Gardemeister climbs to second in Corsica mountains BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen powered their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car into second place during today's middle leg of the Rallye de France Tour de...
Gardemeister climbs to second in Corsica mountains
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen powered their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car into second place during today's middle leg of the Rallye de France Tour de Corse. Team-mates Roman Kresta and Jan Tomanek ensured the BP-Ford squad held two strong points-scoring positions with one day of this 14th round of the FIA World Rally Championship remaining by climbing into sixth in their similar car.
Competitors again faced two identical loops of two twisty asphalt speed tests, totalling 124.88km, divided by a lunchtime service in the rally base and Corsican capital of Ajaccio. The Mediterranean island was again bathed in sunshine this morning, although the inconsistencies of the weather here became all too obvious when light rain fell on this afternoon's final special stage. However, it came too late to affect drivers' tyre choice and Michelin's medium compound dry weather rubber was the daylong selection for the BP-Ford duo.
Gardemeister was third after the opening day in his Castrol-branded Focus RS. He made an excellent start to be second fastest on both morning stages to climb to second. Fourth and third on the afternoon stages completed another excellent day for 30-year-old Gardemeister. He lies 24.6sec ahead of third-placed Petter Solberg, having stretched his advantage from 9.3sec today.
"The first stage this morning was slippery and humid near the start so I took things easy," he said. "There was also standing water in places but that was there during the recce and I think it was water that had flowed off the mountain rather than new rain. In the second stage I clipped a wall and although I didn't feel anything, the impact broke the front right wheel. I only found the damage when I arrived back at service.
"I chose slightly harder tyres this afternoon and that was the right selection, even though I don't have such a good feeling with them. Petter will really want second place tomorrow and Francois Duval will be trying hard to make up time he lost today, so I have to concentrate on keeping them back," he added.
Kresta grew in confidence with his Focus RS as the day progressed. The 29-year-old Czech, seventh overnight, was sixth through the opening stage and fifth in the next to climb to sixth. He consolidated his position this afternoon and is a comfortable 45.8sec ahead of Alex Bengue.
"It's been a better day than yesterday," he said. "I feel more confident, I made good tyre choices and the car feels perfect. I've made no changes to the set-up. I didn't like these stages on the recce but at rally speed I really enjoyed them. They were very twisty and I had two or three close escapes. The stages were quicker to drive this afternoon but more difficult because of all the dirt dragged onto the road during the first pass. I hope everything will be OK tomorrow, but as long as I don't make any mistakes or have any problems then I think I can keep Alex behind me."
Kresta had four punctures in the two afternoon stages and had to drive the final test with both rear tyres kept inflated by Michelin's anti-deflation ATS mousse system. "I started the stage with no pressure in the rear tyres but I was able to drive competitively with no big problem. It wasn't easy but it's a tribute to Michelin that the system worked so well," he said.
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson was highly satisfied with both drivers. "Toni has done extremely well to move into second. We need him to maintain that tomorrow. Roman has also done a really good job and to have two cars in the top six is excellent," he said.
Dani Solà and Xavier Amigo started the day in sixth in their privately-entered Focus RS. They were fourth through the opening stage and were on course to be even faster through the next test until they crashed about 1km from the finish. Although the car was undamaged they could not regain the road and retired. They will not restart tomorrow.
"I could feel a big vibration and thought that perhaps a tyre had gone flat," said Solà. "Because I was near the finish, I decided to continue. I came down a long straight and braked for a left corner. I think I needed an extra two metres of road but it wasn't there and I went off. Up until then it had been a good weekend and now I must look forward to my home rally in Spain next weekend."
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Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) continued his domination and now leads by 1min 30.5sec. He was fastest on all four stages and has now won all eight tests to date. Team-mate Francois Duval had major brake problems on the opening two stages, losing almost 80 seconds and dropping to fifth. However, the Belgian was second fastest on both afternoon stages to climb back to fourth. He is just 24.6sec behind third-placed Petter Solberg (Subaru), who has had a trouble free leg. Stephane Sarrazin (Subaru) lies fifth, the Frenchman also problem free. Differential troubles continued to hinder team-mates Gigi Galli and Harri Rovanpera (Mitsubishi), the Italian being the team's top runner in ninth. Armin Schwarz (Skoda) had massive handling problems on the opening stage, which badly wore his front tyres and he retired for safety reasons before the start of the second test. Another major retirement was Gilles Panizzi (Mitsubishi) who stopped in the final stage with engine problems.
The final day follows the same tried and tested format of a loop of two stages that is repeated after service back in Ajaccio's rally base. It is the shortest leg of the event, covering 95.46km of competition, and both tests are located south of Ajaccio. Cars depart there at 07.00 before returning for the finish ceremony in the heart of the town at 13.50.