GrÃ¶nholm claims 10 stage wins en route to Spanish podium BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus GrÃ¶nholm and Timo Rautiainen completed a remarkable recovery from an opening day time loss to finish third on the Rally de EspaÃ±a today. The...
Grönholm claims 10 stage wins en route to Spanish podium
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen completed a remarkable recovery from an opening day time loss to finish third on the Rally de España today. The Finns were fastest on all four speed tests during the final leg in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, taking their tally to 10 stage victories out of 16, as they powered up from 10th at the end of the opening day.
Team-mates and fellow countrymen Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen finished ninth in another Focus RS after similar opening leg troubles. The points haul made Ford the leading scorers on this fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship and they closed to within just two points of the leaders in the manufacturers' standings. Grönholm remains second in the drivers' table.
Dry, sunny weather graced the three-day, all-asphalt event which was based in the hills behind the Costa Daurada holiday resort of Salou, south-west of Barcelona. Consistent conditions meant tyre selection was straightforward throughout and both BP-Ford drivers used BFGoodrich's medium compound dry weather rubber for all 346.43km of competition.
Thirty-eight-year-old Grönholm started the final day in fourth. He was fastest on the opening two special stages to move into third and quickest on both again when they were repeated this afternoon to finish 16.1sec ahead of Alex Bengue.
"I tried really hard this morning but Bengue was pushing us," he said. "It was hard to make an impact on those stages because they were so fast. After Friday's problems, everything has been perfect. When I was in 10th I didn't think a podium was possible. I thought I could achieve fourth but I went one better and in the circumstances that was a good result. I could have won without a small technical problem. I knew before the start I could be close to Loeb and the speed of the Focus RS was there for all to see. It didn't surprise me.
Hirvonen was 15th after his first leg time loss but recovered well, claiming ninth on the final stage for a solid points haul. "The Focus RS has the speed on asphalt and BFGoodrich's tyres work well so I hope I can fight for the podium in the future. Today I drove to avoid problems and I climbed two places which earned extra points. It was good for the BP-Ford team to close in on the championship lead. I would have been battling for a top three finish without Friday's trouble but since then the car has been fantastic," he said.
"We see third place as a great result, both as a mental achievement of Marcus and as a performance which outlines the speed of the Focus RS," said Ford TeamRS director Jost Capito.
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson said he was hugely encouraged by the performance of the Focus RS on its first pure asphalt rally. "Marcus was fastest on both the second and third legs and apart from the two stages where he was slowed on Friday, he was never outside the top two times. He won 10 stages out of 16 and the performance of the whole package - car, tyres and driver - has been magnificent. Mikko delivered a strong performance with some excellent times their efforts have ensured we are just two points off the lead in the manufacturers' championship," he said.
Matthew Wilson and Michael Orr finished 15th in a 2005-specification Focus RS entered by Stobart VK M-Sport. They finished under SupeRally rules after retiring with two stages remaining when the studs sheared and their car's right rear wheel came off. Team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila were 16th in another team car.
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Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) scored his second win of the season to lead the drivers' championship by nine points. He cruised through the final day to beat Spain's Dani Sordo by 48.2sec. Second was a career-best result for Sordo (Citroen) on only his fourth event in a World Rally Car. Fourth for Alex Bengue (Peugeot) and fifth for Jan Kopecky (Skoda) were also career-best performances. François Duval (Skoda) moved ahead of Petter Solberg (Subaru) on the opening stage to claim sixth while Gilles Panizzi (Peugeot) dropped time on the final stage to slip from eighth to 10th. Thirteenth place for Andreas Aigner (Skoda) and 15th for Wilson were sufficient to claim the final manufacturers' points.
The championship crosses the Mediterranean next month when the island of Corsica hosts the Rallye de France on 6 - 9 April. The capital city of Ajaccio is the base for the asphalt event.