They shrugged off yesterday's time-consuming difficulties to move up to fifth and sixth respectively in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars after one of the longest days in the FIA World Rally Championship calendar.
Technicians worked through the night to investigate the fuel pressure problem which slowed Sainz and Delecour yesterday and was also responsible for the retirement of team-mates Colin McRae and Nicky Grist. They discovered that the pressure release valve in the cars' fuel pumps had been set to the wrong pressure.
“It's an internal part of the pump delivered to us as a sealed unit by the manufacturer,” explained Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson. “We fitted pumps from an older batch to Carlos' and François' cars and had no problems with either today. We've made some performance gains and moved both cars up into the points and yesterday I thought there was little chance of that happening,” he added.
The two Focus RS drivers swapped places three times during the day as the duo were never split by more than five seconds. Their pace took both past Freddy Loix and into the top six and, with Richard Burns also climbing back up the order, the foursome will start tomorrow's third and final leg of this fourth event of the 14-round series covered by only 22.3sec.
As mentioned, the asphalt on today's stages was more abrasive than that of yesterday and the liberal covering of gravel, dragged onto the roads by cars cutting corners, increased tyre wear. However, both Sainz and Delecour were encouraged by the improved grip offered by Pirelli's rubber on the dirty tests.
“We're still learning about Pirelli's tyres on dry asphalt but the grip and the day as a whole has been better with no real problems to speak of,” said 38-year-old Sainz. “I'm not sure we can improve our position tomorrow but I think there will be a big battle for fifth and sixth with four of us chasing the points. It's all very tight.”
Delecour was happy to see the cancellation of the last test as a cracked sump, caused by a heavy landing in the previous stage, was allowing oil to leak out. His only other concern today was a tyre vibration on the opening test, caused after he clipped a kerb and dislodged Pirelli's EMI anti-deflation system in his rear left tyre.
“The roads have been covered in a lot of dirt and at times it's been like a gravel rally,” said 38-year-old Delecour. “But it's been good to have no real problems and be able to push hard. Tomorrow's stages are in the same area as yesterday's and will be just as slippery. I'm not sure we can catch Carlos but I'm looking forward to trying and we'll push as hard as we can.”
With a more reliable car under him, Richard Burns started to inch towards his realistic target of a points position. But although his times compared more favourably with the leaders than yesterday, he still had Carlos Sainz, Francois Delecour, and Freddy Loix standing in his way. And like many, he was becoming concerned by spectator control.
“We've snatched 40s off Freddy today, taken quite a few risks and had some close shaves in the process, but that is to be expected,” said Burns. “Carlos and François will be tougher to catch, but that's still my aim. We've had no technical problems at all, even though the car has taken a hell of a pounding underneath as you have to cut every single corner, and there's stones and gravel everywhere. The crowds were getting dangerous, and although we wanted the mileage, the organisers made the right decision to cancel SS12 .”