Gronholm sets pace, but remains third
- 7th October 2007, 7:57am
In contrast to the opening leg, today remained dry throughout. While the rally base at Salou was bathed in glorious sunshine, the special stages to the north and west were cloudy but there was never any threat of rain and tyre choice was far more straightforward. Although yesterday evening's rain left more damp patches than expected, dry weather rubber remained the natural choice throughout the day on both Focus RS cars. Drivers tackled two identical anti-clockwise loops of four speed tests covering 119.16km.
Grönholm started the day 50.6sec behind leader Sébastien Loeb and 39.3sec away from second-placed Dani Sordo. The 39-year-old Finn knew he had little chance of closing such a large gap on outright pace but needed to maintain the pressure to be in position to capitalise on any mistakes or problems ahead. He won two tests in the morning loop to narrow the gap to Loeb by 3.0sec and then won the first and last tests this afternoon to cut another 4.0sec from the Frenchman's advantage. They ended the day 43.6sec apart with Grönholm now 30.7sec behind Sordo.
"Today was much better now that the sun was shining and the roads were drier," said Grönholm. "It would have been nicer to have had this yesterday because the rain destroyed my rally then. I've been very evenly matched with the two guys ahead. The goal is to keep the pressure on them and not let them relax or feel comfortable. One spin for them and I am there.
"I'm happy with the car and my driving. I have been pretty much flat out all day. There was a little left in reserve, but not much, and I didn't want to use that and take risks. My tyre choice was good but the asphalt was still quite damp in places this morning. I was expecting it to be totally dry and that wasn't the case," he added.
Hirvonen posted two top three times as he strived to narrow the gap to the two leaders and at the same time extend his advantage over fifth-placed François Duval. Despite stretching his lead over the Belgian by 13.0sec to 45.6sec, he was unable to make up any ground on the leaders and eased his pace over the final two stages to consolidate fourth.
"I was driving to the maximum for most of the day but I couldn't take any time back from Loeb and Sordo so I steadied my pace on the final two stages," he said. "I proved I have the speed to match them in the dry but the gap was just too big after yesterday. I was also trying to do everything I could to increase the gap over Duval to help the team's title challenge. I broke a mousse insert in my front left tyre on the penultimate stage. I should have changed it but didn't and the car was sliding a lot as a result on the final test."
Abu Dhabi driver Khalid Al Qassimi and Nicky Beech climbed from 18th to 14th in another BP-Ford World Rally Team Focus RS on their Spanish debut. "Yesterday when I started the stages after the other drivers I was able to see their driving lines and follow them. This morning I was first car to start and I didn't have that advantage so it was difficult. I had a better indication of the right braking points this afternoon but the roads were dirty and it would have been easy to get caught out. The better weather has helped but it was difficult to feel confident on the dirty sections," said Al Qassimi.
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted that his drivers were able to keep the pressure on the cars ahead. "Marcus and Mikko both drove well in conditions they like and Marcus was the fastest driver today. The strategy tomorrow is the same, to keep the pressure on and see what happens," he said.
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On a remarkably quiet day, the top 10 leaderboard remained exactly as it stood after the first leg. Sébastien Loeb (Citroen) won two tests and leads team-mate Dani Sordo, also winner of two stages, by 12.9sec. Behind the BP-Ford duo, François Duval (Citroen) is a comfortable fifth. Petter Solberg (Subaru) is sixth, despite minor understeer problems this morning. Team-mate Chris Atkinson survived a lurid incident when he hit the guardrail on both sides of the road before his car flicked up onto two wheels and almost rolled. He is eighth.
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