Rally Turkey: Ford leg one summary

Duval powers Ford into third as Turkey gobbles up rivals. Ford Rallye Sport drivers François Duval and Stéphane Prévot produced a tremendous opening leg performance to hold third on the Rally of Turkey after a gruelling day's competition over...

Duval powers Ford into third as Turkey gobbles up rivals.

Ford Rallye Sport drivers François Duval and Stéphane Prévot produced a tremendous opening leg performance to hold third on the Rally of Turkey after a gruelling day's competition over rock-strewn mountain roads in the south of the country. Car-breaking gravel tracks took a heavy toll on many of the pre-rally favourites but the Belgian pairing, competing together for the first time, made no mistakes and their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car never missed a beat in the rugged Turkish countryside.

Team-mates Markko Märtin and Michael Park lost time with gearbox problems but emphasised the ability of the Focus RS in rough conditions with superb times on the afternoon speed tests to fight back to 11th. The third Focus RS of Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen retired with broken suspension.

Predictions that the Rally of Turkey, round three of the 14-event FIA World Rally Championship and making its debut in the series, would prove the toughest event in the calendar were borne out. One of the wettest winters the country has experienced for many years left organisers with serious problems.

Severe rainstorms and snow high in the Bey mountains of the Anatolian region left the twisty tracks in poor condition and organisers have twice been forced to make major revisions to the scheduled route in the last week. More than 42km were slashed from the planned 380km of special stages due to snow, landslides and destroyed roads and the seemingly constant rainfall in the past few months has required organisers to repair some sections of road up to six times.

Duval posted two top three stage times as he climbed to second position after five of the leg's six stages, covering 95.35km. He lost one place on the final stage but lies just 29.5sec behind leader Harri Rovanperä. "It's been a good day," said 22-year-old Duval. "There were a lot of rocks on the tracks, which may have been dragged there by the cars before us, but I don't think our road position was a big disadvantage. We've made no mistakes and tomorrow I'll try to drive at the same kind of pace."

The new partnership between Duval and Prévot worked well on their first day of competition together. "I was really nervous this morning because I've had to learn so many new things in the last 10 days but it's worked so much better than I thought," said Prévot. "The pace notes are not perfect so it's important we finish to fine tune them for next year."

Märtin and Park dropped almost 3min 30sec after their Focus RS lost all gears apart from first and second just 2km after the start of the 16.42km Phaselis test. They had to complete the rest of that stage and also the 29.97km Silyon before team mechanics could replace the gearbox and front differential assembly at the Kemer service park. Fortunately the twisty nature of the Turkish roads meant their time loss was not as serious as it could have been on faster, more open stages.

"I lost everything apart from first and second gear about 2km after the start of Phaselis," said the 27-year-old Estonian driver. "I had no warning. When I tried the other gears it seemed to be moving up the gearbox OK but there was no drive. I changed gear only three times in almost 30km in stage four! The worst part was towards the finish of that stage as the road was more open and faster than before and we needed more gears." The problem was later traced to a broken main shaft in the gearbox.

With the Focus RS restored to full health, Märtin powered to fastest time through the shortened 14.91km Perge and second quickest on the repeat run through Silyon to reduce the deficit to the cars ahead. "I'm disappointed because the Focus is so competitive and we should be much further up the leaderboard," he said. "We just have to drive now and see what happens but I think it is possible to climb back into the points. There was quite a lot of loose gravel on the roads and there wasn't really a clean line when we went through. I thought the stages used for a second time would be worse then they turned out. Our plan was to try to secure a lower, and therefore cleaner, road position for tomorrow but unfortunately our problem means we'll be in pretty much the same position as today."

Hirvonen set fifth fastest time through the shortened 2.73km Simena before hitting a rock in Phaselis. The impact damaged the car's hydraulic oil cooler, causing a leak and breaking the hydraulic gearchange, forcing the Finn to stop and switch to the manual back-up system. Oil sprayed onto the windscreen which severely reduced visibility and Hirvonen attempted repairs before entering the Silyon test. But his efforts proved in vain when he hit another rock and broke the front right suspension strut. "I'm very disappointed," he said. "I think the rock we hit initially must have weakened the suspension and so it didn't need much of an impact for it to break in the next stage."

Ford Rallye Sport team director Malcolm Wilson said Duval had exceeded expectations today. "I'm very pleased to see that his new partnership with Stéphane is working well. François is a lot more relaxed and confident and I hope that Stéphane has been a big influence on his performance. I'm really disappointed for Markko. I felt he could win this rally because we know the car is super-competitive on this kind of event. However, I do believe he can climb back into the points."

News from our Rivals

The first group of stages ended the victory hopes of three potential winners. Apart from Märtin, Petter Solberg (Subaru) retired on stage four while leading after breaking his car's front suspension. World champion Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) lost five minutes on stages three and four with broken power steering. It was repaired but the problem recurred on the day's final two stages and the Finn lost another 5min 30sec. He lies 18th. Monte Carlo Rally winner Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) was another morning retirement. The Frenchman took the wrong route between stages three and four but after eventually finding the right way, his car ran out of fuel before the scheduled refuel area. The other major retirement was Didier Auriol (Skoda) whose engine stopped just 2km from the final service after daylong cooling problems. Richard Burns (Peugeot) suffered punctures on three consecutive stages, Armin Schwarz (Hyundai) was lying second after stage four but a damaged exhaust and shock absorber difficulties cost time while Juuso Pykälistö (Peugeot) rolled on the third stage but continued.

Tomorrow's Route
Despite the route changes, the second leg remains unaltered and is the longest of the rally. Drivers leave Kemer at 06.00 and tackle seven stages covering 158.52km before returning at 18.24. It will be a tough day with all but one test exceeding 20km and three stages used for a second time.


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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team