Francois Duval crashed out of the lead of this weekend's Condroz Rally while at the wheel of the MML Sports Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 World Rally Car. The Belgian was leading the event, the final round of the national championship by 15 seconds when he went off the road close to the end of the first day and damaged the Lancer too much to continue.
As expected from the pre-event test and the official shakedown, Duval was immediately on the pace, one again demonstrating how easy the Lancer WRC05 is to drive quickly. He was second fastest on the first three stages to Pieter Tsjoen in a one year-old Ford Focus WRCar but took the stage win on the fourth timed test of the day to close the gap to just 3.6seconds.
Tsjoen took another win on the next stage but Duval then took a hatrick of stage wins and with it, the overall lead of the event from the sixth stage. By the end of the eighth stage, he had built-up a 15.6 second advantage over Tsjoen with just two stages of the first day remaining.
Unfortunately, Duval went off the road 2Km from the end of the day's penultimate stage, the 6.58Km Ben-Ahin test and hit a concrete telegraph pole. This broke the Lancer's suspension and he lost the wheel and the complete suspension assembly. Unable to continue, he retired from the event on the spot.
Commenting on the weekend, MML Sports Managing Director John Easton said: "Of course, we're extremely disappointed that Francois went off the road and retired from the lead. He clearly got to grips with the Lancer WRC05 very quickly and like so many drivers this year, showed that in the right hands, it is a rally winner.
"Unfortunately, it wasn't to be this weekend. I understand that there was a problem with the notes and Francois took too heavy a cut on a right-hand corner and hit the bank. This pushed the car out to the left and into a concrete telegraph pole on the exit of the corner. The car ran down the pole, which ripped most of the side of the car off, including the complete left rear suspension corner.
"What's most disappointing is that I think the win was in the bag. We had been making changes to the car's settings at Francois' request all day; changing geometry, ride heights, roll bar settings and damper settings. The car was clearly improving with every stage and by the last service, Francois said that he felt like he had been driving the car for years.
"With the prospect of a 23Km stage in the darkness at the end of the day, I feel that he could have added another ten seconds to his advantage for the second day. This would have left him able to establish a more relaxed pace to the finish, to bring the car home for the win.
"Had he done that, then that would have given MML Sports a 100% win ratio for every customer in every country this year. But it's encouraging to know that the car is obviously very competitive, especially against the Focus, it was 100% reliable as it has been all year and the MML Sports team worked at 100%, as always."
The team will be out in action again next weekend, as Dutchman Mark van Eldik is contesting the Rallye Isla Tenerife, the 35th running of the event. Based in Santa Cruz, the nine-stage event takes place on Friday 13 November and Saturday 14 and will see Van Eldik up against a huge field, which includes Subaru and Ford WRCars, as well as several GT class cars, notably Ferraris and Porsches.