Ford trio survives tough opening day in Germany. Colin McRae and Nicky Grist headed Ford Rallye Sport's challenge in fourth place as all three of the team's Focus RS World Rally Cars safely completed today's difficult opening leg of the Rallye...
Ford trio survives tough opening day in Germany.
Colin McRae and Nicky Grist headed Ford Rallye Sport's challenge in fourth place as all three of the team's Focus RS World Rally Cars safely completed today's difficult opening leg of the Rallye Deutschland. The British pair provided the main opposition to the French teams who held the top positions over the tricky asphalt speed tests.
Team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya lie ninth in a second Focus RS after a mixed day with Markko Märtin and Michael Park 13th in a similar car.
It is the first time the rally has been included in the 14-round series and few drivers have experience of the unique speed tests. Today's leg in the vineyards of the Mosel offered the type of stages not seen anywhere else. Many tight bends and hairpins linked the narrow roads on the hillsides above the river and tall vines close to the edge of the stages gave drivers little opportunity to view any great distance ahead.
Huge crowds flocked into the region to see Germany's first taste of world rallying. There were so many spectators eager to see the first day action, due to cover eight stages and 148.64km, that the penultimate test was cancelled for safety reasons.
The team was delighted with the performance of the new crescent-shaped gearchange paddle fitted to all three Focus cars. Minor problems experienced by Sainz and Märtin when changing down were resolved by a small modification to an electronic switch and McRae said: "It's worked really well. It's so much easier to change gear because the shape and positioning of the paddle means I can keep both hands on the steering wheel."
McRae stalled his car's engine on the opening stage and overshot a hairpin on the next test. However, he settled into fifth before climbing a place during the afternoon, despite a brake problem on the final test when a 'soft pedal' caused a few scares.
"We didn't notice anything driving at a steady pace on the liaison section but once in the stage at competitive speeds, the problem became apparent. My heart was in my mouth on a few occasions and I had to alter my driving style to compensate for it," added the 34-year-old Scot.
"We're in a reasonable position, not too far behind the leading three. Earlier this morning it looked as though it would rain today and that would have helped us. Rain may favour us tomorrow but the nature of the stages is such that it's like starting a completely different rally and we really don't know what to expect," he added.
Sainz, lying seventh, lost time after damaging a right rear wheel rim after sliding wide and hitting a stone in stage five. He dropped another 15 seconds after misreading the road approaching a junction and overshooting the bend. "We started this morning with the suspension set too soft," said the 40-year-old Madrid-based driver. "Since then we've been trying to catch up and I made a couple of mistakes. But we must continue to push hard tomorrow to try to regain time.
"It's an unusual rally. Normally it's possible to 'read' the road and follow the flow of the stage. But there are so many junctions and the vines are so close to the edge of the road that it's like driving through a tunnel. It's hard to get a feel of where it is going to go so I'm relying on my pace notes and putting my trust in Luis more then ever," he added.
Märtin struggled to settle after his gearchange troubles this morning. A lack of grip, the result of a poor tyre choice, and a severe vibration on the final stage foiled his efforts to fight back this afternoon. "Everything felt right on the last stage. The road was smooth and wide, our tyre choice was ideal and the car felt good but then we had a really bad vibration from one of our tyres and that ruined our time," he said. "After today I feel that my Rallye Deutschland will start tomorrow but the Baumholder stages will be completely different again and it will be like starting a whole new rally," added the 26-year-old Estonian.
Germans Armin Kremer and Dieter Schneppenheim, driving another Focus RS, lie 16th. Kremer was frustrated by his performance. One place higher in the standings would have allowed him to start first tomorrow (the top 15 positions are reversed for the second and third legs), thrilling the home fans and giving him the best road conditions.
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Young Frenchman Sebastian Loeb (Citroen) dominated the day. After setting third fastest time on the opening stage, he was quickest on the rest to build a 27.0sec lead over Richard Burns (Peugeot). Team-mate Philippe Bugalski recovered from early morning brake problems to claim third when Petter Solberg (Subaru) lost time with a broken driveshaft and power steering troubles. Additional penalties as his team made repairs dropped him to 10th. The Norwegian's colleague, Tommi Mäkinen, lost a minute with a broken handbrake lever this morning and then struggled to find a strong pace. Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) shared fastest time with Burns on the opening stage but a hydraulic problem cost 40secs on stage three and the resulting gearbox change in service added another 30sec penalty. Armin Schwarz and Freddy Loix (both Hyundai) went well to hold sixth and eighth respectively, despite two broken wheel rims and an engine problem on the final test for the Belgian which cost sixth. Major retirements included Alister McRae (Mitsubishi) whose engine failed after the sixth stage, Jesus Puras (Citroen) who stopped in stage three with electrical problems and Matthias Kahle (Skoda) whose engine stopped in the same test.
The second leg is the most difficult of all. Based almost entirely on the Baumholder tank training area, it comprises eight stages covering 164.44km, ending with a stage through the streets of St Wendel. The broken concrete roads on the military land are highly abrasive on tyres and the huge kerb stones that line the tracks must be avoided at all costs. There are many changes in surface and road width which makes it hard for drivers to find a rhythm.