FIESTA S2000 TAKES TOP TWO PODIUM SPOTS IN S-WRC OPENER
The Fiesta S2000 got off to a flying start in the opening round of the Super 2000 World Rally Championship (S-WRC) in Mexico this weekend with M-Sport's new generation rally car nabbing the top two podium spots.
Rally Mexico marks the fourth consecutive rally win for Qatar's Nasser Al-Attiyah in 2011 so far and his first S-WRC victory. The recent Dakar Rally champion dominated the S-WRC from start to finish this weekend, using his experience to manipulate his Fiesta S2000 round the dusty rock-strewn stages in central America.
The Fiesta S2000 got off to a flying start on Friday's opening leg with all three crews in the top ten of the WRC leaderboard by the end of Stage 10. Al-Attiyah was eighth overall and led the S-WRC by 28.2 seconds to Estonia's Ott Tanak. Czech driver Martin Prokop reported difficulties with the car set-up but held third overnight, 16.1 seconds behind Tanak.
Saturday's opening 29.90 km stage, the longest in the rally, did not bode well for 23-year-old Tanak who rolled his Fiesta S2000 into a ravine. The incident was on a twisty downhill section, just 500 metres from where FERM Power Tools World Rally Team's Dennis Kuipers also rolled his Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
The damage to Tanak's Fiesta S2000 was minimal but the young Estonian was unable to get the car back onto the road without team assistance so was forced to retire. The car was returned to the Poliforum service park on Saturday night where the Markko Martin Motorsport team worked on the car in order for Tanak to salvage some vital S-WRC points on Sunday's closing leg.
Al-Attiyah struggled slightly with a loose steering column on Saturday afternoon's stages but had a relatively trouble-free day. Prokop reported a perfect car set-up after the gearbox in his Fiesta S2000 was changed on the Friday evening service.
By the end of Saturday's stages, Al-Attiyah continued to lead the S-WRC with only three stages remaining. Prokop moved up to second place after Tanak's incident and was 38.6 seconds behind Al Attiyah.
On Sunday's opening stage, Al-Attiyah reported a problem with the rubber door lining on his Fiesta S2000. Prokop took 15.1 seconds out of the Qatari driver as a result and the gap between the two S-WRC contenders narrowed to just 23.1 seconds.
However, the time difference proved too much for the Prokop who did not want to risk pushing too hard and Al Attiyah finished 13.5 seconds ahead of Prokop. Al-Attiyah finished seventh overall and Prokop finished eighth.
Tanak returned to the S-WRC season-opener on Sunday to have a trouble-free closing leg and finished fourth in S-WRC and 11th overall.
Nasser Al-Attiyah said: "I didn't want to take any risks today, the car has just been fantastic all weekend and I am so happy to have won here. It's been the perfect start to the season so far and the result this weekend has given me a lot of hope for the championship title this year. This is also my first victory in the S-WRC -- and hopefully not my last. There is no doubt that it has been a very difficult weekend but we have competed here many times before and my experience of the stages definitely helped to give me an advantage over the other drivers. I have also had some very valuable experience from Dakar, Qatar and Saudi Arabia so far this year so I think it has helped to contribute to my success this weekend. I'm just so happy."
Martin Prokop said: "I was on full attack this morning - I was not too bothered about Nasser, but more about Juho [Hanninen] catching me. It has been a good weekend but sometimes I was too fast on the stages and then sometimes too slow -- it was difficult to find the right rhythm. I did my best and I'm just glad to be here at the end of the rally. Second place is a very good result in terms of the championship and it's great to beat the Skodas. Friday was not a good day for me as the set-up wasn't right but we changed the gearbox overnight and everything was perfect on Saturday and Sunday. This result has set me up nicely for the challenge to take the S-WRC title this year and I hope for another podium spot at my next event in Sardinia."
Ott Tanak said: "I had no problems today and I wouldn't say that this was a bad event for me. I wanted to get a bit closer to Nasser [Al-Attiyah] yesterday and that's when I made the mistake and rolled after a slow left-hander. The car was actually OK, it was mainly just the bodywork that was damaged. I'm happy to have got to the end today and to finish in this position -- it was important for the championship to get some points on the scoreboard. We managed to find a good car set-up on Saturday before we retired so I hope that the experience that I have learned from this weekend will help when I compete in Sardinia."