Gronholm and Hirvonen hold sway on podium in Sardinia sun BP-Ford World Rally Team maintained its grip on two steps of the podium during today's second leg of Rally d'Italia Sardegna. Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen won two speed tests in...
Gronholm and Hirvonen hold sway on podium in Sardinia sun
BP-Ford World Rally Team maintained its grip on two steps of the podium during today's second leg of Rally d'Italia Sardegna. Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen won two speed tests in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car as they preserved their overnight second position. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen remain third in a similar car after a second long and hot day's driving in the north of the Mediterranean island.
Today's competition was based in the Gallura region, south-west of the host town of Olbia but further inland than the opening leg. The format was the same with competitors tackling two identical loops of three gravel special stages, split by a return to the service park at lunchtime. They tackled 142.72km of competition on roads that were again slippery for the early starters this morning due to loose gravel before becoming cleaner but rougher this afternoon.
Gronholm, with medium compound BFGoodrich tyres fitted to his Focus RS, was second fastest on the opening two tests. The 39-year-old Finn was then fourth through the final stage, after driving the test with a rear right puncture, to return to service in Olbia 41.5sec behind leader Sebastien Loeb.
"It was a strange morning," he said. "I finished the second stage and realised that the spare wheel had been knocked out of the rear of the car. I also had a puncture so I had to drive steadily through the next stage to ensure that we finished with four wheels on the car. I was worried because another puncture could have meant retirement. I went out this morning to attack but Loeb knows it is hard for me to catch him if he has a lead of more than 20sec and can control his pace."
Gronholm won the first and last stages this afternoon to reduce the gap to the Frenchman to 36.5sec. "It's virtually impossible to catch Loeb with that type of advantage. There is nothing much between us on the stages but losing time last night cost us dearly and the fight for victory probably ended after this morning's second stage. I've not given up, I'm still driving fast but there aren't many kilometres tomorrow in which to catch him and I don't want to risk losing a good second place," he added.
Hirvonen also opted for medium compound rubber and was third on the opening two stages before setting second fastest time in the next to return to Olbia 9.8sec behind his team-mate and fellow countryman in third. "It was a good morning," he said. "I had a good rhythm and found a consistent speed. It is definitely a step forward for me compared to Rally Argentina earlier this month."
With ground temperatures rising to 38C in the sun and the roads rougher, 26-year-old Hirvonen chose BFGoodrich's new extra hard compound tyres this afternoon. He paced himself through the three stages with no pressure from behind to end the leg 52.2sec clear of fourth-placed Dani Sordo.
"I didn't attack. I decided at lunchtime not to push because it's better to finish third than take risks to try to catch Marcus and possibly lose a podium. I tested the new tyres and a few other things on the car in preparation for the Acropolis Rally in Greece next month. Even though tomorrow's stages are short, they are technical. I don't want to make mistakes so I will concentrate on bringing the car home safely," added Hirvonen.
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson explained that the spare wheel retaining strap on Gronholm's car fractured and the wheel was knocked out of its storage place about 4km after the start. "Marcus lost any real chance of catching Seb after this but we have a good team result at the end of leg two. Tomorrow must be a case of trying to consolidate what we have," he said.
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Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) controlled the day, winning four of the six stages. The Frenchman goes into the final leg with a 36.5sec lead. Behind the BP-Ford duo, there was little movement or problems near the top of the leaderboard. The only major change came on the final stage when Henning Solberg (Ford) spun near the start, allowing Dani Sordo (Citroen) to climb into fourth. Matthew Wilson (Ford) retired from ninth on the afternoon's opening stage when he slid wide and hit a rock, breaking his car's rear suspension. Gareth MacHale (Ford) crashed out of 10th on the second stage this morning while Luis Perez Companc (Ford) retired on the same test after rolling heavily.