keeps pressure on for Ford
BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers François Duval and Patrick Pivato and team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen preserved third and fourth positions respectively during yesterday's second leg of Rally de España. Each claimed a special stage victory in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars this afternoon while Duval's pace was such that he narrowed the gap to second-placed Dani Sordo through the asphalt speed tests in the hills above the Costa Daurada coastline.
Saturday's action took place north-west of the rally base of Salou and again comprised two identical loops of three stages, covering 127.98km. The roads were twistier than yesterday, the type of stages that 27-year-old Duval prefers, and two of the three tests used were new to the rally while the other was more than 38km and the longest of the event. After a cool start, cloudless skies saw temperatures rise quickly and the huge crowds were treated to glorious conditions this afternoon.
Duval, called into the official Ford line-up for the first time since 2004 because of his asphalt expertise, posted second fastest time on the long stage this morning and third quickest on the next two to return to service 26.7sec behind Sordo. After claiming another second fastest time on the afternoon's opening test, the Belgian ended the day with victory on the final stage to narrow the gap to Sordo to 23.7sec.
"Some stages were quite rough with gravel on the surface but I enjoy those difficult conditions," said Duval. "It's more interesting to drive on roads like that and yesterday was like driving on a motorway at times. I think the car also works better in these conditions. I was driving flat out all day and made changes to my pace notes again this morning. I'm 23sec behind Sordo and that's not so much so I must stay concentrated tomorrow because the stages are difficult and I want to keep Mikko behind.
"I'm not planning on making any changes in service tonight, I'll keep the changes until we are in Corsica next weekend. I hope I can keep the same rhythm and pace tomorrow and try to keep the pressure on," he added.
Hirvonen continued to make changes to the settings on his Focus RS WRC in a bid to increase his pace. After changing the rear differential this morning, the 28-year-old Finn was happier with his speed. Then he stiffened the suspension springs for the afternoon tests, a move which brought instant success as he won the long stage. He ended the day 13.2sec behind Duval and more than two minutes clear of his closest pursuer.
"We changed the rear differential in service this morning which brought an improvement on the high-speed sections, but it also made the car more difficult to drive so there was still work to do," said Hirvonen. "I had more pace and my times were closer to Loeb and Sordo, but I didn't have the killer feeling that I need to challenge because I wasn't 100 per cent confident. I made the springs harder for the afternoon and the changes helped, but it was me too because I finally found the right rhythm.
"Finally I remembered how to drive on asphalt and I don't know why I had forgotten that. I was driving like a small boy and rushing into everything with the wrong approach - pushing too hard, trying to go too fast and understeering into corners. I became neater and tidier with better lines and the times came easily. Tomorrow I'll try to catch François. I must not make any mistakes because I need the points. I'm too far behind the leading cars to catch them but I need every point I can get," he said.
Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr started in 42nd position under SupeRally rules following last night's retirement, after which they incurred a 10 minute penalty. They climbed to 27th in their Focus RS WRC. "The car was understeering yesterday so we experimented with the settings. We altered the pressure in the rear differential and that was a good step so I'm looking forward to trying more things tomorrow," said Al Qassimi.
"The road surface was very slippery on the last stage and the car was sliding about on the loose gravel. The stages generally were much tighter. Yesterday I could carry a lot of speed into the corners but today was all about tight turns and I had to be focused on the pace notes," he added.
Team Round Up
Team-mates Sébastien Loeb and Dani Sordo (Citroen) maintained their grip on the first two positions, Loeb winning all three morning stages and another this afternoon. The gap between the pair is 27.7sec. Behind Duval and Hirvonen, Petter Solberg (Subaru) and Urmo Aava (Citroen) maintained fifth and sixth. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) moved ahead of Stobart driver Jari-Matti Latvala (Ford) on the opening stage and held off the Finn to end the day 3.4sec ahead. There were no major retirements.