Francois Duval endured a disappointing end to his outing with the MML Sports Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 after crashing out of the Condroz Rally.
The Belgian driver was leading the event, the final round of the Belgian national championship, when he went off the road shortly before the end of the opening day and was unable to continue due to the damage sustained.
Duval was immediately on the pace and went second fastest on the first three stages behind Pieter Tsjoen in a one year-old Ford Focus WRC. However, victory in the fourth stage saw Duval close the gap to just 3.6seconds.
Tsjoen took another win on the next stage but Duval then took a hat-trick of stage wins and with it, the overall lead of the event from the sixth stage. By the end of the eighth stage, he had built-up a 15.6 second advantage over Tsjoen with just two stages of the first day remaining.
Unfortunately, Duval went off the road 2km from the end of the day's penultimate stage, the 6.58Km Ben-Ahin test and hit a concrete telegraph pole.
The impact broke the Lancer's suspension and Duval lost the wheel and the complete suspension assembly. Unable to continue, he retired from the event on the spot.
"Of course, we're extremely disappointed that Francois went off the road and retired from the lead,” MML Sports managing director John Easton said. “He clearly got to grips with the Lancer WRC05 very quickly and like so many drivers this year, showed that in the right hands, it is a rally winner.
"Unfortunately, it wasn't to be this weekend. I understand that there was a problem with the notes and Francois took too heavy a cut on a right-hand corner and hit the bank. This pushed the car out to the left and into a concrete telegraph pole on the exit of the corner. The car ran down the pole, which ripped most of the side of the car off, including the complete left rear suspension corner.
"What's most disappointing is that I think the win was in the bag. We had been making changes to the car's settings at Francois' request all day; changing geometry, ride heights, roll bar settings and damper settings. The car was clearly improving with every stage and by the last service, Francois said that he felt like he had been driving the car for years.”
Easton added that without the incident, he was confident Duval would have gone on to extend his lead and secure victory.
"With the prospect of a 23Km stage in the darkness at the end of the day, I feel that he could have added another ten seconds to his advantage for the second day,” he said. “This would have left him able to establish a more relaxed pace to the finish, to bring the car home for the win.
"Had he done that, then that would have given MML Sports a 100 per cent win ratio for every customer in every country this year. But it's encouraging to know that the car is obviously very competitive, especially against the Focus, it was 100 per cent reliable as it has been all year and the MML Sports team worked at 100 per cent, as always."