Ford Focus fills four of top six places in Britain.
Ford Rallye Sport dominated the leading placings on the Rally of Great Britain with four Focus RS World Rally Cars in the top six points-scoring positions as the four-day event ended in Cardiff today. The result enabled Ford to create rallying history as the first team to score points on every round of the FIA World Rally Championship since the modern era of the sport was ushered in at the start of 1997.
It also confirmed the Focus RS as the most reliable car in the 14-round series, the Ford Rallye Sport team claiming a remarkable 80% finishing record during the season.
Top honours for Ford went to Markko Martin and Michael Park who claimed their best ever result by finishing second after a tense final day fight with Petter Solberg. Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya joined the team's junior pairing on the podium by taking third, their seventh top three finish in Britain. Colin McRae and Derek Ringer were fifth with Mark Higgins and Bryan Thomas scoring their first-ever championship point in sixth.
The final day was the longest and toughest. Drivers tackled just four gravel speed tests in the Vale of Neath forests. However, they covered 138.50km, including a repeat of the massive 54.69km Resolfen test early this morning and two runs through Margam, one of the trickiest special stages in the championship.
Martin, narrow leader overnight, could not fend off Solberg through the foggy Resolfen and despite clawing back many seconds on the second stage, the Norwegian pulled ahead again through Margam to win by 24.4sec.
"I've had a perfect weekend," said Martin. "Early this morning I just didn't push hard enough and that's my fault. I don't have enough experience yet of fighting to win. You have to push hard but hopefully we can do the job next year. I understand now that you can't afford to play safe. I didn't take any risks today and that made the difference. Petter drove at 100% and I was at 99% but we've built the year gradually and this is a wonderful end."
Double world champion Sainz heaped praise on Martin's performance. "Markko made no mistakes and both he and Petter will win rallies, and in Markko's case I think that will be soon. I'm happy with my result. This is always a hard rally but this year has been slightly easier due to the good weather and repeated stages. There's always less chance of making a mistake when you've driven a stage once already," said the 40-year-old Madrid driver who claimed third in the championship standings.
McRae, driving his final rally for the Ford Rallye Sport team, admitted he was 'disappointed' with fifth. However, it earned him fourth in the championship and he regained his position as Britain's leading driver. "We wanted a better result on our home event and our final rally with Ford but fifth is better than nothing. Our four years at Ford have been successful ones but Markko has shown here that he has the ability to do very well for the team next season," said 34-year-old McRae.
Higgins was overjoyed with sixth. "It's just fantastic, the best result of my career," he said. "The Focus has been brilliant all the way through but when I spun and stalled on the final stage I thought I might have lost the point. I drove like hell for the rest of the stage and we probably had more incidents in there than the rest of the weekend put together."
Ford Rallye Sport team director Malcolm Wilson said the result was 'a terrific boost for the team'. "It's been a sad rally in many ways because our team is changing for next year but we're building for the future and that future is with youth. Markko has driven a superb rally, he's scored points on eight of the last nine rounds and that's the kind of consistency that helped Carlos win two world championships," he said.
News from our Rivals
Petter Solberg (Subaru) celebrated his 28th birthday a day early by claiming his first world rally win and securing second place in the 2002 championship. The Norwegian set three fastest times on the final day. Team-mate Tommi Makinen made it a happy weekend for the squad by claiming fourth. Late retirements and problems for others allowed Harri Rovanpera (Peugeot) to recover from hydraulic troubles and score two manufacturer points while Freddy Loix (Hyundai) claimed the final point, enough to earn the Korean team fourth in the championship standings. Richard Burns (Peugeot) threw away third place and second in the drivers' table by sliding off the road in the penultimate stage while Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) retired from seventh in the same test with a broken front right suspension wishbone.