One-two success for Ford-Michelin in Mexico The inaugural Rally Mexico as a WRC qualifier saw Ford-Michelin collect a popular one-two success on the doorstep of the Detroit-based carmaker's home nation. The performance of winner Markko MÃ¤rtin...
One-two success for Ford-Michelin in Mexico
The inaugural Rally Mexico as a WRC qualifier saw Ford-Michelin collect a popular one-two success on the doorstep of the Detroit-based carmaker's home nation. The performance of winner Markko Märtin and his teammate François Duval comes at an ideal moment and takes the team to top spot in the 2004 World Championship standings after three rounds (from sixteen). Despite a roll on the final day, Citroën's Carlos Sainz concluded the drama-packed weekend in 3rd place to secure an all-Michelin podium in Leon and extend the tyre firm's unbeaten run since the start of the season.
The World Rally Championship's first visit to North America since 1988 (Olympus Rally, Washington, USA) produced an event rich in drama. A catalogue of incidents kept the Mexican spectators entertained once the sport's stars had found their marks after a fairly calm opening day. Markko Märtin combined reliability and pace however to secure his and Ford-Michelin's first win of the new season. The Estonian's performance was compounded by the second place of his young Belgian teammate François Duval who succeeded in keeping clear of trouble too as rivals were either eliminated or delayed by a variety of problems.
Maximum points for Ford in Mexico takes the make to the top of the 2004 Manufacturers' standings ahead of outgoing champs Citroën-Michelin and Peugeot-Michelin, champions in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
"It's a tremendous day for Ford, myself and my co-driver Michael Park," enthused Märtin who moves into the joint-lead of the Drivers' championship. "We've worked hard as a team and we deserve this result. Michelin also rose to the occasion wonderfully thanks to its reactivity and to the performance of its tyres despite having no previous knowledge of this event."
Carlos Sainz (3rd) saved Citroën-Michelin's weekend by joining the Ford pair on the podium in Léon but rolled his Xsara WRC on the final day while challenging to steal first place from Märtin. The Spaniard's teammate and winner of the season's first two rounds, Sébastien Loeb, was less fortunate, the Frenchman retiring with a damaged sump shortly after inheriting the lead earlier in the event.
Petter Solberg (4th, Subaru) enjoyed a narrow lead at the end of Leg 1 but lost all chance of fighting for victory on Friday evening when he received a 5-minute time penalty for being pushed in the day's final service park after his engine refused to re-start at the preceding time control.
It wasn't a particularly happy weekend for Peugeot-Michelin who started well, with Marcus Grönholm (6th) running inside the top-three on Day 1. However, both he and fellow Finn Harri Rovanperä (10th) were plagued by mechanical problems for much of the rally, although the result has allowed Grönholm to close the points gap with the leaders in the Drivers' championship.
An all-Michelin podium in Mexico
NORTH AMERICA... Frédéric Henry-Biabaud, Deputy Director, Michelin Competition: "We are naturally very pleased for Ford and its one-two finish with Märtin and Duval in the first WRC round to take place on the North American continent since 1988. We appreciate how important the North American market is for them, just as it is for Michelin, and we are proud to be associated with their success."
POST-MEXICO REFLECTIONS... Aimé Chatard, Rallies Manager, Michelin Competition: "New event, new regulations.... We are clearly delighted to have kept up our unbeaten record this year with an all-Michelin podium here in Mexico. Before coming out to Leon, we had precious little detailed information about the stages since pre-event testing for rallies outside of Europe is not permitted. As it turned out, the stages proved much easier on tyres than we had imagined. The stages were less aggressive and, perhaps more significantly, the high altitude means that the engines were putting out an estimated 60bhp less, which in turn made significantly less demands of the tyres of course.
We approached this new event by trying to cover as many scenarios as possible, from the apparently low chance of rain to very hard-wearing conditions which, in Michelin terms, translates into a selection of compounds from '8' to '9+' (from 'soft' to 'hard'). In retrospect, perhaps our range this weekend would have been optimised had we had a product situated between '8' and '9'.
To counter the lack of objective information concerning the terrain and weather conditions that is inherent in coming to new locations, perhaps, as I have previously said, it would be judicious to allow drivers to choose two extra sets of tyres for first-time events. That apart, I believe the new quota system [ten times the number of groups of stages] is a success insomuch as we have been able to maintain the performance factor at an acceptable level and not make any comprises concerning safety."