Gronholm out front by a 'mile' in Turkey
14 October 2006
BP Ford's number one driver, Marcus Gronholm has ended the second leg of the Rally of Turkey, the thirteenth round in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship, comfortably in front.
Gronholm began the day under a bit of pressure from his nearest rival, Petter Solberg and he was unable to match the Norwegian in the first test. As a result his lead was cut from 26.1 seconds overnight to 23.9 going into SS11. Marcus though soon bounced back and was 13.5 seconds faster than 'Hollywood' in SS12, to end the first-loop having increased his advantage to 37.4 seconds.
Marcus was again quickest on the second loop, beating Petter on the two repeat runs through Kemer and Silyon and as such he built a bigger cushion, to arrive in service F, 43.4 seconds in front.
The final loop was somewhat tougher though and once again the weather played a role. Having been dry and sunny throughout the four previous tests, the 16 kilometre Chimera section [SS14], already one of the hardest of the rally, was made even more difficult by the return of the rain and a freak hailstorm which covered the last three kilometres in a blanket of ice and slush. Gronholm thus eased off, conceding 9.2 seconds to Solberg.
The penultimate test of the day though proved to be the turning point of the whole event, when Petter went off 4 kilometres from the start, when he hit a rock and went off the road. The Norwegian was unable to rejoin and as such Gronholm paced himself through the 29.28 kilometre stage, before heading to the Akdeniz University super special, which like on Friday brought the leg to an end. The Finn now goes into the final day under no pressure whatsoever and with a 2 minute lead, will just pace himself to the finish and his fifth victory of the year.
Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile is now second in the sister BP-backed Ford Focus, the Finn having pulled further and further away from Henning Solberg during the day, with a number of good stage times, including a win in SS13 and SS16. From being only 0.7 seconds in front of the OMV Peugeot driver, he now lies 40 seconds in front and like his team-mate, will just be able to take it easy on Sunday during the final three tests.
Henning for his part will now be eager to try and secure his very first podium finish in the WRC. He had a somewhat mixed day though and reckoned he was lucky to have got through SS11 after hitting a big rock 10 kilometres before the end. He also had a throttle problem in the final loop.
Atkinson had a pretty uneventful day and while he dropped down to eighth initially, he put in a storming time on SS14, when he was third fastest through the 16.91 Chimera test, to haul himself up to fifth. Chris finished the day 18.4 seconds off third.
Further-down the order, Kosti Katajamaki remains on course to score good points in his Stobart VK Ford Focus. The Finn has had a few issues during the day, including a handbrake problem on SS12, which caused him to stall halfway through, but he has kept on it and was second quickest on SS15.
Kronos Citroen's Xavier Pons and Colin McRae are sixth and seventh, and while the former was pleased with his form, McRae has been disappointed with his pace. The Scot struggled again with the wrong tyres on the first loop and didn't fare that much better in the second loop either. Although his pace improved in the final two 'proper' tests, he is still some way off his goal of finishing on the podium.
First Motorsport's Francois Duval is on course to take the final drivers' point in eighth, the Belgian, like at the end of day one, easily outpacing his fellow Fabia WRC car users, Andreas Aigner and Harri Rovanpera, who languish in 11th and 12th, over a minute adrift in their Red Bull-backed Skoda's.
Daniel Sordo meanwhile rounds out the top ten in the number two Kronos-run Citroen Xsara WRC car, the Spaniard currently set to scoop the final manufacturers' point. Although he hasn't had a particularly great event, he has been consistent and ended the day on a high by topping the times on the long 29.28 kilometre Phaselis test - the final 'proper' test.
Of the other works' drivers, Matthew Wilson is 13th, the Brit having struggled to adapt to the highly changeable conditions. He opted to go to Katajamaki's settings halfway through the day and was then somewhat happier with his Ford Focus. Wilson's co-driver, Michael Orr continues to struggle though, having injured his back on day one.
In the Junior WRC category, Per-Gunnar Andersson is on course to take the class win and like Gronholm, has a very comfortable lead, over 2 minutes up on his Suzuki team-mates, Urmo Aava and Jozef Beres.
Overnight leader, Guy Wilks was dogged by punctures this morning on the first loop and as a result his overnight lead was cut right back. Worse was too come though and he rolled in SS13. That incident cost him lots of time and he is now fifth, 2.5 minutes behind Conrad Rautenbach in fourth and about a minute up on Kris Meeke, who completes the top six.
The action now concludes on Sunday. Featuring three more timed tests and just 50 competitive kilometres, Sunday's leg is the shortest of the rally but ends with one of its longest stages – the marathon 28km 'Olympos'. The winning car is expected to cross the finish podium in Kemer at 1306hrs local time.