A tremendous attack during today's second leg of the Swedish Rally enabled Ford Rallye Sport drivers Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya to power up the leaderboard into third. In unseasonably warm temperatures which made driving conditions among the most...
A tremendous attack during today's second leg of the Swedish Rally enabled Ford Rallye Sport drivers Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya to power up the leaderboard into third. In unseasonably warm temperatures which made driving conditions among the most difficult seen on the rally in recent years, the Spaniards climbed from an overnight eighth in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car with just one day remaining.
Team-mates Colin McRae and Nicky Grist had a disappointing day when a broken wheel sent them tumbling from a comfortable third to end the leg in 11th. Private entrants Janne Tuohino and Petri Vihavainen lie seventh in their Focus RS while Belgian debutants Francois Duval and Jean-Marc Fortin are 14th after gaining in both speed and confidence on this second round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Today's six speed tests, covering 129.09km, were again based around the Hagfors service park. The first three special stages were used yesterday and as temperatures climbed to 4*C the roads were in awful condition. The studded tyres quickly cut through the soft ice to expose the gravel beneath and ruts formed that were full of slush. It was slightly better on the last three stages, being used for the first time, but standing water on top of the harder ice made driving far from easy.
A string of top six stage times, culminating in second fastest on the final 19.21km Torntorp test, allowed Sainz to not only move into third, but to open up a 30sec advantage over closest rival Freddy Loix.
"It's been incredibly hard," said the 39-year-old Madrid-based driver. "On the early stages there was a lot of gravel appearing through the snow and ice and the roads were very rutted due to the soft surface. The car was trapped in the ruts and so it was hard to choose the line you really wanted. In places the roads were destroyed. We had a better running position today but we'll have to see what happens in the morning. It's going to be difficult again and we must watch out for Richard Burns because he's driving quickly and is only half a minute behind us."
McRae began superbly, posting fastest time on the 40.51km Granberget test, his second of the rally, to close in on Marcus Gronholm and Harri Rovanpera. However, his hopes suffered a severe blow on the next Fredriksberg stage.
"We came out of a right-hand bend about 10km after the start on exactly the right line but there was something lying under the snow just on the edge of the road," said McRae. "I don't know what it was but we hit it and it instantly shattered the rear left wheel. We had to stop and change it and lost about three minutes.
"Since then I've not been pushing as hard as I would had I been in third. It's difficult to keep motivation after such a disappointment but we'll keep trying. Pirelli's tyres worked well but on these roads there's not a lot of room for error. They're the worst conditions I've seen in Sweden," added McRae, competing here for the 12th time.
Private entrant Tuohino continued to perform superbly, climbing as high as fifth in his Focus RS. "We've had no problems and I'm really enjoying it," he said. "Our only difficulty was on the last stage when smoke from spectators' bonfires made it quite misty in places."
Duval improved on every stage on his debut in a Focus RS. Running first on the road under the championship's new start system was an ordeal for the 21-year-old but he gained in confidence throughout the day and posted a top 10 time on the final test.
"These are not the best conditions in which to learn how to drive the Focus," he said. "But I'm really enjoying myself and my times are improving which shows that I'm feeling more comfortable. I've been driving hard this afternoon," added Duval, whose only real trouble came when a broken windscreen wiper forced to him stop briefly in the rainy Lejen stage.
Ford Rallye Sport team director Malcolm Wilson said despite the mild weather, the Focus cars had suffered no tyre wear or stud retention problems with Pirelli's rubber. "Carlos upped his pace and did exactly what we asked of him while Colin was unlucky after making a great start. He was right to stop and change the wheel," he said.
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Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) has been sensational today, winning five stages and increasing his lead over team-mate Harri Rovanpera from an overnight 0.9sec to 50.1sec. Behind Sainz, Freddy Loix (Hyundai) again drove superbly, especially as his left foot is in a brace and pinned in two places following his Monte Carlo Rally crash. Jani Paasonen's (Mitsubishi) hopes of a points finish ended when he hit the same object as McRae and lost three minutes. Team-mate Alister McRae and Thomas Rådstrom (Citroen) were also caught out there. There were only two major retirements. On the opening test Petter Solberg (Subaru) stopped with engine failure, completing a miserable rally for the Norwegian's team, and Toni Gardemeister (Skoda) rolled on the final stage.
The final leg covers similar territory around Hagfors, drivers facing five more stages covering 128.82km, three of which have already been tackled. It's a tough finish for the drivers as the final stage is 39.85km, the second longest in the event. After leaving Karlstad at 06.00, the rally returns for the finish ceremony at 16.15.