Second-placed GrÃ¶nholm heads Ford challenge in Corsica Both BP-Ford World Rally Team pairings hold top four places after today's opening leg of the Rallye de France Tour de Corse. Marcus GrÃ¶nholm and Timo Rautiainen won one of the four...
Second-placed Grönholm heads Ford challenge in Corsica
Both BP-Ford World Rally Team pairings hold top four places after today's opening leg of the Rallye de France Tour de Corse. Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen won one of the four asphalt speed tests on their way to second in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, while team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen are fourth in a similar car.
Grönholm battled with Sébastien Loeb over Corsica's tortuously twisty mountain roads throughout the day. Their pace was such that they pulled well clear of their rivals, Grönholm ending the first of three days of competition just 19.9sec behind the Frenchman. Hirvonen has been embroiled in a close fight with Alex Bengue for the final podium place and the two are separated by just 7.8sec.
Clear skies and warm sunshine graced the Mediterranean island all day for this fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship. It ensured there were none of the tyre selection dilemmas so often associated with this rally when the weather conditions are mixed. Both BP-Ford drivers opted for BFGoodrich's medium compound dry weather rubber this morning and a harder compound this afternoon as air temperatures climbed.
The action was based south of the rally base in Ajaccio, Corsica's largest city. Drivers tackled two identical loops of two long special stages, split by service back in the town, which made up 121.34km of competition.
Grönholm was second fastest on the opening 32.89km stage from Ampaza to the Col St Eustache, despite losing a handful of seconds towards the end with minor handling troubles. The 38-year-old Finn was then quickest by 3.4sec over the following 27.78km Aullene - Arbellara to return to service in Ajaccio in second, just 4.9sec behind Loeb.
"The car didn't feel as precise as I would like because the pressure in the rear tyres was too high towards the end of the first stage," he said. "We had a small problem with the brakes. The road was extremely bumpy towards the end and I did a lot of braking with my left foot, which I think affected the pressure at the back. Everything was OK for the first 20km but then the brake pedal became 'long' and the car became slightly unstable."
The team fitted new brake callipers and Grönholm was second fastest on both stages during the afternoon loop. "I dropped time to Loeb at the end of the first stage again this afternoon and I just don't know why. Maybe it's the driver because I don't think there's anything wrong with the car. This afternoon was the first time I have used the hard compound tyres in competition and I didn't really get used to them. I wasn't happy with my driving today and now I have a difficult job tomorrow in trying to take back time," he added.
Hirvonen dropped 10 seconds after stalling at the start of the opening special stage but was still fifth fastest in his BP Ultimate and Castrol-branded Focus RS. The 25-year-old Finn was also fifth through Aullene - Arbellara to return to Ajaccio in fourth. He climbed to third on the penultimate test but Bengue responded on the final stage and Hirvonen settled for fourth tonight.
"Fourth is OK but I'm disappointed my times are not as close to Marcus and Seb as they were on the last rally in Spain," he said. "My pace notes are precise but I have no confidence in them and I don't know why. I wasn't happy with my driving. I made a few small changes to the differentials in service and the feeling was better this afternoon but I also stalled again at the start of the last stage. If I can sort myself out then I know I can fight for a podium."
Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila, driving a 2005-specification Focus RS for the Stobart VK M-Sport team, are seventh. Team-mates Matthew Wilson and Michael Orr are 17th in a similar car..
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Championship leader Sébastien Loeb (Citroen) was fastest on three of the four stages, the Frenchman admitting that he was pushing hard to keep Grönholm at bay. Alex Bengue (Peugeot) was unhappy with his car's suspension this morning but set-up changes in service improved the handling this afternoon. Dani Sordo (Citroen) lost about 40 seconds on the opening stage with electrical problems. He stopped to try and reset the systems but was unable to solve the problems until service. He then climbed from 13th to end the day in fifth. Petter Solberg (Subaru) spun on the opening stage and dropped 45 seconds after flattening his car's exhaust. He then had gear selection problems on the next test and is 14th. Team-mate Chris Atkinson also spun and damaged his exhaust on stage three. When the cockpit filled with smoke, he had to stop to allow it to clear. Gear selection problems added to his troubles and he dropped more than seven minutes.
Tomorrow's action moves north of Ajaccio. After starting at 08.25, drivers tackle two identical loops of two stages, with a mid-leg service back in the town. The opening test of each loop, the 34.66km Vico - Plage du Liamone is the longest of the rally. Competitors end the day at 18.30 after 121.72km of competition.