Ford Focus cars pack leaderboard in Rally Italia Sardinia Four Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars are on the leaderboard of the Rally Italia Sardinia tonight after another gruelling day's competition on the Mediterranean island. BP-Ford World Rally...
Ford Focus cars pack leaderboard in Rally Italia Sardinia
Four Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars are on the leaderboard of the Rally Italia Sardinia tonight after another gruelling day's competition on the Mediterranean island. BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Roman Kresta and Jan Mozny and private entrants Mark Higgins and Trevor Agnew both hold points scoring positions in seventh and sixth respectively, with one day remaining of this fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
BP-Ford team-mates Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen spent today's second leg in a furious four-car battle for third in their Castrol-branded Focus RS. However, an oil pressure warning light flashed on near the finish of the last speed test and they stopped for fear of damaging the engine. The five minute penalty for not completing the test relegated the Finns to eighth, but still in the points. Antony Warmbold and Michael Orr complete the Focus quartet in 10th.
The bulk of today's action was based south-west of the rally base of Olbia. Drivers faced the two longest special stages of the rally this morning, before a short test close to the town preceded a repeat of the two long stages. It added up to 144.01km of competition. Glorious weather in the mountains saw temperatures climb to 28°C, but the rough gravel tracks again took a heavy toll on competitors and 26 of the 63 cars that started the leg failed to complete it.
Kresta and Mozny started in 11th and quickly climbed onto the leaderboard, reaching the midpoint service in 10th. "I drove carefully because the roads were slippery," said 28-year-old Kresta. "I was fifth in the start order and there was much more loose gravel on the roads than I experienced yesterday. I opted for Michelin's hard compound tyres with full cuts to combat the gravel. It was a safe choice, and it paid off because there was so much soft gravel that the grip wasn't good. We did a lot of sliding and it felt like driving on ice. It's easy to make a mistake in those conditions."
The Czechs kept clear of the trouble which hindered so many rivals during the afternoon to climb to seventh. "The second pass through the stages was better as the gravel had been swept clear. The roads were clean so grip was good. But the last stage was incredibly rough, with big ruts in the corners. I spent a long time trapped in the dust of Janne Tuohino who had spun off. Visibility was very bad and I couldn't see some corners at all until we were virtually in them," he added.
Gardemeister and Honkanen climbed to fourth on the opening stage but dropped a place on the next test. "The first stage went well," said Gardemeister. "It was so good I attacked even more in the next test, but I pushed too hard. I overshot a junction and had to reverse back onto the road. Because I was pushing too much, the car was sliding and I picked up a puncture. The road was so sandy that it was like driving on a beach."
The battle for third became tighter than ever during the afternoon. Less than 14 seconds covered the fighting quartet, with Gardemeister closing in on Harri Rovanperä in third and Markko Märtin in fourth. However, about 7km from the end of the final stage, the oil warning light flashed on in Gardemeister's car.
"We didn't want to risk destroying Toni's engine so we retired him from the leg," explained BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson. "We will bring the car back to the service park and look at the data. Hopefully we can fix everything tonight and he will be able to start the final leg tomorrow."
Like Kresta, Higgins suffered from a high start position. "It's been a difficult day but we are still here and in a good position," he said. "I eased off on the final stage because I was concerned about tyre wear. Also Trevor's door came open with about 20km remaining and he had to hold it closed until the finish. The car filled with dust and he did really well to keep reading the pace notes in such circumstances."
Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen, lying third after the first day in a privately-entered Focus RS, retired on this morning's opening stage. The Finns hit a rock 1km from the finish, ripping the rear right wheel off the car. "I lost the brakes just 1km after the start and had to scrub off speed in the corners. But near the finish I hit a stone and damaged the steering. I continued but 1km later I went off the road and lost the wheel. I also found the engine had lost its oil," said Hirvonen.
Norway's Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud enjoyed a superb morning, climbing from 16th to seventh in their privately-entered Focus RS. But they broke the front right compression strut after hitting a stone wall that had fallen onto the edge of the road on the short Lovia Avra test and retired at the end of the stage. They will rejoin under the SupeRally regulations tomorrow.
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Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) controlled his advantage over Petter Solberg (Subaru) at the head of the field and last night's gap scarcely varied. However, the Frenchman then set a blistering time to win the final test by almost 20sec to increase his lead over the Norwegian to 55.2sec. Harri Rovanperä (Mitsubishi) leads the fight for third, 13.2sec ahead of Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot), who has recovered superbly from yesterday's roll. Markko Märtin (Peugeot) is 5.9sec behind. Gigi Galli (Mitsubishi) dropped 45 minutes in stage eight when an engine sensor failed and forced him to make emergency roadside repairs. He lost more time on the last stage when the semi-automatic gearchange system failed and he had to switch to the manual back-up system. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) retired for the second consecutive day after hitting a rock near the finish of stage eight. The impact broke his car's front right suspension. Team-mate Stéphane Sarrazin was also sidelined with a broken clutch just 7km from the end of the final stage. A broken clutch early in stage 10 also stopped ninth-placed Armin Schwarz (Skoda).
The final leg is the shortest of the rally. It contains just 66.32km of competition, divided into two loops of three stages west of Olbia, two of the tests based on the slopes around the historic town of Tempio Pausania. Competitors leave Olbia at 06.30 and reach the finish ceremony in the exclusive holiday resort of Porto Rotondo at 14.30.