The intense battle for second place on this penultimate round of the FIA World Rally Championship between Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Markko Martin and Michael Park and Frenchman Gilles Panizzi continued unabated during today's second group of speed tests south of Vic.

The duo entered the 26.27km Sant Julia test, used initially yesterday afternoon, with the Ford Focus RS World Rally Car 4.2sec ahead of Panizzi. The Frenchman was faster through the stage to edge in front of 27-year-old Martin into second by just 0.1sec. The fight continued in the short, sharp 5.05km Taradell test, also used yesterday. Martin was second fastest, just 0.1sec away from a third stage win of the rally, and that was enough to put him back ahead of Panizzi by 0.5sec.

"The long stage took a lot of energy from me because of my neck but the short stage was OK," said Martin. "I'm doing my best but it doesn't seem that exciting from inside the car because of my neck. I think maybe it's more exciting to watch from outside. My Michelin tyres were good and I think I will take them again because they worked well on those roads."

Ford BP team-mates Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot were engaged in a close fight of their own with Spanish hero Carlos Sainz for fourth place. The Belgians' Focus RS was fastest through Sant Julia by 0.7sec to close to within 0.9sec of Sainz. It was Duval's first stage victory of the rally and the third for the Ford BP team. Sainz fought back to beat 22-year-old Duval through Taradell and they arrived at Vic with Sainz holding onto fourth by just 1.7sec from Duval.

"For the first 5km of Sant Julia we had a brake problem," said Duval. "The pedal was very 'long' and I had to pump the pedal to get them to work properly. After that they were OK, but it affected my confidence. It's hard to drive like that."

Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen remain 15th in their 2002 specification Focus RS, run by M-Sport, after a troublefree run through both stages.

Drivers now repeat the same stages which began the day's action before returning to Vic for the final 45 minute service, ahead of the journey back to Lloret de Mar for the overnight halt.

 

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