Ford claims championship point in '99 finale
Ford Focus rally cars finished sixth and ninth to score a world championship point this evening as the Rally of Great Britain finished in Cheltenham. That result was achieved after a long day's brave driving by both Ford Martini's Scandinavian drivers through challenging conditions, with some inventive roadside repairs by Thomas Rådström and sheer determination by every team member.
On this final day of the final round of the 1999 FIA World Rally Championship, Ford's hopes of success rested with Sweden's Rådström and junior team member Norwegian Petter Solberg after lead driver Colin McRae was unlucky to crash out of a promising fourth place late yesterday. They were destined to experience a highly eventful day.
Radstrom started the day in ninth place and survived a high speed spin on stage 18 to climb into a points-scoring sixth place by mid-afternoon. But more dramas followed.
"On stage 21 (Rheola 2) the car bottomed out on a rough stretch of road and tore a hole in the sumpguard, damaging the oil system," Rådström reported. "We managed to limp to the end of the stage with the oil pressure light flickering ominously, but as we left that stage I thought it was all over. We stopped and lowered the front of the sumpguard and tried to make quick repairs using tape and anything we could find to plug the hole.
"All the time the team engineers were encouraging us and telling us what to do over the radio. We filled the engine with 1.5-litres of oil from the boot and also used fluid from the power steering system to top it up. I had no idea if the Focus would last through that final stage, but we had no choice so we just went for it and we made it! We had to tackle the last stage without power steering, so I am very relieved it's all over."
When the Martini-liveried Focus reached final service this evening, Ford engineers calculated that it had been running with two litres of lubricant instead of the normal six. Team Director Malcolm Wilson was impressed, "It's remarkable that the engine stood up well with so little lubricant and shows how strong the Zetec unit is. Earlier it had been extremely tense as we tried to talk Thomas through the repairs on the team radio. He's a good technician and did everything we asked. It's good for the team to end the season in the points and everybody is fired up to go testing with our 2000-specification car and continue with preparations for next year's championship battles."
Like his Ford team mate, Petter Solberg had a character-building path to a top 10 finish.
During the day he suffered a series of small problems that included two punctures, loss of power assistance for the steering and an exploding brake disc. "I'm really delighted to finish this event and to be in the top 10," enthused the 25-year old Norwegian. "It's been a really difficult rally, but I gained confidence as the stages went by and today especially I've been able to raise my pace. On that last stage there was a downhill section as slippery as a slalom." Malcolm Wilson confirmed, "It was another great performance by Petter. Finishing in the top 10 is further proof of his huge potential for the future."
News from our Rivals
The final day of Rally of Great Britain, with seven stages and more stage kilometres (197) than any other, proved too much for several overnight holders of top 10 places.
However rally leader Richard Burns (Subaru) and team mate Juha Kankkunen could do no wrong and continued to dominate the event finishing 1st-2nd well clear of their chasers.
Harri Rovanpera (Seat) put in a personal best performance to come home third and claim Seat's second podium of the year. But team mate Gwyndaf Evans (sixth overnight) suffered an engine blow up when he looked likely to score points. Belgian ace Bruno Thiry (Skoda) made his debut for the Czech manufacturer on this event and was one of very few drivers to enjoy a trouble-free rally on his way to a well deserved fourth place. Armin Schwarz drove the second Skoda into the top 10 before crashing out.
On his first UK rally, Freddy Loix salvaged some honour for Mitsubishi by finishing fifth after world champion Tommi Makinen retired with an overheated engine after setting second quickest time on stage 19. After holding a strong third place for so long chasing the leading Subaru duo, Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) rolled his 206 six times into retirement on fourth stage. Francois Delecour leapt from eighth to fourth going into the final stage only to have his gearbox break almost at the finish.
Toyota's Carlos Sainz and Didier Auriol each enjoyed moments of glory during the day before both cars went out on the penultimate stage with broken suspension.
Network Q Rally of Great Britain - Final Positions 1. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 3hr 53min 43.3sec 2. J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Subaru Impreza 3hr 55min 31.5sec 3. H Rovanperä/R Pietilainen FIN Seat WRC 3hr 58min 39.5sec 4. B Thiry/S Prevot BEL Skoda 4hr 02min 11.7sec 5. F Loix/S Smeets B Mitsubishi 4hr 03min 19.5sec 6. T Rådström/ G Barth S Ford Focus 4hr 03min 47.5sec 7. G Panizzi/H Panizzi F Peugeot 206 4hr 04min 17.8sec 8. M Martin/T Kitsing EE Toyota 4hr 05min 21.5sec 9. P Solberg/P Mills N Ford Focus 4hr 06min 54.0sec 10. M Kahle/D Schneppenheim D Toyota 4hr 08min 48.2sec
1999 FIA World Rally Championship (after final round) Drivers 1. T Mäkinen 62pts 2. R Burns 55pts 3. D Auriol 52pts 4= C Sainz 44pts 4= J Kankkunen 44pts 6. C McRae 23pts
Manufacturers 1. Toyota 109pts 2. Subaru 105pts 3. Mitsubishi 83pts 4. Ford 37pts 5. Seat 23pts 6. Peugeot 11pts 7. Skoda 6pts