Clean sweep for Ford Focus as Martin wins four out of four Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Markko Martin and Michael Park dominated today's second leg of Italy's Rallye Sanremo by winning all four mountain speed tests in their Focus RS World Rallye...
Clean sweep for Ford Focus as Martin wins four out of four
Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Markko Martin and Michael Park dominated today's second leg of Italy's Rallye Sanremo by winning all four mountain speed tests in their Focus RS World Rallye Car. Martin's neat and tidy driving style was perfectly suited to the narrow and twisty asphalt tracks and the strength and speed of the Focus RS ensured the duo had no challengers over the demanding special stages in the southern Alps.
Martin and Park's emphatic performance keeps the duo in second place on this 11th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, 43.2sec behind Sebastien Loeb. Ford BP team-mates Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot lie sixth in a similar Focus RS after another consistent performance from the Belgians.
Today promised to be the toughest of the three-day event. Although drivers tackled only four speed tests, the itinerary included two passes through the massive 52.30km Teglia stage. Running west to east across the backbone of the mountains from Baiardo to Rezzo, it was the longest asphalt stage in the championship and the second longest of all this season - a fearsome test which posed huge demands on brakes and tyres. Teglia sandwiched two other stages, both of which were also used yesterday, to provide 149.10km of competition in humid but dry conditions.
Martin's perfect performance began with a less than ideal start when he dropped time this morning after incurring a 30 second penalty at the Imperia service park before the opening stage. The 27-year-old Estonian driver was unable to start his car to leave service due to a faulty electronic control unit and the team had to remove Martin's seat to replace it. With the Castrol-backed Focus RS restored to full health, he left service three minutes late.
Despite the setback, Martin raced through Teglia to claim his first fastest time, despite clipping a wall. "We hit it about 20km from the finish," he said. "There was some dirt on the outside of a corner and I took the racing line through the bend rather than the same line as everyone else. The back of the car just flicked out and clipped a wall on the left hand side. It knocked the wheel out of alignment and I had a vibration for the rest of the stage but I eventually got used to that and it didn't cost us much time."
He claimed three more stage victories, reducing Loeb's advantage by 19.2 seconds in total, helped greatly by Michelin's latest evolution tyres which were designed specially by the French company to meet the tough challenge of the Teglia test and performed faultlessly.
"Our 30 second penalty was frustrating but I had to put that to the back of my mind. We were lucky that it happened in the service park where we could change the unit rather than out in the mountains. I'm happy with the pace we've set but not so happy that we're so far away from Sebastien. We must maintain the same kind of pace tomorrow and see if he makes a mistake because there aren't enough kilometres left to catch him on speed alone. It's mission impossible. Sometimes we've been right on the limit today. We've had fun but we must be careful because I don't want to do anything stupid," added Martin.
Duval and Prevot spent the day engaged in a tight battle with Carlos Sainz and Gilles Panizzi for fourth place. The Belgians hit a bank in the opening Teglia stage, bending the rear left wheel rim, but they had no other problems except for two poor tyre choices.
"We chose the wrong tyres for the middle group of two stages," said 22-year-old Duval. "They were too soft. We fitted medium compound rubber but a harder compound would have been a better choice." He slipped behind Panizzi after those tests but another wrong selection for the repeat of Teglia cost him more time. "This time our tyres were too hard. It was a shame to make a mistake like that and I think both Carlos and Gilles are too far away for us to catch now.
"But it was another good day for me. I'm happy in this position and I'm glad to be back on asphalt. This feels more my kind of rally and the set-up of the Focus is ideal for me. It's worked perfectly today and I'm hoping for a third good day and a points finish tomorrow," he added.
Ford BP team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted with the performance of both drivers. "Four fastest times from four stages for Markko - what more can I say? He's had a magnificent day and four fastest times is quite special. Francois has also driven well. He and Stephane put in a lot of work on their pace notes in France after Rally Australia and they have benefited from that. They were fighting for position with Gilles Panizzi, who has won this rally for the past three years, so I'm pleased. He made a couple of wrong tyre choices but that's down to experience and he'll learn from that," he said.
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Leg one leader Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) inherited a comfortable advantage following Martin's penalty and the Frenchman tracked the times of the Ford BP driver throughout the day. He was second fastest on every stage except Cosio, when his car's engine stalled and he dropped a handful of seconds.
Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) was equally consistent to maintain the final podium position, despite a repetition of yesterday's difficulties with a soft brake pedal. Carlos Sainz (Citroen) was untroubled in fourth while Gilles Panizzi spun in stage eight but finally found a set-up this afternoon with which he was happy. Colin McRae (Citroen) spun in Teglia this afternoon but his seventh place never came under threat while world championship leader Richard Burns continued to suffer from a lack of confidence. He lies ninth tonight and out of the points scoring positions. Tommi Makinen (Subaru) lost time in Teglia this afternoon when oil leaked from the transmission onto the clutch, causing it to slip. He lies 11th.
The final day returns to the same area for a short, sharp format of two loops of two stages. After leaving Sanremo at 07.00, drivers face 96.12km of competition before returning to the town for the finish at 15.30.