Malcolm Wilson, the BP Ford Abu Dhabi chief, was a disappointed man yesterday at Rally Bulgaria as his drivers struggled to match the pace of the championship leader, Sebastien Loeb. Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala were in third and eighth place, 1min 43.4secs and 19.44.2 off the lead, respectively, after the opening day.
Wilson conceded he does not see his team troubling Loeb, who completed a clean sweep by winning all four stage races yesterday. Hopes were high in the Ford camp after an intensive period of asphalt testing for Bulgaria during the summer break, which concluded with a 1,000km test last week. Wilson has been left disappointed by the results. "It's not very good," Wilson told the WRC website. "On the first stage we felt the drivers were finding their feet, it wasn't too bad, but on the really fast section on the second stage [between 1km and 10km] we lost a lot of time, which would probably point to power.
"We've been looking [at data] and when there's a technical section, then the pace of both Mikko and Jari is much better. OK, not as fast as Loeb, but certainly on the likes of Petter [Solberg] and [Sebastien] Ogier. "I think we'll be struggling to do anything on the event, to be honest. It's not where we want to be, that's for sure. "We've done a lot of work and we felt that we'd made some progress, but we've come here and the reality is we're not where we want to be. It's not what we were expecting."
Wilson said the team anticipated it would be hard to defeat Loeb. "But we had hoped to be able to put in the odd good competitive time and be challenging for the podium. But at the minute it's not looking like that. "OK, there are a few changes we can make but, to be honest I don't think we can change enough here that's going to put us anywhere near Sebastien's pace." Meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen, the former Formula One world champions, lost his fourth place in the standings after crashing on the final stage of the day.
The Citroen Junior driver and his co-pilot did not suffer any injuries. Emergency vehicles were dispatched to the scene. Cars behind Raikkonen were yellow-flagged and completed the stage at slow speed. * Compiled by Ahmed Rizvi