BP-Ford World Rally team drivers Roman Kresta and Jan Tomanek climbed to fifth during today's tough second leg of the Rallye Deutschland. Cheered on by a huge number of fellow Czechs who have made the 700km journey to watch their favourites,...
BP-Ford World Rally team drivers Roman Kresta and Jan Tomanek climbed to fifth during today's tough second leg of the Rallye Deutschland. Cheered on by a huge number of fellow Czechs who have made the 700km journey to watch their favourites, Kresta overcame a near-minute time loss this morning when his Ford Focus RS World Rally Car spun off the road. He faces a massive final leg battle tomorrow with Gigi Galli who is just 2.4 seconds behind.
Spain's Dani Solà and Xavier Amigo are eighth in a privately-entered Focus RS, having climbed to fifth earlier in the day. But BP-Ford pair Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen dropped more than 20 minutes with an electrical problem on their Focus RS this morning and they are 23rd.
Today's leg was the longest of this 11th round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Drivers tackled seven asphalt speed tests covering 145.94km. The day comprised the event's most demanding special stages with two passes over the daunting Baumholder military land, more commonly used by US soldiers for tank training. Constant changes of surface, ranging from asphalt to broken concrete, and roads lined by huge kerb stones (hinkelsteins) provided some of the most challenging asphalt tests of the season.
Kresta, like Gardemeister, opted for Michelin's medium compound dry weather tyres all day. He maintained sixth through the opening stage but went off the road shortly after the midpoint of the Panzerplatte test on Baumholder. The 29-year-old Czech dropped about 50 seconds and slipped to seventh.
"I was struggling for grip at the front and on a fast left corner I spun and went off the road," said Kresta. "The car went down a bank and it took quite a long time to get back on the road. I don't know why I lost grip but it was disappointing to drop time when other drivers also had problems, because we could have moved up the order. Instead we lost a place."
Kresta continued to struggle with poor grip early this afternoon but changes to the suspension geometry before the final group of stages made a big improvement and he moved up to fifth. "Once we made changes to the geometry this afternoon, the car felt much better and the grip improved," he added. "I had a puncture on both stages 11 and 12 and had to drive the final test with a rear left puncture but Michelin's ATS mousse system worked perfectly to keep the tyre inflated and I had no problems. Tomorrow will be a big battle with Galli. I'm looking forward to it and there will be nothing less than maximum attack," promised Kresta.
Solà grew in confidence as the day continued. He climbed to fifth on stage 10, but hydraulic problems during the final two stages cost almost three minutes and he dropped to eighth.
"Before stage 12 I was warming up the tyres when the hydraulic oil leaked away," explained Solà. "I had to select the manual gearshift instead of the semi-automatic version and had no differential pressure for the final two tests. It's disappointing because I was in a strong position. But the pre-rally plan was to learn as much as I can about the car on asphalt and I have done that today. I'm lucky to still be here and I can continue to learn tomorrow.
"Today was like a different rally because the roads were so different from those in the vineyards yesterday. I'm still changing some things on the set-up and my braking isn't perfect, but my feeling with the car is improving all the time. It feels more precise now and I'm really pleased with my stage times. I had much more confidence today," added Solà.
Gardemeister, fifth last night, saw his hopes of a points finish end early on the second stage this morning. "About 10km after the start I entered a right corner and suddenly the car just stopped," said the 30-year-old Finn. "I worked on it for almost 20 minutes while talking to our team engineers on the telephone and was able to bypass the problem and start the car again. I lost more seconds because I was then held up by slower cars ahead of me. All I can do now is just drive for a finish. It's not a nice thing to happen but that's the nature of the sport."
Team director Malcolm Wilson said the problem was a relay failure on the car's main master switch. Gardemeister rewired the system to bypass the relay and that allowed the car to re-start. The team replaced the rear wiring loom, the central control switch and the main system relay, allowing Gardemeister to set third fastest time on the first stage of the final loop.
"There's no big attack because it's impossible to regain all the time I lost. I'm disappointed because I was enjoying the fight and wanted a good result. But it gives me the opportunity to test some suspension parts because I have nothing to lose," added Gardemeister.
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Team-mates Sebastien Loeb and Francois Duval (both Citroen) continued their dominance at the top of the leaderboard. They won all seven stages, Loeb taking five victories to end the leg 27.9sec ahead of Duval, who won two tests. Neither escaped a tough day unharmed though. Loeb survived a high speed spin on the first stage and Duval went off briefly on the same test. Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) was under no pressure either in front or from behind and drove cautiously to retain third ahead of team-mate Markko Martin, who went off the road on the opening stage and struggled for grip this morning. Gigi Galli (Mitsubishi) survived two spins this afternoon and is just 2.4sec behind Kresta in sixth. Petter Solberg (Subaru) dropped almost 3min 30sec when a gear selection problem meant he drove all of stage eight in third gear. He is ninth. The only major retirement was Armin Schwarz (Skoda) who broke his car's radiator after crashing on stage eight.
The final day is based on the smooth, flowing roads of the Saarland region, which are predominantly narrow and treacherously slippery in the wet. Drivers face six tests, two of which will be used twice, covering 90.08km. The final stage will be a repeat of tonight's last test through the streets of St Wendel. After leaving Trier at 06.50, competitors finish at Bostalsee at 14.03, before the leading cars return to Trier for the ceremonial finish at 16.30.