Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Markko Martin and Michael Park completed a hat-trick of stage victories today when they posted fastest time through both this afternoon's 19.19km Cosio and the 25.31 San Bartolomeo tests to add to their win in the opening Teglia special stage this morning.

Their Castrol-backed Ford Focus RS World Rally Car was quickest through Cosio by 6.0sec from Gilles Panizzi [Peugeot] and fastest through San Bartolomeo by 2.0sec from rally leader Sebastien Loeb. The Ford BP pairing arrived at the Imperia service park having reduced Loeb's advantage to 50.1sec and having widened their lead over third-placed Marcus Grpnholm to 14.9sec.

"Cosio was the best stage of the whole rally," said the 27-year-old Estonian driver. "It was really fast and flowing and more like a race track. Everything is working well so we'll just try to drive fast and enjoy ourselves. We're fighting to regain some of the time lost and we're clawing back a few seconds here and there but we really need Sebastien to make mistakes."

Ford BP team-mates Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot were fourth through Cosio in their similar Focus RS and sixth in San Bartolomeo as their three-car battle with Carlos Sainz [Citroen] and Panizzi continued to rage. They now lie sixth, just 0.6sec behind the Frenchman and 11.2sec adrift of Sainz.

"We chose the wrong tyres," admitted 22-year-old Duval. "They were too soft. We fitted medium compound rubber but a harder compound would have been a better choice. They were moving about quite a lot and I lost confidence. I'm still pushing at 100 percent but I don't want to drive any harder than that. The car feels good and it's encouraging to be fighting with Gilles and Carlos."

Ford BP team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted with the performance of both drivers. "Three fastest times from three stages for Markko - what more can I say than that? And Francois has driven exceptionally well. He and Stephane put in a lot of work on their pace notes in France after the Rally Australia and they have clearly benefited from that. They're fighting for position with Gilles Panizzi, who has won this rally for the last three years, so I'm very pleased for them both," he said.

Drivers now face a repeat run through the massive 52.30km Teglia, the final action of this second leg before returning to Sanremo for the final overnight halt.

 

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