13 March 2004
Martin set for Mexican wave?
With Sainz 14.4 seconds off the lead, third placed driver, Francois Duval is only 3.7 seconds off making it a Ford one-two. The Belgium though has already revealed that he is prepared to settle for third, and not risk it all by pushing to hard for second.
"We've had a really good attack today," said Duval, "Tomorrow will be exciting but I would prefer to finish third than risk going off the road chasing second. I need to finish in the points for Ford and I need to finish to improve my experience here so to go off wouldn't be good. I've made no mistakes and the car has been absolutely perfect but there's still a long way to go."
Behind the Ford driver is Subaru duo Mikko Hirvonen and Petter Solberg, the former escaping with damaged suspension after hitting a rock on the final stage of the first loop. Solberg though was easily the sensation of the day, after receiving a five-minute penalty after his car was illegally pushed into the final service park on Friday when it refused to start and he refused to give up and was fastest on all six stages to climb to back-up to fifth.
"It's been a very, very good day," commented the Norwegian, 2I haven't been going crazy and this was the speed I planned to be doing today anyway. Last night I was so fed up, I really didn't want to drive at all. But today after the first stage I thought well, maybe this isn't so bad after all. I'm trying to do my best, I'm happy with the car and my driving has felt good all day. I'm just hoping to do the same again tomorrow."
Further back Marcus Gronholm has dropped to sixth, power steering woes in this morning's loop of stages costing him valuable time - he lost almost five minutes.
"It was very frustrating to have all these problems as I am sure that we could have been challenging for the lead otherwise," he said, "We've all got to work hard to make sure that none of these failures happen again. It was an extremely difficult morning and my arms felt very sore, but the afternoon was a bit better until the hydraulics failed on the road section before the final stage. This meant that we had no differential pressure for the last stage and we also had to use the manual gear-change. Things can only get better tomorrow!"
Peugeot team-mate Harri Rovanpera also lost time, dropping 16 minutes on stage seven when his car's front right suspension arm broke shortly before the finish. The Finn stopped to remove the wheel before completing the stage on three wheels. He dropped to 20th overall at the end of the leg.
"It was a real pity, as the steering arm broke without warning on a right-hand corner. We spoke to our engineers who told us to remove the wheel, and then we were able to limp out of the stage," said the Finn. "But 16 minutes is too much time to lose, so now it is a question of gaining as much experience of the car as possible, in order to help us for the future. We've also got a few things to test tomorrow. When we have no problems the car feels very good, and I think we have shown that we have the pace to run near the front."
Gilles Panizzi meanwhile keeps the flag flying for Mitsubishi, and despite gearbox problems in the morning, and an overheating engine in the afternoon, ended the day eighth, poised to score the final championship point.
"I don't know what the cause of the transmission problem was this morning but it was exactly the same as we had in Monte Carlo," he explained. "In service we changed back to yesterday's gearbox and it felt fantastic again but we then had a small problem with the engine. On the slower parts where there were lots of corners it overheated but then it was OK again in the faster sections and we had no real problems on the final two stages. The roads were also hard on the shock absorbers and they received quite a beating."
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