Season ends on high note for Villagra in Spain Munchi's Ford WRT star Federico Villagra brought down the curtain on his 2009 FIA World Rally Championship campaign in style taking an eighth-place finish at the Rallye de Espana, the final event...
Season ends on high note for Villagra in Spain
Munchi's Ford WRT star Federico Villagra brought down the curtain on his 2009 FIA World Rally Championship campaign in style taking an eighth-place finish at the Rallye de Espana, the final event of his eight-rally campaign.
The Argentine driver has taken six points finishes this season to secure his best ever total in the WRC drivers' championship. He was joined in the team by Britain's Paul Bird competing in his first ever WRC event outside the UK, and the newcomer produced an impressive performance until a delay on the final morning put him out of the rally.
Again based around the coastal town of Salou, the route for the Rallye de Espana remained the same as last year giving those with previous experience of the event an advantage over the newcomers. Both Munchi's crews enjoyed a short pre-event test to adjust to the 353.62kms of asphalt that would face them on the roads of the Tarragona region. Bird and co-driver Ian Windress are regular competitors on Tarmac but the surface would provide a different challenge for Villagra and co-driver Jorge Perez Companc in particular as they faced their first full sealed-surface event of the season.
An added challenge on Day One came following overnight rain before the opening stages which made the already slippery roads on Friday even more treacherous. As with many of the crews, the seven-time Argentine champion took his time to find a rhythm on the unfamiliar surface, but consistently strong stage times saw him overhaul the Focus RS WRC of Henning Solberg to move into ninth place on the final stage of the day.
With only one previous WRC event under his belt, Bird produced an excellent performance on Friday to put pressure on Citroen Junior's Conrad Rautenbach. But launch problems on Day Two, a tough day that included the longest stage of the rally at 38.27kms, meant that the British crew were unable to push on and move further up the field early on. Despite this the duo made the best of their experience and remained in the battle for a top-12 finish at the end of the second day.
Villagra meanwhile made some changes to his car overnight and felt an immediate improvement on Saturday morning as he traded times with Matthew Wilson and stretched his lead over Solberg, enjoying the performance of the Focus RS WRC on the clean, wide sections. A cracked intercooler meant that he found himself down on power for the final stages of the day, losing some of his advantage over the chasing Norwegian.
However, Sunday morning's stages to the west of Service Park, saw Villagra return to the strong form that he had shown on Saturday morning to re-establish his lead over the chasing pack and complete an impressive string of performances this season with yet another points finish.
But Bird was not as happy with his performance on the final day. The Cumbrian failed to find his rhythm on the first stage of the morning and had his weekend's work brought to a premature end after a pacenote error meant that he overshot a square left corner. With his Focus RS WRC stuck down an escape road, Bird was forced to admit defeat and call a halt to what had been a strong weekend for the newcomer.
Other rally news
An impressive one-two finish for Citroen saw them clinch the manufacturers' title as they take an unassailable 21-point lead in the final rally of the season. Sebastien Loeb's victory moves him to within one point of championship leader Mikko Hirvonen leaving the title battle balanced on a knife edge going into the Rally GB in three weeks time. Dani Sordo put in a strong performance, leading his team mate for much of the rally, before eventually finishing second.
But BP Ford Abu Dhabi's flying Finn Mikko Hirvonen is still in control of the destination of the drivers' title after securing third place despite a strong charge from the resurgent Petter Solberg in his Citroen C4. Equally impressive was the performance of Citroen Junior driver Sebastien Ogier who secured fifth place ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala.
Munchi's Ford WRT driver Federico Villagra said:
"I have enjoyed the rally a lot. I think it's been a very good event and we have done better than I thought that we would. It's a superb way to finish what has been a really great year for the team. We have had some really good stage times this weekend and I am very happy with the pace that we were setting. I've been able to drive fast without having any big moments or problems. We've had a good fight with Henning and it's pleasing to come out on top in that. I think that over the season we have had some brilliant results and we've secured a lot of points even though we have only been a one-car team."
Munchi's Ford WRT driver Paul Bird said:
"I'm really disappointed with how the rally ended as we were really getting into the swing of things. It's been a fantastic experience and I have to say I've really enjoyed myself; especially on Saturday when we knew more about the stages and road conditions. The car has been great and it's so much fun to drive here on the fast roads."