A first for François Duval! Impeccably partnered by his co-driver Sven Smeets, and five days before his 25th birthday, the Citroën driver coolly picked up the first world class win of his career today, a feat which only Henri Toivonen and Markku Alén achieved at a younger age. François and Sven also go down in history as the first Belgians to ever win a round of the World Rally Championship.
Meanwhile, with a total of eleven wins to its name in 2005, the Versailles-Satory-based team has beaten the record for the highest number of wins in a single season, a record that has held since 1988. The result also enables the Xsara WRC, which will be run on a private basis from now on, to end its works career on a high note. From 58 starts since its debut in Catalonia in 2001, the car has won 24 times.
François and Sven were greeted at final service by the Belgian flag, the Belgian national anthem, the red berets which the team first brought out in Catalonia a fortnight ago and a standing ovation. "I've been waiting and hoping for this victory for so long," beamed François. "I would like to say a big thank you to Citroën, to my parents, to Guy Fréquelin who has given me so much help, and to Sven who has done a tremendous job... I naturally found the final stages very long. But everything went OK. It's a great way to end what has at times been a difficult season for me... "
Freddy Loix's longstanding co-driver Sven Smeets, who joined François at Citroën from Rally Argentina, was visibly moved too: "It hasn't sunk in yet. The emotion's running too high at the moment. I've been waiting for this for ten years. I am so happy for François. He knew he wouldn't be able to match Sébastien [Loeb], Marcus [Grönholm] or Petter [Solberg] here, so he started the rally bearing that in mind. When the opportunity came his way to take the lead, he snapped it up with both hands before controlling intelligently from in front until the finish..."
Guy Fréquelin was equally delighted as he hugged the Belgian crew: "I am sincerely delighted to see François and Sven take their first WRC win with Citroën. I want to thank them for this success which enables us to conclude the 2005 season and our first spell in the World Rally Championship in style. "
There was further cause for celebration in the Citroën, camp when the Team Kronos Racing-run, privately-entered Xsara of Manfred Stohl and Ilka Minor came home 3rd in Perth. After his 2nd-place in Cyprus, this is the Austrian driver's second podium finish of the year: "I am really thrilled to have finished 3rd here in Australia, not only because I think I earned it on Saturday by beating 'Gigi' Galli in a straight fight but also because I was able to defend my position on the final day despite strong pressure from Chris Atkinson. It's a superb way to wrap up a great season during which I have had so much fun driving a great car in such a pleasant, competitive team..."