The longest leg, comprising six more special stages and 150.57km in the mountains behind Sanremo, awaited the 44 competitors who re-started from the resort early this morning. Although the sun was shining by the sea, conditions in the mountains were overcast with low cloud posing an additional hazard. The day began with the uphill 10.69km San Romolo. It was followed by the daunting 42.32km Colle Langan, a combination of yesterday’s opening two tests run in the opposite direction and featuring the highpoint of the rally on the summit of the Passo Teglia at 1350 metres.
Ford Rallye Sport drivers Markko Märtin and Michael Park made a good start in their Focus RS World Rally Car. They were seventh fastest through San Romolo and fourth in Colle Langan to climb to fourth overall, reducing the gap to third-placed Richard Burns to just 8.2sec. Had it not been for a spin in the long stage, Märtin would have swept past the world champion and moved into a podium position.
“About 11km from the end we spun and hit a wall with the back of the car,” said the 26-year-old Estonian driver. “There was no great damage but we lost time reversing back onto the road. I made quite a few small mistakes, going into some corners a gear too high and not handbraking properly and my driving wasn’t quite as smooth as yesterday so I must try to eliminate the errors on the next two stages.”
Team-mates Colin McRae and Nicky Grist climbed to ninth in their Focus RS, despite a transmission problem in Colle Langan. “The rear differential wasn’t working properly in tight corners,” said 34-year-old McRae. “It felt like we only had front-wheel drive coming out of tight bends. There are some really slippery places under the trees and I think it’s getting more humid in the mountains so it will get more slippery still. Everyone is pushing hard so in these conditions I think we could see some mistakes.”
One driver to make such an error was second-placed Philippe Bugalski (Citroen) who went off and into retirement in Colle Langan. His car blocked the road and delayed leader Gilles Panizzi (Peugeot) for more than five minutes. Officials later allocated the Frenchman the same time as Marcus Grönholm, fastest in the stage until the incident.
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