Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Fran?ois Duval and Stephane Prevot emerged from the toughest section of this final round of the FIA World Rally Championship to hold seventh position in their Focus RS World Rally Car.

The combination of the 32.58km Rheola test and the 43.09km Resolfen, two of the rally's classic stages situated high in the hills on opposite sides of the Vale of Neath, offered more than 75km of flat out driving with no opportunity for service in between.

The Belgian pair, inexperienced in Wales after retiring early on their two previous starts here, were tackling both tests for the first time. And while 22-year-old Duval maintained his position in the championship points, he did not emerge totally unscathed.

"We had a problem which meant the car behaved like a rear-wheel drive car," he said. "When I braked, it started to turn in because the rear wheels locked. It was difficult to control the car properly and on two or three occasions I nearly spun."

Duval also arrived at the Swansea service park with damage to the front left of his Focus RS after hitting a rabbit.

The problem was traced to an oil leak from a cap on the side of the gearbox but because that is such a difficult part to replace in a limited time, team director Malcolm Wilson elected to change the gearbox. Mechanics made the change in the allocated 20 minutes and Duval left service on time.

Team-mates Markko Martin and Michael Park returned to service having retired their Castrol-backed Focus RS just 2km into the liaison section towards the start of Rheola. "When we left the service park the water temperature rose to 150?C again so we stopped straight away so as not to destroy the engine," explained the 27-year-old Estonian driver. The car has been brought back to service and the team are now investigating the exact reason for the overheating.

Finns Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila are 13th in their 2001-specification Focus RS, run by M-Sport. "When I saw Mikko Hirvonen off the road in stage three, I thought there was no point in pushing. I lost my confidence because it was so slippery in those first two stages. These last two were much drier and I felt more confident and happier," said 18-year-old Latvala.

Competitors now return to Rheola for a second pass through the test before a long end of leg service ahead of a repeat of last night's super special stage in Cardiff.

 

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