WRC

Rally Australia: Final summary

After one of the most dramatic rallies of the season, Belgium's François Duval (Citroen) claimed his first world rally victory. He was untroubled today to beat Harri Rovanperä (Mitsubishi) by 52.9sec. Private entrant Manfred Stohl claimed...

After one of the most dramatic rallies of the season, Belgium's François Duval (Citroen) claimed his first world rally victory. He was untroubled today to beat Harri Rovanperä (Mitsubishi) by 52.9sec. Private entrant Manfred Stohl claimed his second podium of the season in third after Colin McRae (Skoda) retired in the mid-morning service with three stages remaining. A routine clutch change took longer than expected and he exceeded the time limit. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) completed a remarkable fight back from 13th after day one steering problems to claim fourth, failing to overhaul Stohl by just 6.0sec. Gigi Galli (Mitsubishi) held off Kresta for fifth while Armin Schwarz (Skoda) claimed the final drivers' point on his last rally before retirement.

49 of the original 59 starters started the final Leg. Temperatures ranged from 11-23 C. The day started slightly overcast and hazy, but no rain fell during the day.

Leg three comprised two loops of three stages and 103.32 competitive kilometres with the speed tests taking place near the town of Mundaring to the east of Perth.

Citroen

A first for François Duval! Impeccably partnered by his co-driver Sven Smeets, and five days before his 25th birthday, the Citroen driver coolly picked up the first world class win of his career today, a feat which only Henri Toivonen and Markku Alen 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.

Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: Retired

Francois Duval/Sven Smeets: "I've been waiting and hoping for this victory for so long," beamed François. "I would like to say a big thank you to Citroen, to my parents, to Guy Frequelin who has given me so much help, and to Sven who has done a tremendous jobâ^a¦ 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..."

Subaru

Subaru World Rally Team's Chris Atkinson finished his debut year in the World Rally Championship in style with a fourth place on today's final Leg of Rally Australia, only six seconds away from a podium finish. The result is the 25-year-old's second top four finish since joining the team at the start of the year and also equalled Ross Dunkerton's 1993 effort as the highest placed local driver in the Australian round of the World Championship. Atkinson was the dominant driver throughout the weekend, recording the fastest time on nine of the 26 stages, four more than any other driver, taking his number of stage wins for the year to 15. The only drivers to win more stages throughout the year are world champions Sebastien Loeb, Marcus Gronholm and Petter Solberg. Despite retiring on yesterday's second Leg, Petter finished the 2005 season in second position in the drivers' championship, continuing the record of Subaru World Rally Team drivers finishing in the top two since 1999.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: Retired

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: It's been an interesting rally, one with some highs and lows, but considering how much time we lost on Friday, to finish fourth today feels incredible! I pushed as hard as I could today and we so nearly caught Stohl, but to close the gap from almost 50 seconds to five shows we did a good job and I'm extremely happy. I want to say thanks to all the guys in the team for their hard work, they did a fantastic job and thanks too to all the supporters on the stages, it was great to see you all rooting for us! Of course it's satisfying to finish our first WRC season on a high, but in fact I think we've been able to take something positive from all of the rallies this year. Together Glenn and I have learned so much and I can't wait to get back out on the stages again next season.

Ford

The all-new Ford Focus RS World Rally Car claimed two special stage victories on today's final leg of Rally Australia to end a hugely impressive debut for Ford's 2006 FIA World Rally Championship challenger. BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Roman Kresta and Jan Tománek and team-mates Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen each set a fastest time as Ford secured third in the final championship standings with a record-breaking 60th consecutive points finish. Kresta finished sixth on the four-day rally based on demanding gravel tracks in Western Australia. Gardemeister retired on the penultimate speed test with a broken water pump drive belt but the performance of the new Focus RS delighted BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson.

Toni Gardemeister/Jakke Honkanen: Gardemeister started in eighth and was delighted with the pace of the Focus RS after the team discovered a leak in the turbo pipe which was replaced this morning. "The car had much more pace today than yesterday and I'm 100 per cent sure that if the car had been working like this yesterday, I would have set a fastest time because it felt totally different today," said the 30-year-old Finn, who finished fourth in the drivers' standings. However, he did not have long to wait as he powered to fastest time through the opening stage of the second loop. "The car felt superb, there was just so much power there," he added. "It was a shame to retire so close to the finish but the main aim of the weekend was to test the car and everyone has learned a huge amount. It's a great car to drive and I'm delighted it has proved so competitive so soon. Next year's rules mean the cars must use less technology so it's really encouraging for the team for the Focus RS to be a match for the current cars."

Roman Kresta/Jan Mozny: Kresta, starting in seventh, dropped 30 seconds on the short opening stage after spinning. "The road was extremely narrow and the car became wedged between two trees," said the 29-year-old Czech. However, he recovered well and set fastest time on the final stage as he just failed to overhaul fifth placed Gigi Galli, pulling back more than 30 seconds during the last three stages. It was Kresta's first stage win on gravel and sealed an excellent performance on a rally in which he was competing for the first time against rivals with far more experience. The result ensured he finished eighth in the drivers' championship. "I made a few small mistakes over the weekend but the performance of the car has been fantastic," he said. "I've never had the opportunity to drive a car like this before, I've never driven anything as good as this Focus RS. I can't believe what I have achieved because it was my first time on these roads and I hadn't even driven the car until the shakedown on the morning of the start."

Peugeot

Retired

Marcus Gronhölm/Timo Rautiainen: Retired

Daniel Carlsson/Mats Andersson: Retired

Skoda

Colin McRae's dream of getting the Å koda Fabia WRC 05 onto the podium of Rally Australia was shattered when a normally routine clutch change took longer than expected just three stages from the finish. At the time the Scot was lying third and ready to push hard to try and take second place from Harri Rovanpera who had been dueling for the position with McRae for most of the rally. Fears that the clutch might not survive the final three stages forced the team to replace it in service this morning. Unfortunately the change did not go to plan and the clock ticked away past McRae's permitted service time. Earlier in the event a similar change on Armin's car took just 22 minutes, well within the time allowed. Members of every rival team gathered to watch the drama unfold and when it was realised that the rally was over they burst into spontaneous applause in acknowledgement of McRae's drive to what might easily have been Å koda Motorsport's best ever finish in the World Rally Championship. The dramatic final morning allowed Armin Schwarz to finish eighth on his final appearance as a WRC driver, the best result of the season for the veteran German driver.

Colin McRae/Nicky Grist: This was a huge disappointment retiring so close to the end. We were confident of passing Harri for second place but it all came to nothing when what should have been a routine clutch change went wrong. These things can happen at any time and with any team but it was especially frustrating for it to happen just now. It was a good dream while it lasted. I've proved a lot to myself and also a lot about the Fabia WRC 05 and I hope it will have a positive effect on the future of the team.

Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha: Yesterday was fun but today's stages weren't the best to end my career as a driver. It has been a tough year and I have to admit that my motivation hasn't been as high as it should.

Mitsubishi

The Mitsubishi Motorsport crew of Harri Rovanperä and Risto Pietiläinen claimed the team's best result of the season today when they finished on the podium in second position. The Finns claimed five fastest stage times during the three-day event, demonstrating the increased performance of the Lancer WRC05. Team-mates â^a^ÜGigiâ^a^Ý Galli and Guido d'Amore finished a fine fifth in only their second outing in Rally Australia. Harri Rovanperä started the day in third but in the first stage he reduced the gap to Colin McRae to just 3.5 seconds. Then, in the longest stage of the event (Helena North), the Finn powered ahead of his rival to claim a 4.7 second advantage in the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05. Consolidating the position in the last of these three stages, Harri beat rally leader, Citroen's François Duval, and a charging Chris Atkinson in the Subaru Impreza, to claim another fastest stage time. Harri and Risto returned to the mid-leg service with a 6.9 second advantage going into the final three stages. However, the task ahead was made much easier when what should have been a routine clutch change on McRae's Å koda saw the crew go over the time permitted. So, even though the pressure was off the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 crew, they still had three stages to complete without mistakes before returning to Perth in a fantastic second position. Gigi Galli, who had climbed as high as fourth yesterday, slipped from fifth to seventh this morning. The Italian had no problems, but was once again tackling stages for the first time and intent on finishing the rally without incident. This afternoon however he still had to continue defending his position from a charging Roman Kresta and, following the retirements of McRae and Toni Gardemeister, the crew claimed fifth overall.

Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen: "I am very, very happy for the whole team," said a delighted Harri, "and especially for all the mechanics who have worked so hard since the beginning of the season. It's been a great rally for us; the car has worked well, the performance and speed has been good and the feeling has been right all weekend. It's a great way to round off the year."

Gigi Galli/Guido d'Amore: "It's been a really, really tough rally," said Gigi. "Now I can see and believe why it's so important to have experience of this event with the surface, pace notes, speed; everything that makes a difference to your performance. I have to keep in mind our goal was to finish, but fifth is a good position for us."

-rallyenewsletter-

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