After months spent battling against the ravages of one of the wettest winters the country has seen for many years, the organisers of the Rally of Turkey breathed a huge sigh of relief when the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship was ...
After months spent battling against the ravages of one of the wettest winters the country has seen for many years, the organisers of the Rally of Turkey breathed a huge sigh of relief when the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship was flagged off in Antalya this evening. Severe rainstorms and heavy snow high in the Bey mountains of the Anatolian region, on Turkey's southern coast, left the twisty gravel speed tests in poor condition and organisers have twice been forced to make major changes to the scheduled route in the last week.
More than 42km has been slashed from the 380km of special stages scheduled for the rally's first appearance in the 14-round championship, due to snow, landslides and destroyed roads. The seemingly constant rainfall has required organisers to repair some sections of road up to six times.
Large crowds gathered in Antalya to witness the start ceremony. An estimated 10,000 more watched the opening competitive action of the four-day event at a spectacular super special stage on the edge of the city where two cars at a time raced under floodlights around a purpose-built 1.55km test.
Markko Märtin and Michael Park headed the Ford Rallye Sport challenge, their Focus RS World Rally Car sixth fastest through the stage, just 0.5sec behind leader Marcus Grönholm. Team-mates François Duval and Stéphane Prévot were ninth fastest in a similar Focus RS with the third Ford Rallye Sport car of Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen 13th. Such was the pace over the short test that just 1.8sec covered the top 10 cars.
"I was surprised that we set such a good time because the stage was very slippery," said Märtin. "The test was run in reverse start order and was quite cut up in places with a lot of loose gravel. I think it was good fun for the spectators but the times here will mean nothing when we go into the proper stages tomorrow. The main thing was not to make any mistakes tonight and we didn't."
After an overnight halt in the rally base of Kemer, the opening leg continues tomorrow when competitors face five more mountain stages, including two runs at the 29.97km Silyon, the longest test of the rally. They will tackle 95.35km, more than 23km less then originally scheduled.