Fifth place for François Duval and Stéphane Prévot on the Wales Rally GB today secured a record for Ford BP Rallye Sport unmatched in the modern era of the sport. The four points secured by the Belgian duo in their Focus RS World Car ensured the team scored points on all 14 rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship for the second consecutive season.
Their remarkable blend of speed and reliability with the Focus RS dates back to the opening round of the 2002 season in Monte Carlo. It is a feat unmatched since the early 1990s when the championship was much less competitive with fewer rounds and smaller manufacturer participation.
"It's incredible," said Ford BP team director Malcolm Wilson. "We were proud to achieve it last season and to repeat the feat again in 2003 is quite remarkable. World championship rallying today is probably the most competitive form of motorsport anywhere and to score points for 28 consecutive rallies, a record spanning two complete seasons, confirms the strength and speed of the Focus RS. We introduced a radical new car earlier this season and if there was any time when we were going to lose our record, it was in the early days then. But we didn't and that's a tribute to the hard work of everyone in the team, from the drivers and co-drivers to the engineers and technicians."
Ford BP drivers Markko Märtin and Michael Park, who retired from the rally on Friday, ended the year having won the most speed tests. The 27-year-old Estonian driver won 52 special stages, two more than closest rival Marcus Grönholm. "Virtually all Markko's fastest times were achieved with the new Focus RS, which made its debut on round four in April," said Wilson. "His achievement proves the sheer speed of the car and it's equally satisfying that the fastest times with the new car have come on both gravel and asphalt."
Today's third and final leg was the shortest of the event. Just three speed tests covering 73.86km lay in wait in the slippery forests near Swansea. The weather was again grey and overcast, and fog and drizzle made conditions even more difficult on the highest sections of the Rhondda special stage, in the shadow of the Rhigos mountain high above the Vale of Neath.
Duval and Prévot started the day in sixth but climbed to fifth in the opening stage when Harri Rovanperä, holding that position, retired. Twenty-two-year-old Duval, whose experience of the tough Welsh roads is limited after retiring early on both his previous appearances on the rally, set his sights on a finish to both secure Ford BP's record and further his knowledge of the stages for the future.
He was untroubled today and returned to the ceremonial finish in Cardiff to score points for the fourth consecutive rally. "It's been a difficult event because the roads were so slippery," said Duval. "I don't enjoy the mud but despite that I've achieved a good result and a better one than I expected. I've driven cautiously throughout the rally because it was important to finish, both for my experience on the stages and to fine-tune our pace notes for the future. My confidence wasn't good on the opening day but it improved and the Focus has again been perfect today."
Finland's Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila finished 10th in a 2001-specification Focus RS run by M-Sport, the 18-year-old driver matching his career-best result on only his fifth world rally. His only problem came on the penultimate test when he hit a rock, flattening the car's exhaust and reducing power for the final stage. "This is a great result for me and I'm delighted," he said. "I've tried not to take any risks because it was important for me to learn about this rally. I've had a difficult second half of the year but to end with a victory on the final round of the British Championship last month and a top 10 result here is great."
News from our Rivals
Petter Solberg (Subaru) was untroubled to claim his second successive Rally GB victory and secure his first world drivers' title by just one point. He finished 43.6sec ahead of Sebastien Loeb (Citroen). Second place for Loeb and fourth for team-mate Colin McRae assured the French team of the manufacturers' title in their first full season in the world championship. Tommi Mäkinen (Subaru) ended his career with a podium result, finishing ahead of McRae, who is also leaving the championship at the end of this season, after an exciting rally-long battle. Their fight was in doubt until the final stage when McRae had to stop to change a front right puncture. The opening run through Rhondda accounted for both Harri Rovanperä (Peugeot) and Toni Gardemeister (Skoda). Rovanperä stopped with transmission failure 12km into the stage, at exactly the same point as Gardemeister had slid off the road a few minutes earlier.