Markko Märtin and Michael Park produced another excellent performance in today’s second leg of Italy’s Rallye Sanremo to keep their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car on course for a points finish in this 11th round of the FIA World Rally Championship. They lie fifth and are closing fast on world champion Richard Burns, completing today’s six speed tests in the Ligurian mountains just 6.0sec behind the Briton.
Team-mates Colin McRae and Nicky Grist moved up to eighth in their Focus RS on a day when the daunting 42.31km Colle Langan speed test across the spine of the mountains lived up to its reputation as the most feared special stage of the rally. The double run over the twisty asphalt marked the end of the road for two front-running cars and proved costly for several others.
Although the forecast thunderstorms failed to materialise, overcast skies remained throughout the six stages, covering 150.57km. The humidity was high and the asphalt was slippery throughout, especially during the afternoon when light showers created uncertainty in the Imperia service park over tyre selection for the final two tests.
Märtin and Park spent the day embroiled in an exciting four-way combat for third and at one point the battling quartet was covered by 22 seconds. The 26-year-old Estonian climbed from fifth to fourth this morning. But as Petter Solberg (Subaru) became the dominant driver in the fighting foursome, Märtin consolidated fifth and reeled in Burns on the final two stages, recording second fastest time on the last test.
His only problem came on the first run through Colle Langan when he spun at the same point as last year. “About 11km from the end we spun into a wall with the back of the car,” said Märtin. “There was no big damage but we lost time reversing onto the road. I made quite a few small mistakes on that stage, going into some corners a gear too high and not handbraking properly and my driving wasn’t as smooth as yesterday.
“I’m enjoying driving the car and the set-up has been fine. There are many places where we can cut corners tomorrow so we’ve raised the ride height of the car a little tonight to enable us to do that. We’re very close to Richard and we must try to catch him tomorrow,” he added.
McRae avoided the mistakes which proved costly yesterday but was still unable to match the times of his team-mate. However, he persisted to ensure that both remaining Focus RS cars hold points-scoring positions in the manufacturers’ series.
“The car has been fine, I’ve just not been on the pace and once you’ve lost the rhythm, it’s difficult to get it back again,” admitted the 34-year-old Scot. “Our only real problem came this morning when the car felt as though it only had two-wheel drive coming out of tight bends.” That was later traced to the chassis control system moving into failsafe mode, preventing maximum performance from the differentials but the time loss was minimal.
“I have big time gaps in front and behind me and I’m not going to catch anyone tomorrow unless they have problems. We must wait and see what happens and make sure we bring both cars home in the points for Ford,” said McRae.
Ford Rallye Sport team director Malcolm Wilson said: “I want Markko to continue driving as he has been. It’s a great battle between him, Richard Burns and Petter Solberg and if it turns wet tomorrow, who knows what might happen.”
The dilemma over tyre selection on asphalt rallies in the mountains was summed up perfectly on the final two stages. It was raining when most drivers made their selection and while the first test was 60% damp, the second, which started two hours after drivers left service, turned out dry. Märtin selected rubber for damp conditions while McRae chose tyres for drier roads. Intriguingly, both later believed they had made the correct choice!
Luis Moya, co-driver to Carlos Sainz who retired yesterday, wasted no time in returning to sporting action. He flew home to Barcelona and ran in a half-marathon there this afternoon.
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