Ford dominate day one in Corsica

Ford dominate day one in CorsicaFrom Ford Press [ 15/10/2004 ].
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BP-Ford World Rally Team lies first and second after dominating today's first leg of the Rallye de France in Corsica. François Duval and Stéphane Prévot's Focus RS World Rally Car leads the similar car of team-mates Markko Märtin and Michael Park by 15.1 seconds after more than 120km of flat-out driving over winding asphalt mountain roads on the Mediterranean island. Duval and Märtin battled among themselves for the lead throughout the day, the Focus RS winning three of the four speed tests south of the rally base in Ajaccio. The lead changed hands twice between the BP-Ford duo, who opened a comfortable advantage over their rivals.

Massive storms during last night's ceremonial start in Ajaccio appeared to confirm drivers' fears that inconsistent weather, and therefore difficult tyre selection, could be the decisive factor in the outcome of this 14th round of the FIA World Rally Championship. However, blue skies and bright sunshine greeted competitors this morning and, despite heavy clouds during the afternoon, the rain kept away.

Despite the sunshine, this morning's opening loop of two special stages was damp in many places after last night's rain. Michelin's soft compound dry weather tyres were the choice of both Duval and Märtin and they worked well in the mixed conditions. Duval was fastest from Märtin over the opening 32.89km Ampaza - Col St Eustache test, but the 28-year-old Estonian fought back to win the following 27.78km Aullene - Arbellara stage from Duval to move ahead.

While Duval opted for harder rubber this afternoon, Märtin remained on soft compound tyres, expecting the roads to be still damp, with the possibility of rain. It proved the wrong selection for Märtin and Duval won the third stage to move back into the lead. The order remained the same as the team-mates were split by just 0.6sec over the final test.

"I've made no serious mistakes and my tyre choice has been good," said 23-year-old Duval. "I really enjoy asphalt rallies and it's good for me when conditions are damp and slippery like this. Some corners this afternoon were tricky because mud had been dragged onto the road during the first pass this morning. My car has been perfect all day and I just hope I can stay in this position until Sunday afternoon.

"My pace notes for the second stage were slightly pessimistic so I drove quite carefully. It was a new stage to me, so it would have been risky to drive at 100 per cent. I clipped a wall about 5km after the start and could feel a small vibration. I drove carefully for a few kilometres but when I realised all was OK, I speeded up again. Tomorrow's stages will be more difficult because they are narrow and there will be more gravel on the roads than we have seen today. I will try not to take too many risks," he added.

Märtin said: "We made a good start this morning and it was a nice feeling to have everything going well from the beginning. I drove at a comfortable pace, but could have pushed harder. The roads were wet in some places and dry in others so it was difficult to know exactly what we were going to get.

"But this afternoon I chose the wrong tyres. The roads were 90 per cent dry with just a few damp patches. I expected more damp roads but I knew within the first 500 metres of stage three that I had made a mistake. I struggled there but pushed hard in the next to try not to lose too much time and that was better. Tyre choice is so difficult here and I have to make sure I don't make the same error. In these tricky conditions everyone will make a mistake with tyres, so I hope I have made mine. But second place is good. Only my team-mate has been faster so that adds up to a good day for Ford," he said.

BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted with the performance. "On the first two stages, all our main rivals chose the same tyres. So to set first and second fastest times on both tests, with all the cars on the same rubber and in the same conditions, gave a clear indication of our performance capabilities. It's not easy but we must ensure that for the next two days we get more tyre choices right than wrong," he said.

News from our Rivals

Team-mates Sebastien Loeb and Carlos Sainz (Citroen) led the challenge to the Ford duo. Sainz was quicker initially, but the pair swapped positions with every stage and fastest time on the final test installed Loeb in third. Marcus Grönholm and Cedric Robert (both Peugeot) hold fifth and sixth despite a poor tyre selection for both this morning. Tyres that were too hard for the damp conditions also troubled team-mates Petter Solberg and Mikko Hirvonen (Subaru) this morning. Solberg lies seventh with Hirvonen in 12th. Armin Schwarz (Skoda), feeling better following his illness on the last round in Sardinia, is 10th but team-mate Toni Gardemeister was another to make a poor tyre choice this morning. He also spun on the opening stage and is 13th. There were no major retirements.

Tomorrow’s Route The second leg is the longest and toughest of the rally. After leaving Ajaccio at 07.40, drivers face two identical loops of two stages north of the town, split by service back in Ajaccio. The Vico - Col de Sarzoggiu test is 36.24km and the Peri - Bastelica stage is 40.94km – the longest stages of the rally. Competitors arrive back in Ajaccio for the overnight halt at 19.05.