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Baja GB 2007: Marc Blazquez takes slender Lead into Final Day.

Marc Blazquez and co-driver José Ferrer Trias were the new leaders of Baja GB 2007, round three of the FIA International Cup for Cross-Country Bajas, after a rain-soaked second leg consisting of four punishing special stages in the Sweet Lamb, Tarenig and Myherin forest complexes of mid-Wales on Saturday.

The Spanish crew will take a slender 40-second lead into the final three stages on Sunday, although no less than three drivers won at least one of the four Saturday specials. Llandrindod Wells-based Graham Middleton and co-driver Shaun O’Gorman hold second place in a Rally Raid F350, while the Czech crew of Miroslav Zapletal and Miroslav Janacek are third after winning two of the day’s four specials in their Mitsubishi Pajero.

"The stages in Wales are narrow, slippery and it is easy to make a mistake," said Blazquez, the 2005 and 2006 FIA Baja champion. "But I have a small lead now and will try and preserve that over the closing stages on Sunday."

Zapletal was fastest through the second punishing 60.31km Sweet Lamb special, although he was closely followed in the drizzle by a flying Middleton. Overnight leader Gadasin was forced to stop for several minutes to rectify a windscreen wiper problem, Spaniard Francesco Termens left the road and was towed back on to the stage, but Italian Franco Grigoletto was forced out of his overnight fifth place with driveshaft problems.

Italian colleague Giuseppe Fornasari suffered a similar fate and Andrea Spinelli capped a miserable morning for Italy when he was badly delayed by mechanical problems in Sweet Lamb and eventually lost over four hours.

Blazquez set the fastest time in the soggy 51.38 km Tarenig stage, although Middleton was third quickest and moved into a slender four-second overall lead over the Spaniard. Gadasin was back on the pace following his first stage delays, but the Russian had slipped to fourth overall behind Zapletal. Qatar’s Sheikh Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani rose to fifth with a pair of encouraging stage times, but Chepstow’s Richard Hopkins lost vital time with a flat tyre and eventually finished the leg in ninth position.

Baja GB crews repeated the two stages on Saturday afternoon and the damp conditions and double usage made the track surfaces exceptionally tricky. Zapletal was again quickest in the Sweet Lamb stage, as Gadasin continued to regain time on the leaders.

The Russian set the fastest time in the second Tarenig test to move up to fourth in the overall standings in the Nissan Navara that Colin McRae had driven in the Transiberico Rally. Qatar’s Al-Thani finished the day in fifth place and Spain’s Francesco Termens rounded off the top six, albeit 12 seconds behind the Qatari in the close battle for T2 honours.

"I only got confirmation that the car was ready at the start of the week," said a delighted second-placed Middleton, a former British national rally champion. "We have given it a good go today and have shown that we have the pace to match the best in the business. Tomorrow is another day, but we will give it our all. Winning the Baja would be a superb result."

There was disappointment for last year’s winner Ian Rochelle, who broke the propshaft on his Bowler in Friday evening’s Radnor stage and was forced to retire at the end of the opening leg in Builth Wells. Richard Haywood, from Newport in Gwent, suffered fuel-related problems on the final two stages and Poland’s Piotr Beaupre was stopped in the fifth Tarenig stage and lost valuable minutes.

Dan Lofthouse led the National ‘A’ event by 3m 19s after three stages, with Tarenig stage winner Ben Gott in second and Oxford’s Henry Webster in third. Trevor Milner lost over 75 minutes on the first loop. Lofthouse was in a class of his own over the closing two stages and extended his advantage to a massive 23m 02s over Frazer Williams heading into the final leg on Sunday. Gott slipped back to fifth position, but both Milner and Richard Corking stopped in the last two stages.

Tomorrow (Sunday) the event reaches its conclusion with the ceremonial finish at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Showground in Builth Wells from 13.00 hrs after a further three challenging special stages in the Sweet Lamb and Tarenig forest complexes.

Baja GB - Positions after leg 2 (provisional):

01) Blazquez/Trias (E) I Nissan Pathfinder I 03:16:58
02) Middleton/O’Gorman (GB) I Rally Raid F350 I 03:17:38
03) Zapletal/Janacek (CZ) I Mitsubishi Pajero I 03:18:30
04) Gadasin/Mironenko (RUS) I Nissan Navara I 03:24:10
05) Al Thani/Saryan (QT) I Mitsubishi Pajero I 03:32:15
06) Termens/Vilalta (E) I Mitsubishi Montero I 03:32:27
07) Van Deijne/Rosegaar (NL) I Mitsubishi L200 I 03:38:16
08) Garcia/Velasco (E) I Mitsubishi Pajero I 03:39:36
09) Hopkins/Toroysan (GB) I Land Rover Discovery I 03:39:41
10) Porizek/Korejz (CZ) I Mitsubishi Pajero I 03:47:17

11) Sykora/Sykora (SLK) I Mitsubishi Pajero I 03:55:31
12) Thijs/Bude (B) I Mitsubishi Pajero I 04:01:54
13) Beaupre/Lisicki (PL) I Bowler Wildcat 200 I 04:57:33
14) Hayward/Evans (GB) I Bowler Wildcat I 05:15:07
15) Grigoletto/Briani (I) I Fornasari RR450 I 06:12:24
16) Spinelli/Buonamano (I) I Mitsubishi Pajero I 07:52:20

2007/08/20 | 13:34 CET | Editor: MR/HS/Neil Perkins

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