Gardemeister extends Ford's scoring record in Mexico BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen finished sixth on the Corona Rally Mexico today to extend Ford's record-breaking points scoring tally to 47 rallies with...
Gardemeister extends Ford's scoring record in Mexico
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen finished sixth on the Corona Rally Mexico today to extend Ford's record-breaking points scoring tally to 47 rallies with the Focus RS World Rally Car. The Finns maintained their 100 per cent record in this season's FIA World Rally Championship and edged the BP-Ford squad closer to a magical 50 consecutive points finishes, a record dating back to the Monte Carlo Rally in 2002.
This third round of the 16-event season was the first all-gravel rally of the year. Characterised by essentially fast and smooth roads close to the rally base of León, 400km north of Mexico City, the event proved tough for both man and machine with few drivers escaping problems over the 14 speed tests covering 355.97km.
Bright sunshine throughout sent temperatures up to 28°C and brought large crowds into the hills around León to watch the action. It is the highest rally of the season, peaking at an altitude of 2737 metres, and it was estimated that the thinner air reduced the power of the cars by up to 30 per cent. The combination of high temperatures and altitude affected the brakes, with many drivers finding the brake pedal going straight to the floor on longer tests.
Gardemeister suffered from a heavy dose of 'flu throughout the three-day rally. The 29-year-old struggled to settle into a rhythm on the flowing special stages, loose gravel covering the road surface making the tests extremely slippery. However, his consistent pace carried the Castrol-branded Focus RS into fourth place after the first two days of action.
The final day produced a three-way fight for fourth between the BP-Ford driver, Harri Rovanperä and a hard-charging Sebastien Loeb. Gardemeister started the final 44.39km speed test, the longest of the season, just 1.5sec behind Rovanperä. However, he could not overhaul his fellow countryman and the pair finished 7.5 sec apart. Loeb posted a stunning time to move ahead of both and claim fourth. The result leaves BP-Ford second in the manufacturers' championship and Gardemeister third in the drivers' standings.
"I couldn't have driven any faster today, I was flat out all the way," said Gardemeister. "I'm a little disappointed with my final position but happy that we finished in the points. I made some mistakes on the opening day and had it not been for that I think I could have finished higher. I didn't have a good feeling with the car yesterday but the Focus has been strong throughout on what has been a difficult and tough rally."
Antony Warmbold and Michael Orr finished seventh in a privately-entered Focus RS, holding off Gilles Panizzi by just 0.7sec after a thrilling final stage showdown. It was a career-best result for the German and the first world championship points for Orr. "I knew it was going to be close because our team sent us Panizzi's split times through the final stage but I didn't think it would be that close," said Warmbold. "My tyre choice was too soft so the grip wasn't so good but I'm really pleased with the result. I set some strong stage times compared with the other Focus drivers."
BP-Ford drivers Roman Kresta and Jan Možný retired from sixth yesterday after damaging their car's suspension while privately-entered Spaniards Dani Solà and Xavier Amigo crashed their Focus RS out of fifth yesterday afternoon.
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson said: "I'm pleased that Ford kept its points-scoring record intact on a difficult rally but disappointed that Toni could not hold onto fourth. It was the first time Toni has competed here so he goes away with good experience of a tricky event. Roman put in a very good performance. It was his debut in Mexico also and he had a new co-driver alongside so his times were encouraging."
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Petter Solberg (Subaru) cruised through the final day to give his team's 2005 car a winning debut. He won by 34.5sec and moves into the lead of the drivers' championship. Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) offered no challenge today, happy to settle for second with team-mate Markko Märtin content to hold third. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) was fastest on both stages to overcome his four-minute time loss during the opening leg and climb to fourth, overhauling both Harri Rovanperä (Mitsubishi) and Gardemeister on the final stage. Ninth was sufficient for Armin Schwarz (Skoda) to claim the final manufacturers' point. François Duval (Citroen) restarted under the SupeRally rules after retiring yesterday but after completing both stages he retired on the liaison section back to the finish with more engine problems. Chris Atkinson (Subaru), also rejoining after retiring yesterday, retired for a second time just 2km from the end of the last stage with no oil pressure in his car's engine.
BP-Ford faces its longest journey of the season for round four next month. Auckland hosts the all-gravel Rally New Zealand on 7 - 10 April.