Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen and team- mates Roman Kresta and Jan Možný both held top 10 places after today's second leg of the Rally Argentina. Gardemeister consolidated fourth in his Ford Focus RS World Rally Car after another highly consistent
performance, while Kresta climbed onto the leaderboard in 10th in a similar car on his first appearance on this rally.
Today's action on this ninth round of the FIA World Rally Championship was concentrated in two areas, and the nature of the speed tests and the conditions were very different. The four morning special stages in the Calamuchita Valley, south of the rally base of Villa Carlos Paz, were on flowing, undulating sandy roads which sapped power and quickly became rutted. The afternoon's action returned to the slower, rougher tracks in the Punilla Valley, north of the rally base, where yesterday's leg was based. The seven tests covered 114.35km.
Heavy rain and low temperatures made it a dismal morning in Carlos Paz. Conditions in the Calamuchita Valley were damp, but much drier and brighter. By the time the rally returned to the north, the rain had stopped but the roads were muddy and wet after the morning drenching. The final 10.95km test from Valle Hermoso to Casa Grande was especially treacherous and few escaped without some kind of incident. Soft compound Michelin tyres were again the preferred option for Gardemeister and Kresta all day, and both were delighted with their performance.
Thirty-year-old Gardemeister, lying fourth last night in his Castrol-branded Focus RS, knew today's biggest challenge would come from Harri Rovanperä. The morning stages were new to the BP-Ford driver but he was faster on three of the four tests to stretch the overnight margin from 8.1sec to 24.0sec. However, Rovanperä fought back in the afternoon and was faster on all three stages to reduce the gap to 11.0sec.
"The morning stages were so sandy it was like driving on the beach," said Gardemeister. "The second pass through the first stage was better for me because I had the experience of the previous run to draw from, but there were some big ruts. It was quite muddy all day but the final stage was incredible. I slid off the road three times at hairpin bends. I tried to control the car with the handbrake but it was just so slippery that the car slid off.
"I've done too much sliding this afternoon and lost too much time. The sun has come out this evening and I hope it stays that way tomorrow. I've enjoyed the fight with Harri and tomorrow I must maintain the same kind of pace to keep ahead of him," added Gardemeister.
Kresta, 11th last night, closed on Xavier Pons through the opening stage and moved ahead on the next test. He maintained his position throughout the remaining stages to end the day 10.3sec in front. The 29-year-old Czech also found the final test the most demanding of the leg.
"In the twisty sections in the mud there were many rocks," he said. "The roads were hard with water on the surface and it wasn't easy to follow other drivers' lines. I overshot one junction and stopped in two corners. I drove slowly - but it was still too fast! Generally, I had a good day and everything was much better than yesterday. The morning stages were great to drive and I cannot believe how many spectators were out there. Tomorrow's stages are difficult and I think it will be hard for me. I've heard that there could be snow in the mountains in the morning and that would not be nice."
Antony Warmbold and Michael Orr, driving a privately-entered Focus RS, remain 12th. The German enjoyed the roller-coaster character of the morning stages but was astonished by the slippery nature of the final few kilometres this afternoon. "There was so much mud on top of a hard base that it was like driving on ice - studded tyres would have been nice!" he said. "I went off the road at least five times. It was impossible to brake and turn into the hairpins."
Argentines Luis Perez Companc and Jose Maria Volta are 14th in another M-Sport run Focus RS and much happier with their performance. "It's been a big improvement on yesterday," said Perez Companc. "I spoke with the team engineers last night and they gave me some good tips which I followed today."
Although the shortest of the three legs, the final day promises to be tough. Based high in the Traslasierra mountains, south-west of Villa Carlos Paz, the route takes drivers through two of the most famous speed tests of the entire championship.
Two runs over the El Condor stage, which starts at an altitude of 2195 metres, are split by one pass through the Giulio Cèsare test. Both are narrow, rocky and based amid a spectacular moonlike landscape. A repeat of the two short super special stages at the Pro-Racing motorsport complex, which started the rally on Thursday and where drivers race head-to-head, brings the action to a close. After re-starting at 07.07, drivers face 64.13km of competition before the finish at 13.23.
Press release Ford World Rally Team