Duval and Martin maintain Ford's push for points in Turkey. Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot's outstanding competition debut together continued today as the Belgians maintained third position in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car following...
Duval and Martin maintain Ford's push for points in Turkey.
Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot's outstanding competition debut together continued today as the Belgians maintained third position in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car following the second leg of the gruelling Rally of Turkey. The Ford Rallye Sport duo, who until two weeks' ago had only met once, again produced outstanding pace on this car-breaking third round of the FIA World Rally Championship. They were joined in the points scoring positions by team-mates Markko Martin and Michael Park who powered back up the leaderboard to seventh after yesterday's troubles.
Duval, whose performance here will be judged as the best in his young career whatever the outcome after tomorrow's final leg, spent much of the day engaged in a tight battle for second position. The 22-year-old was just eight-tenths of a second away from grabbing second this morning and then closed in again during the afternoon speed tests before finally settling for third.
Despite being handicapped by a poor road position for a second day, team leader Martin battled back into the points as the rock-strewn gravel tracks in the mountains of southern Turkey again proved too much for many. The rate of attrition is such that just 29 of the original 60 starters remain in the event as the cars returned to Kemer for the final overnight halt.
Competitors faced another seven stages, covering 158.52km, three of which were run for a second time and therefore offered rougher conditions but were also free of the loose gravel which proves such a handicap for the first cars. Despite patchy ice in the stages, which are held at an average altitude of almost 1400 metres, the morning was again blessed by bright sunshine but the skies clouded over during the afternoon and rain is forecast tomorrow.
Duval, lying third after the opening leg, closed to within 0.8sec of second-placed Carlos Sainz on the opening stage. But a spin on the next test cost 25sec and dropped the Belgian to fourth. "About 10km after the start we spun at a left bend. We had to reverse three times before we could restart and also stalled the engine twice. It was frustrating but was my fault," he explained.
He recovered well and climbed back to third, despite bending a steering rack on the next test after hitting a rock with the steering on full lock. "I cut a corner about 2km from the end and I must have hit something because it damaged the steering. It was really hard to turn the car for the next two stages and my arms were aching a lot," he added.
Second fastest time on the penultimate stage, where Martin was quickest to give Ford a one-two, allowed Duval to close to within 4.2sec of Richard Burns in second. But the Briton pulled away on the final stage and Duval will start tomorrow 24.5sec behind. "It's been another great day and I'll try to continue at the same pace tomorrow. There's no sense in pushing too much because third would be a great result. We had a few near misses in the final two stages because the throttle stuck open but we're here and that's what matters," he added.
Martin was again handicapped by loose, slippery gravel but set himself a straight-forward target of regaining as many places as possible after yesterday's time loss which saw him restart in 11th. "With every stage we moved closer to our target of catching drivers ahead. If we had another week we could probably win this rally," joked the 27-year-old Estonian. "It's been rough in places today and very twisty and narrow, not so much fun to drive. There's still a long way to go and it doesn't make sense to take big risks tomorrow. Rain is forecast and that could help us because we have the right tread pattern for those conditions. If it is heavy then perhaps I could catch two or three more cars ahead."
He suffered a scare when his car's oil warning light flashed on 5km before the end of the ninth stage. He continued untroubled for two more stages but in service the team found a broken O-ring beneath the car's oil sump pan which caused the oil pressure to fluctuate. Mechanics replaced the ring and the Focus RS was restored to full health.
Ford Rallye Sport team director Malcolm Wilson ordered plenty of precautionary, preventative service on both cars tonight. "I would be delighted if Francois could finish third. I just hope a rock doesn't catch him out. It's been a fantastic day for the team with both Francois and Markko doing superb jobs. Markko has nibbled back at a pace which has been easy on the car. He's protected the car and that's important as this seems to be the roughest rally in Europe," he said.
The weather tomorrow could play a crucial role in the outcome. Ford is the only team to make the bold pre-rally nomination of Michelin's narrow, open patterned tyre which is particularly suited to muddy conditions and would give a large advantage in the event of rain.
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It was another tough day for the top drivers, none more so than for yesterday's leader Harri Rovanpera (Peugeot). The Finn extended his advantage to 22.8sec until he hit some rocks on the edge of the road soon after the start of stage 10 and broke his car's rear suspension. He limped through that and the next stage and dropped almost 12 minutes in total. The team tried to make repairs but further suspension problems in stage 12 cost another minute and he stopped for good in the following test. That allowed Carlos Sainz (Citroen) to build a comfortable 1min 19.5sec lead over Richard Burns (Peugeot). Colin McRae (Citroen) followed Duval in fourth, despite stalling his engine on the final stage, with Gilles Panizzi rounding off the top five, despite going off the road for a minute. Tommi Makinen (Subaru) saw a possible podium place disappear after three times damaging his car by hitting rocks. His suspension was damaged twice and the power steering broke in the third incident. He lies eighth. The only other major retirement was Armin Schwarz (Hyundai) who broke his rear suspension on the opening stage. Team-mate Freddy Loix almost joined him on the retirement list on the final stage when his car's turbo blew. He lost almost six minutes after stopping to disconnect the oil pipe.
The third and final leg is the shortest of the rally but the five special stages over the same territory cover 84.01km, all but two short sections of which have already been used earlier in the event. Competitors leave Kemer at 07.00 and return for the finish ceremony at 15.23.