Ford duo climbs into top six as Sweden turns tough Ford ended today's difficult second leg of the Swedish Rally with both nominated drivers inside the top six. Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen are fifth in their Ford Focus RS World Rally...
Ford duo climbs into top six as Sweden turns tough
Ford ended today's difficult second leg of the Swedish Rally with both nominated drivers inside the top six. Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen are fifth in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car while Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud hold sixth in a similar car, with just tomorrow's third leg remaining on this second round of the FIA World Rally Championship. A third Focus RS of Roman Kresta and Jan Tománek is 12th.
Today's action was again centred around the service park at Hagfors, 90km north of the rally base in Karlstad. Conditions on the seven speed tests, which covered 139.53km, varied greatly and made accurate selection of studs for Michelin's winter weather tyres a difficult challenge for the BP-Ford World Rally Team.
The morning special stages comprised a thin layer of packed snow protecting ice-covered gravel. Those further east later in the day contained little ice but thick snow to a depth of 10cm, which handicapped the early starters who ploughed the roads clear for those behind. The final two tests, which covered the same roads as the early morning stages, contained little snow but plenty of hard gravel which put a strong emphasis on stud retention.
Gardemeister, driving a Castrol-backed Focus RS for the BP-Ford team, began in seventh. The 29-year-old Finn started well and was third fastest at the first split point on the opening test. But he spun at a narrow right bend and flattened the exhaust, strangling much of his engine's power.
"I spun about 5km after the start and the exhaust hit a rock which squashed it," he said. "I lost about 20 seconds and we tried to open the exhaust by using the jack before the start of the next stage. We couldn't open it properly and drove the stage without much power." Gardemeister dropped another 10 seconds and slipped to ninth before the team fitted a new exhaust. He quickly recovered to sixth before claiming fifth on the final test on the edge of Hagfors itself.
"I've pushed hard all day and apart from the spin this morning, I've had no problems. But I don't understand why I'm faster on the first pass through a stage than I am on the second run. I seem to get worse when it should be the other way round. The time gaps are small behind us so it will be an interesting day tomorrow to try to hold off those trying to catch us," he added.
Solberg, driving an M-Sport run Focus RS but nominated for points by the official Ford team, made good progress all day. Re-starting 11th, the Norwegian gained four places on the opening two stages. He dropped a handful of seconds after hitting a stone and damaging a wheel on the next test but made no other errors and climbed to fifth on the final stage.
"I've gained five places today and my only problem came in stage 10," said Solberg. "I cut a corner about 6km from the finish, hit a stone and knocked a piece out of the wheel rim. But Michelin's mousse kept the tyre inflated and there was just a small vibration until the end of the stage. The main difficulty was the snow in the second group of stages. There was no line to follow and while we didn't make a bad stud choice, it wasn't perfect either. There was a lot of gravel on the last group of stages, too much for the studs really, but it was OK."
Kresta continued to learn about the Focus RS and the specialised Swedish conditions in equal measure on his first loose surface event in the car. The 28-year-old Czech tried new shock absorber settings this morning but did not feel particularly comfortable with them and reverted to yesterday's set-up.
His start position of third brought extra difficulties on the snowy late-morning stages. "Both cars in front of me took different lines, so there was no line to follow," he said. "I didn't have a good start position and tomorrow will be hard because I'll start in the same place again. But I'll keep to the same rhythm and continue to learn. I've made some mistakes, but that is all part of learning. I went straight on at a corner this afternoon and the spectators had to push me back onto the road. I don't know why, but all my errors have happened in slow corners."
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There was a thrilling battle for the lead between leg one leader Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) and Petter Solberg (Subaru). The lead changed hands three times, the duo often separated by just a few tenths of a second, before blistering times on the final two tests earned Solberg a 12.6sec overnight advantage. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) slid into a ditch on the opening stage and compounded a difficult morning by damaging the rear of his car after missing a braking point and then hitting a stone. However, he holds a comfortable third ahead of Markko Märtin (Peugeot), the Estonian still lacking confidence and struggling to find a good feeling with his car. Gigi Galli (Mitsubishi) spun on stage 10 but worse followed on the penultimate test when a driveshaft broke. He lost 1min 40sec on the final two stages and after starting the day in fourth he ended it in eighth. François Duval (Citroen) climbed to fourth this morning but had to stop and change a front left puncture on stage 11 and lost more than four minutes, plunging to 15th. Mattias Ekström (Skoda) was in eighth until a power steering problem cost more than 3min 30sec and he is 16th.
The final leg comprises two identical loops of three stages near Hagfors, and includes the most southerly test of the event. Organisers have shortened the first test of each loop from 22.33km to 10.17km for safety reasons. Drivers leave Karlstad at 05.40 and return to the city for the finish at 15.04 after 89.54km of competition.