Three Escorts finish in top five of Rally Great Britain

The Ford Escort made a glorious farewell to World Championship rallying today when Juha Kankkunen and Bruno Thiry finished second and third on the Rally of Great Britain, the 13th and final round of the 1998 championship. It was the last ever event for the Escort as a works rally car after 30 years of success at the sport’s highest level.

Indeed Ford dominated the rally’s final leaderboard as fifth placed Sebastian Lindholm and seventh-placed Armin Schwarz, both driving privately-entered cars, ensured four Escorts finished in the top 10. All four drivers were at the wheel of Escort World Rally Cars, the last of the highly successful Escort models which have scored almost 50 world class wins in the past 30 years.

A watching Martin Whitaker, Director of Ford European Motorsport, said: “We came here hoping to finish off the career of the works Escort with a win but that was always going to be a tall order. But we must not take anything away from this result because to finish second and third on an event like this is very impressive and Juha and Bruno should be congratulated on that. We have had a grandstand view throughout the weekend of everyone dropping out and it’s pleasing to be the only team to get all its cars to the finish.

“The whole Ford World Rally team has done a magnificent job in what has been a difficult year. They have kept their spirits up all season and we enter 1999 with a huge amount of confidence. We begin next year with not only a new car, but also a new driver line-up. It’s one that’s very exciting and which I hope will bring another successful period in the history of Ford in the World Rally Championship,” he added.

Thick fog and rain made conditions very hard for the drivers on today’s final leg, based in the dank forests high above the Vale of Neath in south Wales. But Kankkunen and Thiry, having restarted this morning in third and fifth respectively, made light of the weather to maintain their climb up the leaderboard.

It was the seventh podium placing for the Finnish partnership of Kankkunen and co-driver Juha Repo this season. “Of course we would always prefer to win but this is a very good result for us and with four cars in the top 10 it’s also great for Ford. The only pity is that it’s the last rally for the Escort and that’s a sad feeling. We pushed this morning to put some distance between ourselves and Carlos Sainz but after that we just ensured we stayed on the road,” said 39-year-old Kankkunen.

For Thiry and co-driver Stéphane Prévot, third place was a superb reward after a season dogged by misfortune. “Obviously I’m very pleased and happy for the team because we’ve not had a great season,” said Thiry. “Stéphane and I have not enjoyed a lot of luck during the year so to finish on the podium in our final drive for Ford is very nice. Today’s stages were beautiful to drive on, despite the fog, and I have Stéphane to tell me where to go so I don’t need to see the road!” he joked.

Ford World Rally team director Malcolm Wilson celebrated a superb treble as his Cumbrian-based M-Sport team prepared not only the works cars of Kankkunen and Thiry, but also Lindholm’s fifth-placed Escort.

“We could not have expected a better rally and to repeat our 1997 result is fantastic. We showed the strength and reliability of the Escort with three cars in the top five and it’s a very good way for the car to bow out. I will be delighted if we finish second and third in Monte Carlo with the new Ford Focus World Rally Car next year and that’s where our attentions must now turn. Now this season is over we can concentrate fully on the Focus and it’s looking very good for the future,” he said.

British Junior Rally champions Stuart and Steve Egglestone finished fifth in the two-litre, two-wheel drive category on their first rally in a Boland Motorsport-built Escort RS2000, the Penrith brothers overcoming a few minor problems today with the power steering.

British Touring Car ace Will Hoy came home 53rd in a similar Escort, the Londoner absolutely delighted to have achieved his ambition of finishing the rally. “We had to stop to change a puncture this morning and that cost us a little time. I sat in the car and waited for my pit crew to come running out of the woods but they never arrived so Sean (co-driver Sean Kelly) and I had to change it ourselves!” he said.

Final positions

1. R Burns/R Reid GB Mitsubishi Carisma 3hr 50min 30.6sec 2. J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Ford Escort 3hr 54min 17.1sec 3. B Thiry/S Prévot B Ford Escort 3hr 55min 58.1sec 4. G De Mevius/J-M Fortin B Subaru Impreza 3hr 58min 25.4sec 5. S Lindholm/J Aho FIN Ford Escort 3hr 58min 46.2sec 6. H Rovanperä/R Pietiläinen FIN Seat WRC 4hr 01min 03.9sec 7. A Schwarz/M Hiemer D Ford Escort 4hr 02min 47.3sec 8. K Holowczyc/M Wislawski PL Subaru Impreza 4hr 03min 37.3sec 9. M Märtin/T Kitsing EE Toyota Celica 4hr 07min 41.6sec 10 M Stohl/P Müller A Mitsubishi Lancer 4hr 09min 37.8sec

1998 FIA World Rally Championship (final positions) Drivers Manufacturers 1. T Mäkinen 58pts 1. Mitsubishi 91pts 2. C Sainz 56pts 2. Toyota 85pts 3. C McRae 45pts 3. Subaru 65pts 4. J Kankkunen 39pts 4. Ford 53pts 5. D Auriol 34pts 6. R Burns 33pts