km of competition is based further west. After leaving Olbia at 08.00, drivers tackle two identical loops of three speed tests before returning for the final overnight halt at 18.25. The leg includes two passes over the 31.20km Monte Lerno stage, the longest and most demanding of the event. The day also includes two sets of jumps, Mickey's Jump and the Camel's Humps, which rank among the most spectacular sections of the entire season.