Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Markko Martin and Michael Park remained in seventh position after the second group of speed tests in today's opening leg of this tenth round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

A combination of a poor tyre choice and less than perfect pace notes frustrated the 27-year-old Estonian driver and his British co-driver, winners of the previous round of the series in Finland.

The event reached its most southerly point as competitors tackled two classic tests, including the longest of the four-day rally, around Stirling Reservoir before heading back north to tackle the much shorter, but brand new, Turner Hill stage. The gravel roads were drier as the overnight rain and early morning drizzle gave way to clearer skies and sunshine.

Martin and Park were fifth fastest through the 15.89km Stirling West, the only test on this year's rally that follows exactly the same route as in 2002. The Castrol-branded Focus RS was then ninth on both the 34.99km Stirling Long and the 7.00km Turner Hill.

"We made a bad tyre choice," said Martin. "They were too hard but that's the first wrong tyre choice we've made all year, so we can't complain too much. Our pace notes are too slow. I'm driving one gear higher than we have in our notes for most bends. The problem came in Turner Hill when we came to a bend that was a third gear corner, as we had in our notes, and not a fourth gear turn. We went off the road and flattened a small tree.

"We've had far too many spins and overshoots and I know I can do much better than this," admitted the honest Martin.

Team-mates Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot lie 12th in their similar Focus RS, the Belgian pair still struggling to find the right pace. "I think my driving is improving a bit but I still feel I'm lacking confidence," said the 22-year-old driver. "My pace notes aren't perfect. During the recce period I had to drive the long stage in a standard road car as we had a problem with the practice vehicle. That's right-hand drive and of course my rally car is left-hand drive - but that's not an excuse."

Finland's Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen are just one place and 7.1sec behind Duval in a 2002-specification Focus RS, run by M-Sport. Hirvonen was also frustrated. After holding a top 10 place this morning he lost time after attacking a jump too quickly and landing heavily.

"The impact broke something and I had brake problems afterwards. I overshot the same junction as Markko in stage six but I went about 60m further down the escape road and also stalled the engine," said Hirvonen.

 

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