Home favourite stays top but rivals close

Home favourite stays top but rivals close

24.05.2006: Home favourite stays top but rivals close

Alessandro Bettega ended the second day of action in Rally d'Italia Sardegna in the lead of the Fiesta SportingTrophy International, but an epic battle was played out through the course of the day where he had dropped as low as fourth in the standings and the top three Fiestas ended the day with just over a minute separating them.

It was a wheel change on the second stage of the morning which dropped the Italian down the order of the third round of the series run alongside the FIA Junior World Rally Championship, the four minutes to change the wheel meant he went from the overnight leader to fourth in the standings. The loss of his hard work put in on the rally's first day meant that he pushed hard and set the fastest Fiesta ST stage time in three of the day's six stages as he recovered his lead with a storming drive.

Second at the end of the Saturday was Greek driver Lambros Athanassoulas who maintained his approach of setting solid times and attempting to avoid any SupeRally penalties, an approach which netted him the lead of the rally after Bettega's tyre change. Athanassoulas opted not to respond to Bettega's fast times and ended the day just over half a minute behind.

Behind Athanassoulas at the mid-day service Gilles Schammel in his first gravel rally continued to impress, although he dropped to fourth by the end of the day.

Barry Clark, who is also entered in the J-WRC, set fastest times in the day's first two stages but had a 'small excursion' on the last stage of the morning and then a puncture in the first stage of the afternoon. He ended Saturday in third place on stage times, just over a minute adrift of Bettega after over 260km of stage distance. On stage nine Clark was a mere tenth of a second slower than Bettega over the 12km. However, the Stewards intervened with a review of SS4 from Friday, and added around 18 minutes of penalties to the Scot.

Tom Curtis was another driver who entered the rally with the mindset of having a cautious event, although the Welshman did allow himself to push in the afternoon's first stage, setting a time just six seconds off Bettega's. He tempered his performance for the rest of the day eager to remain in the rally and not suffer the fate that befell him in his first event of the year, when he rolled his Fiesta ST on the first stage of RallyRACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada.

Russian driver Evgeny Vertunov endured a frustrating first stage of the afternoon where he was stuck behind a rival competitor for the majority of the 25km. After endurance testing his Fiesta's horn Vertunov was eventually through and completed the final two stages happy with progress.

Kalle Keskinen set the fastest time in SS10 which made amends for the first time he ran the stage in the morning. On that occasion Keskinen was stuck behind another rival driver and unable to pass. The Finn was in sight of completing Saturday's final stage when he hit a rock putting him off the road which means he will have to take a penalty to return to the final day of the event.

Frenchman Mathieu Biasion ended the day frustrated with power steering failure. The series points leader heading into this rally, Biasion had already suffered a broken wishbone on Friday and once again has it all to do with further time penalties heading into the rally's final day.

The nature of Rally d'Italia Sardegna and the close times of the Fiesta STs mean that there is all to play for on Sunday, with a total of 78km of competitive distance over six stages and crucially no service stop.

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Alessandro Bettega #102

"It's very good. We had a puncture on SS8 in the first kilometre and it took four minutes to change as it was in a narrow place. I then pushed hard in the next stage as I was a little angry. In the afternoon I had to drive faster as Lambros was in the lead, but I was happy as we were fastest on the last two stages. We were flat out, we couldn't go any faster, it was not possible. The car was perfect, the notes were good. It was very enjoyable."

Lambros Athanassoulas #103

"It's very difficult. We started with no power steering, in the tighter corners we had no assistance and then in the faster corners and with the higher revs it was working better. In the last seven kilometres of SS9 we had no brakes so we had to take it careful, otherwise it was okay. We knew Alessandro would be quick on this rally so we didn't reply to his afternoon times. The winner of this rally will be the one with the most luck."

Barry Clark #53

"We had to compromise with the tyre choice and it's been quite slippery at the rear. We had a small excursion on SS9, we didn't do any damage but we lost about ten seconds. I just misheard a note and slid off. In the afternoon I tried very hard to drive around the rocks. We had a puncture on SS10, I don't know what it was, we picked it up and the tyre went down very slowly and it got quite difficult to keep the car straight at the end of the stage."

Gilles Schammel #105

"No problems with the car but it was not so easy today. These stages were the first ones we made notes for and we haven't done a gravel rally before. It's difficult to find a braking point, everything is new in the gravel. There's no damage to the car but we did go straight on at one point which was my fault. We had a good fight with Tom Curtis, we have progressed a lot. We lose out in the faster corners because we don't have the experience but in the intermediates there's nothing in it."

Tom Curtis #107

"Our approach was steady as always. On the last stage in the morning the steering alignment was off but we were just driving through. It's my first time in a WRC gravel rally so it's all new to me, but I'm having fun. It's also my first gravel rally since the Trackrod in the UK last year. On SS10 in the afternoon we had a little go at going faster and we were only six seconds off Bettega and that was a lot more fun. When we hit the rocks I cringed a few times."

Evgeny Vertunov #106

"We only drove one stage competitively in the morning and that one was not really good as we'd only recced it once and our notes were not so good. The car was good with no problems and we changed our notes a little for the second run."

Kalle Keskinen #104

"In the first stage we were stuck behind another car for 15-20km and we lost 1min 50secs – it was unbelievable! Then the next two stages were closed so we just drove through with our helmets off."

Mathieu Biasion #101

"We had a power steering problem on SS8 and it was very hard to drive. Everything else was okay, it was just the power steering, which failed again in the afternoon." 


- Andy Stobart -
photos copyrigt Fiesta Sporting Trophy

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24.05.2006 / MaP

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