Twelve of the original 16 FIA Junior World Rally Championship [JWRC] contenders started leg two of Rallye Sanremo, the fifth round of the 2003 championship.

Just four special stages lay in wait, including two runs through the longest stage of the rally, the daunting 52.30km Teglia which holds the honour of being the longest asphalt stage in the entire championship. While skies remained overcast for much of the day, local spectators turned out in force, lining the roads in their thousands to cheer on their favourite contenders.

Astra Racing's Abdo Feghali, started the day in fifth overall in his Ford Puma, which is sporting new livery for the event. He was enjoying a good run through SS7 when he caught Daniel Carlsson [Suzuki] who was running slowly with a puncture.

"We simply could not get past, it was very frustrating, and we lost about a minute. Eventually I had to tap him lightly to ensure he knew we were there but he still held us up until his puncture forced him off the road about 8kms from the end. There was only a 9.5 sec gap between us and third at the start of the day and we were sure we could have easily made up that time so it was disappointing," he said.

During the following two stages, Feghali tried to make up valuable time but a sensor mount cracked and broke on the Puma's engine. "We heard a lot of noise but didn't really know what had happened. Thankfully we had oil with us and were able to top up the engine and eventually traced the problem to a plastic cam sensor mounting which had completely broken off. Our slower times have unfortunately widened the gap between third and sixth place," he added.

During the second run through Teglia, Feghali's luck held, despite nearly knocking the rear left tyre off the rim. "We are incredibly lucky to still be sitting in sixth overall tonight. We knocked the rear left tyre about 10kms in and the impact moved the rubber about 2cm off the rim, but amazingly the tyre lost no air. The car felt like it was dancing down the road there was so much movement from the displaced rubber but incredibly we made it to the end and only lost about 60 seconds," added Feghali. With just 30 seconds separating Feghali in sixth from third place, he is determined to push hard to move further up the leaderboard on tomorrow's final stages.

Problems continued to plague Briton Guy Wilks who dropped over two minutes on his first run through Teglia because of a broken rear anti-roll bar. "A few kilometres into the stage it felt like we had a soft rear tyre as the car was not doing exactly as we asked of it. Unfortunately on a fast downhill section about 15km in we thought the tyre had gone flat, as there was too much oversteer and I was forced to handbrake on a tight bend to stop us going off the road. As a result we clipped the kerb with the front, spun and went backwards into a wall, taking off the rear bumper and puncturing a tyre. As it was so narrow we had no choice but to carry on through the stage as carefully as we could but we lost a lot of time," he said.

Wilks enjoyed a better run through the day's two middle stages. "Stage 8 was quite good and we were starting to get into a good rhythm. But when we tried to restart the car after stopping between the two stages the car wouldn't fire up. Phil managed to get us started again and we had an excellent run through SS9, posting the second fastest time. But coming into the time control at service the car again stalled and we had to jump start the engine in order to get into service," he said.

It was the last stage of the day that was to provide the most frustrations for the 22-year old. "We were having a blinding run through the first 20km of Teglia 2. We were being so careful, keeping the car straight, not cutting to avoid punctures and then suddenly on a wide piece of road the rear tyre went instantly flat for no reason at all. I know we didn't hit anything, as there was nothing on the road. It was a kilometre before we could find a safe place to stop and change the tyre and as a result we lost around three minutes. We really didn't deserve it and it was not that note we wanted to end on today," he said.

Birkbeck Rallysport team manager Chris Birkbeck said while Wilks' rally had not been quite as good as they'd hoped, they weren't the only team suffering. "We are still in the running for the championship and it is vital for Guy and Phil to finish and take what points they can. While it is doubtful we will finish on the podium this weekend, the championship's leading entries have retired around us, so we will take whatever points we can. We know we can't catch anyone, but we hope we will finish with some points," he said.

 

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