MÃ¤rtin charges back as Ford Focus dominates in Germany Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Markko MÃ¤rtin and Michael Park produced a sensational fightback during the second leg of the Rally Deutschland as their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car dominated...
Märtin charges back as Ford Focus dominates in Germany
Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Markko Märtin and Michael Park produced a sensational fightback during the second leg of the Rally Deutschland as their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car dominated today's competition. Their Castrol-branded Focus RS, making its debut on asphalt, won five of the nine speed tests as the Ford duo recovered from an overnight 10th to hold third.
Märtin and Park's mastery of the tricky military roads on the Baumholder tank training area, allied to the tremendous speed of the Focus RS and shrewd tyre selection from Ford BP and Michelin's tyre engineers in uncertain weather conditions, was unrivalled. After beginning the second day of the three-day rally almost 90 seconds from the lead, Märtin scythed through the leaderboard to end the longest leg of this eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship just 34.8sec behind leader Sebastien Loeb (Citroen).
Team-mates François Duval and Stéphane Prévot lie seventh in a similar Focus RS after mixing excellent special stage times with time-consuming mistakes, to ensure that tomorrow's third and final leg will start with both Ford BP cars in points-scoring positions.
Today's 169.36km of action comprised two loops of two stages over flowing roads in the Saaland region, split by two laps of two stages on the bumpy and unpredictable roads of Baumholder, where a constantly changing road surface covered in loose gravel and debris made flat-out driving difficult. Late morning rain turned difficult into treacherous as drivers compared the conditions to driving on ice. The rain, both intermittent and localised, continued during the afternoon and into the super special stage in the town of St Wendel that ended the day, making tyre selection a tricky and skilled art.
Märtin was third fastest on the opening test and then set three consecutive fastest times to begin his recovery. He added another two during the afternoon to take his total for the rally to seven from 16 stages. Such was his dominance on Baumholder that the 27-year-old Estonian won five of the six speed tests there during the first two days, although even he was tricked by the conditions this morning.
"We twice overshot junctions and escaped a scary sixth gear moment," he said. "We had Michelin's slick tyres fitted and it was like driving on ice in the wet, very difficult indeed. But the choice was right because the rain was localised and much of the stage was dry. We've been quick on the Baumholder roads all rally. We've made many changes to our pace notes since last year. Almost every corner is one gear higher and that shows in our times."
"It's been a great day. I didn't imagine we could be in a podium position tonight. We can't change what happened yesterday, that's done, but we've made the best of the situation. I don't think there are enough kilometres left to catch Marcus Grönholm in second unless he makes a mistake and I'm not sure I can go much faster than I have today. Our aim is to keep Colin and Richard behind us. We had a strong indication from our pre-event test that the Focus would be good on asphalt and we've certainly proved that. The weather has been inconsistent but I hope it stays dry tomorrow," he added.
Duval climbed from an overnight seventh to fourth on the opening stage after posting second fastest time. However, he spun twice on Baumholder and when he twice stalled the engine of his Focus RS at the start of stage 14, he dropped into the clutches of Carlos Sainz. They twice swapped places during the late afternoon tests, Sainz eventually finishing ahead by just 10.3 seconds.
"I'm satisfied with my performance today," said the 22-year-old Belgian. "It's a difficult rally and it's hard to lean how to drive on this asphalt. It's very abrasive, especially on Baumholder. It's tricky to know how to handle the changes in grip and it's easy to spin on the corners where there's a lot of gravel and that's what happened to me."
Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen, driving an M-Sport run 2002 specification Focus RS, climbed to 14th, the Finns gaining in confidence as the day went on. "We've done more learning and I've driven more tidily. The car has again been perfect and the driver has also worked well! It was difficult this morning in the rain on Baumholder. Conditions were wet, dry, wet, dry but it was a good lesson for us in how to cope with those conditions on slick tyres," said 22-year-old Hirvonen.
Fellow Finns Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila lie 18th in a similar Focus RS, also run by M-Sport. "I've had a fantastic day and learned a lot about driving on wet asphalt. The car has worked well and my only problem was a missed junction but that was my fault," said1 8-year-old Latvala, competing on his first asphalt world rally.
News from our Rivals
Overnight leader Richard Burns (Peugeot) had a miserable day. He spun and stalled his engine and later missed a junction as he dropped to fifth, his cause not helped by poor tyre choice. Initially team-mate Marcus Grönholm replaced him at the top of the standings but when he slowed after a poor tyre selection, Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) moved ahead and the pair ended the day just 5.5sec apart. Fourth-placed Colin McRae (Citroen) was another to struggle with a bad tyre choice while team-mate Carlos Sainz holds sixth, despite a 10 second penalty for a jump start. Peter Solberg (Subaru) felt better today but his car's right rear suspension broke on landing after a jump this morning and he ended the leg in 10th. Team-mates Freddy Loix and Armin Schwarz (Hyundai) lie 12th and 13th respectively, German Schwarz suffering a gear selection problem this morning. Today's retirements included Philippe Bugalski (Citroen) with turbo related problems and Toni Gardemeister (Skoda) who broke both the right rear suspension mount and a driveshaft on stage 13, meaning both Fabias failed to finish on the car's first rally.
The final day's competition is the shortest of the three. After leaving Trier at 05.00, drivers will tackle two loops of three new stages, two in the narrow but fast Mosel wine growing area and one in the more flowing Saaland region. After 101.54km of action, competitors return to the rally base in Trier for the finish ceremony at 15.50.