WRC

Rally New Zealand: Final summary

2006 Manufacturers Champions - Ford The Ford Focus RS World Rally Car 06, which made its Championship debut just over a year ago in Australia, has continued its successful first year in competition by securing the FIA WRC Manufacturers' ...

2006 Manufacturers Champions - Ford

The Ford Focus RS World Rally Car 06, which made its Championship debut just over a year ago in Australia, has continued its successful first year in competition by securing the FIA WRC Manufacturers' Championship 2006 for Ford.

With a 25-point lead Ford has secured the Manufacturers' title even though there is still one final WRC round in this year's competition -- Rally GB, 30 November -- 3 December.

This is the first time that Ford has won the Manufacturers' Championship in 27 years and represents the pinnacle of achievement since Ford of Europe initiated its partnership with Malcolm Wilson and M-Sport in 1997.

The entire Focus RS project was overseen by Christian Loriaux, M-Sport's Technical Director.

"This Championship victory is the result of a tremendous team effort, and everyone at Ford is proud of what the car and the team have achieved this year," said John Fleming, President and CEO of Ford of Europe. "To secure the manufacturers' title in our first year of running with an all-new WRC car is more than we had dared hope for, and I would like to pay tribute to everyone involved with the BP-Ford World Rally team."

"Over the years, I believe the team has developed into one of the best squads in the Motorsport business," said Jost Capito, Director of Ford TeamRS. "This victory means a great deal to the team, but it is also a huge reward to all of the Ford employees, Ford Motorsport fans and Ford performance vehicle enthusiasts worldwide who have given us amazing support at every event.

"The title would not have been won without the most significant members of the team delivering superb results over and over," Capito said. "The BP-Ford World Rally Team pairings of Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen plus Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen have driven with determination, perseverance and world class ability. We are very proud of them."

BP-Ford World Rally Team Director Malcolm Wilson commented: "I'm over the moon with this result. As one of the world's leading drivers, Marcus Gronholm was expected to lead Ford's title challenge, and he has done so brilliantly. But few commentators at the start of the season would have expected to see Mikko Hirvonen develop as quickly as he has into one of the WRC's leading drivers."

Final Leg Unofficial News

Marcus Gronholm claimed first after a consitant run through the event. Manfred Stohl (Peugeot) claimed his second consecutive podium in third ahead of a fierce battle between team-mates Dani Sordo and Xevi Pons (both Citroen). Sordo began the day in fourth but a charging Pons, despite a spin on the first pass through the classic Whaanga Coast test, set two fastest times and overhauled Sordo on the penultimate stage. Petter Solberg (Subaru) rounded off the top six, despite incurring a 60sec penalty when his car would not start before the first stage this morning. Luis Perez Companc (Ford) claimed his first drivers' points for his team in seventh.

Constantly changing weather on the stages made tyre and set-up judgement difficult for the teams. Most stages during the day were hit by intermittent showers. Temperatures ranged from nine to 19 degrees Celsius.

For Sunday's final leg of Rally New Zealand, the crews headed due west from rally headquarters towards the coast. The action consisted of two loops of three stages. The first test of the day, Maungatawhiri, was short and very fast, but Te Hutewai was a more traditional Kiwi special stage and featured lots of flowing medium-speed bends and corners hidden over crests. Fittingly, the rally ended with a run through the famous 29km Whaanga Coast section.

Team News:

Kronos Total Citroen

Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio and Dani Sordo/Marc Marti have finished the final leg of the Rally New Zealand with no problems. The two Spanish Kronos Total Citroen crews end the event in fourth and fifth places respectively. In the absence of Sebastien Loeb, who went home after completing the recce of the new route, Xevi Pons was once more entrusted with the number one Citroen Xsara. Confirming his current form and impressive turn of speed, Xevi drove one of the best rallies of his career on roads that he loved. Having been slightly delayed by a spin on Friday, the Spaniard set two fastest times on Sunday that allowed him to move past his team mate.

Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: For the third time in succession, we've finished just off the podium, " said a delighted Xevi, having congratulated the entire team. " I think that we're getting there now. I really like fast roads and we found them here : I had a lot of fun even though the surfaces were very slippery. These conditions prepared us well for the Rally Great Britain, and I hope to have the same success in Cardiff.

Dani Sordo/Marc: In New Zealand, Dani Sordo had to get to grips with a brand new rally for the fifth consecutive time. The reigning Junior World Rally Champion took particular care to do a good job on the recce. It worked : he had the satisfaction of seeing that his notes were correct during the actual rally. Dani occupied a provisional podium place on Friday night, having been encouragingly quick on stages that were new for everyone. But the Spaniard wisely decided that discretion was the better part of valour, eventually dropping two places en route to a faultless finish on Sunday. " It was a difficult rally for me, and I imagine that is the case for any driver coming here for the first time, " he said. " I'm very happy to have got to the end without problems in quite a good position, and I'm very happy with the notes I made with my co-driver Marc Marti. I think we've done an excellent job with an eye to the future... "

OMV-Peugeot Norway

The OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team can celebrate another great triumph. Manfred Stohl and Ilka Minor reached the podium at the "Propecia Rally New Zealand", just like they had three weeks ago in Australia. The OMV duo held the attacking Citroen works team at bay during the final day. After 17 special stages the Austrians were 16,8 seconds in front of Xavier Pons (Spa) in the World-Championship-car of Sebastien Loeb and more than 40 seconds ahead of rally shooting star Dani Sordo (Spa). During the last kilometres Henning Solberg was able to secure one manufacture WRC point for the OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: Manfred Stohl has already been counted among the best rally drivers in the world prior to this weekend. But his third place at the Rally New Zealand has once more proven the prowess of the 34-year-old OMV driver. Following more than 350 special stage kilomtres under the toughest conditions he left the works drivers of Citroen and Subaru in his wake. It was the fifth podium place in the career of OMV duo Stohl/Minor, the third already this year. Stohl: "It is a very special experience. The more so since we beat very tough opponents and were able to confirm the success in Australia. The fight versus Pons and Sordo was a real challenge. Furthermore, the Rally New Zealand is one of my most favourite events. But we also had a lot of luck and, in the end, Jesus wanted us to make it." In the driver FIA World Rally Championship the OMV driver has now secured fifth place for good. 46 won points mean that he lies twelve points ahead of former World Champion Petter Solberg (Nor/Subaru). And fourth place is still within reach since he is only one point behind Dani Sordo. Stohl: "We will do our all to overtake Sordo in Wales. We like the rally and are under no pressure whatsoever."

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: Following his rollover on the second day, the aftereffects of which had cost over 16 minutes, Henning Solberg secured one point for the manufacture WRC by a spirited performance on the final day. The Norwegian OMV driver kept Brit Matthew Wilson (Ford Focus WRC) at bay despite brake problems. Solberg: "We had a lot of bad luck and the slip cost us a top result. But it is no use crying over lost driver points. Now we will thoroughly prepare for Wales and make good these points at the season's finale." The 33-year-old Scandinavian still lies in seventh place in the driver World Championship with 25 points to his account.

BP-Ford

BP-Ford World Rally Team today secured the FIA World Rally Championship manufacturers' title after powering to a 1-2 finish in Rally New Zealand. Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen took their sixth victory of the season in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, finishing 56.0sec ahead of team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen in a similar car. The maximum points haul means that with one round still remaining BP-Ford has built an unassailable 25-point lead. It is Ford's first manufacturers' title since 1979 and the squad's seventh victory of the season. Gronholm had already secured second in the drivers' series while Hirvonen's result means he is now assured of third. This was also Ford's 75th consecutive points scoring finish in the WRC, a record unrivalled in the sport's history and dating back to the opening round of the 2002 championship. Gronholm and Rautiainen led from Friday's opening kilometre. With no pressure from behind, the 38-year-old Finnish driver eased through today's final leg, comprising six stages and 95.48km near the coastal town of Raglan, to secure victory. He set a clean sweep of fastest times on the opening day by winning all five speed tests and increased his rally total to 13 with five more wins today.

Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen: It's a great feeling to win the rally and secure the world title for Ford on the same day," said Gronholm. "When I joined the team I expected a high performance level from the Focus RS WRC because it was a new car and to experience the fantastic level of reliability that we have enjoyed during the season was a big bonus. This wasn't such a hard rally as the Focus RS has been absolutely perfect."

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: Hirvonen, too, was under no pressure from behind today and took no risks on the slippery stages. He finished 1min 43.3sec ahead of his nearest challenger. "I'm thrilled to be part of a world title-winning team," said the 26-year-old Finn. "The whole season has been fantastic and I have secured third place in the drivers' series. But that stays in the background because to win the manufacturers' title is a huge achievement for me. I started my career in world rallying with Ford. Malcolm Wilson gave me the chance to prove myself at the beginning of my career and again this year, so it is even better to be here helping Ford to the title."

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford

Britain's leading world rally star Matthew Wilson set a blistering pace through the final day of Rally New Zealand, one of the FIA World Rally Championship's toughest events, near Hamilton today. Wilson continued to impress onlookers, demonstrating pace and maturity well beyond his 19 years, as he tamed some of the most difficult conditions in this year's championship. Once again, the day was hit by frequent weather changes, making a tyre choice perilous for the two loops of three stages running on the Tasman coast. Wilson ended the event in 13th position having climbed back from 34th at the end of leg one. On his final outing with the team this season, Luis Perez Companc (Argentina) turned in a fantastic day, maintaining the pace he showed throughout this event to end the rally in a strong seventh position. The performance of both Wilson and Companc cements the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team's fifth place in the manufacturers' championship.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "There was a big puddle on the inside of a right-hand corner in the third stage today. I got the wheel a little bit too far in, the water was a bit too deep and it spun us around. That wasn't a problem at all, but the last 10 kilometres of that stage were awful -- so slippery. It wasn't gravel slippery, either, it was all mud, which made the going quite tough. Apart from that, I've been fairly happy with the way things have gone. Obviously, it wasn't good news to hit the rock on the first day, I'm disappointed with that -- it cost us the chance of points. We have, however, driven all the stages at a competitive speed. I've enjoyed these roads and the rally, the stages have been among the most enjoyable of the whole season. The time in SS13 earlier today was good for me, really the whole thing has been mega -- particularly dad [Malcolm, M-Sport team principal] winning the manufacturers' world championship -- he deserves it more than anybody in the world."

Luis Perez Companc/Jose-Maria Volta: "The rear dampers weren't right in Whaanga Coast. I think the gas was starting to leak from them, they had lost their efficiency. This made the handling from the back of the car quite strange, it was hitting the bump stops a lot. It wasn't so easy to drive this morning. This afternoon everything was fine -- everything was great. I enjoyed the second run through the stages. They were slippery in some places, but all I wanted to do was get to the finish and take some points for the team. This has been great experience for me."

Subaru

The Subaru World Rally Team's focus for the final leg of Rally New Zealand was to get Petter Solberg to the end of the rally in a points-scoring position and gather data ahead of the final World Rally Championship round in Wales in two weeks' time. Even though changeable weather made conditions difficult, Petter's car ran reliably throughout the day and he consistently set top-five stage times on his way to a sixth-place finish.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "I tried as hard as I could but I've simply not been able to challenge the fastest guys this weekend. Of course it's very frustrating; I want to win rallies, and it's not much fun when that isn't possible, but I will keep positive and focus on improving the pace. We made some small improvements this weekend; we learned some more about the car and the tyres, and hopefully that will enable us to get a better result on the last round in Wales."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: Retired.

Red Bull Skoda

Skoda are not entered in New Zealand

-credit: rallyenewsletter.com

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , Sébastien Loeb , Timo Rautiainen , Manfred Stohl , Mikko Hirvonen , Marc Marti , Malcolm Wilson , Jarmo Lehtinen , Henning Solberg , Cato Menkerud , Ilka Minor , Xavier Pons , Matthew Wilson , Michael Orr , Chris Atkinson , Christian Loriaux
Teams Citroën World Rally Team , M-Sport