BP-Ford World Rally Team made a strong start to the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship on today's opening leg of the Monte Carlo Rally.

Fielding two new driver pairings for the first time on this oldest and most famous event in the 16-round series, the squad ended the day with Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen fifth in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car and team-mates Roman Kresta and Jan Tomanek lying 10th in a similar car.

This is the most compact Monte Carlo Rally ever. All the speed tests are based in the mountains of the Alpes-Maritimes region, high above the Principality of Monaco, none more than 50km away in a straight line. Although the more southerly route was expected to bring more benign weather and reduce the chances of snow, few could have predicted today's temperatures.

Clear skies and bright sunshine saw temperatures of 11?C by mid-morning. Only on exposed north facing roads and in shaded areas were there ice patches, with barely any snow at all. The classic, but unpredictable, Monte Carlo mixture of dry and wet asphalt, ice and snow all on the same stage was nowhere to be seen. Tyre choice was therefore much easier than usual, and Michelin's dry weather slick rubber was the daylong choice for both BP-Ford drivers.

For both Gardemeister and Kresta, their first day of competition in a Focus RS was expected to be one of learning. Both settled in well over the four special stages covering 108.51km. Gardemeister set third fastest time on the penultimate special stage in his Castrol-branded car with Kresta sixth fastest on the last test.

Gardemeister began cautiously and lay sixth after the opening group of two stages.

"I drove quite slowly on the opening test but that was my plan. There was about 1.5km of snow and I wasn't prepared to take any risks. I drove faster on the second stage but was braking too early because I didn't have 100 per cent confidence," he said.

The 29-year-old climbed to fourth overall on the penultimate test, but dropped a place on the repeat pass of the stage.

"It was a really challenging stage and a nice one to drive," he said. "I'm upset to have lost time tonight because I don't know why. I thought I was pushing harder, but the time was slower.

"Overall, the day has gone well. I've listened carefully to my pace notes and adjusted my speed accordingly. In the places where my safety crew marked ice, then I really slowed down. They have done a great job and all the tricky places were marked. Maybe I drove too carefully sometimes. I've enjoyed driving the Focus and I like it a lot. It's a difficult rally and not an easy event on which to drive a new car. Tomorrow I will step up the pace a little," he added.

Kresta spent the morning learning his new car, returning to Monaco after the first loop in 13th. However, as he gained in confidence his speed increased and the 28-year-old Czech climbed onto the leaderboard.

"It was a difficult morning," said the 28-year-old Czech. "My times weren't so good but that wasn't a surprise because I drove carefully. Everything was new to me. I tried harder on the final stage and I drove more gently, but better. That's how I think I have to drive this car. It feels nice to drive and we made good tyre choices throughout the day. We'll push harder tomorrow, but only one step harder. I don't want to attack and make a mistake because my aim is to ensure that I finish and learn as much about the car as I can."

BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson was satisfied with the day.

"Toni achieved what I thought he could while Roman was nervous, and under a lot of pressure, but he did well. Both were under orders to drive carefully through the first two stages with no mistakes. They did that and their performances improved as the day went on. I wanted them both in the top 10 tonight and they have done that," he said.



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