Pons holds onto the top spot after S-WRC title fight Another action-packed Super 2000 World Rally Championship (S-WRC) round saw Xevi Pons hold onto his championship lead in the S-WRC and successfully launched fellow Ford Fiesta S2000...
Pons holds onto the top spot after S-WRC title fight
Another action-packed Super 2000 World Rally Championship (S-WRC) round saw Xevi Pons hold onto his championship lead in the S-WRC and successfully launched fellow Ford Fiesta S2000 driver Jari Ketomaa back into title contention.
Eight Ford Fiesta S2000 crews travelled to Rallye de France this weekend for the penultimate round of the championship with five crews fighting for S-WRC honours. Prokop's sixth-place finish dashed the Czech driver's hopes for the title as France marked the last round of the season for the 2009 J-WRC Champion. The young driver was bitterly disappointed as the loss of his power steering on the first day saw the championship slip from his reach.
With only one round remaining, Pons will be aiming for a victory in Wales in a bid to win the championship but with only seven points separating the Spaniard, Jari Ketomaa and Patrik Sandell the drivers have it all to play for at the final round of the ten-round series.
Three other Ford Fiesta S2000 crews were competing at Rallye de France but were not nominated to score points in the S-WRC. Henning Solberg dominated the Super 2000 class in his Ford Fiesta S2000 from the opening leg of Rallye de France. The Norwegian driver finished a remarkable ninth overall in M-Sport's new generation rally car and led the class by a comfortable 23.4 seconds.
Jari Ketomaa S-WRC position: 2nd Overall: 11th
Jari Ketomaa make his debut driving a World Rally Car on Tarmac at Rallye de France this weekend. After the first four stages, the Finn was third-fastest out of the Fiesta S2000 crews and placed fifth in S-WRC. Ketomaa took the lead out of the five Ford Fiesta S2000 crews competing for S-WRC honours after SS7 as a result of Pons losing his power steering. Ketomaa produced the tenth-fastest stage time on SS8, 0.7 seconds ahead of Solberg and extended his lead over Pons to 16.7 seconds. At the end of day one, Ketomaa remained fourth in the S-WRC, 5.2 seconds off third place.
Ketomaa suffered from an alternator fault on Saturday morning's stages but successfully moved up to podium position in the S-WRC due to Michael Kosciuszko stopping during SS9. Despite the engine on his Ford Fiesta S2000 cutting out on SS15 and losing the Finn 40 seconds he remained in podium position for the remainder of the day, pulling into Service E at the end of the day 12th overall.
The final day of Rallye de France saw Ketomaa move up into second position after Eyvind Brynildsen rolled on SS18. The Finn remained in this position for the remainder of the day and secured him 18 points -- he is now only 7 points adrift of Pons in the overall standings with only one S-WRC round remaining.
Jari Ketomaa said:
"This has been a good rally for me and I am very happy to have finished in a podium position this weekend. It was the first time I had competed on Tarmac in a World Rally Car and I wasn't sure how I would do compared to the other guys who had more experience driving on the asphalt. I spent most of the time trying to gain experience driving on the road surface and tried to avoid making any mistakes. I'm very surprised to have finished in this position but I'm delighted as it puts me in a good position to win the championship in Wales."
Xevi Pons S-WRC final position: 4th Overall: 15th
After Prokop's misfotune in SS3, Pons moved into fourth in the S-WRC and leading out of the five Fiesta S2000 crews competing for S-WRC honours in France. On the final stage of the morning, the Spanish driver moved up into third, just 7 seconds off second place and 18th overall. Pons lost power steering towards the end of SS6 and lost a significant amount of time on the day's remaining two stages, dropping the Spaniard into fifth.
On Saturday, Pons ensued a battle with Michael Kosciuszko for fourth place in the S-WRC and he successfully moved up one poisiton by the end of the day's opening stage. However, disaster struck for Pons as his Fiesta S2000 suffered from a handbrake fault which lost him approximately 20 seconds on the morning's final stage. He pulled into the day's first service D 17th overall but had dropped back into fifth in the S-WRC. The battle for fourth place ensued on Saturday afternoon but the road conditions did not fare well for Pons who remained 4.5 seconds behind Kosciuszko at the end of the second day.
Pons got off to a flying start on the final day of action at Rallye de France as he produced the quickest stage time out of the nine S-WRC entries on the opening stage. Pons then took advantage of Brynildsen stopping on SS18 and also Kosciuszko who spun on the stage, to launch himself up into third in the S-WRC with only two stages remaining. Pons lost the battle with Kosciuszko on the final stage and dropped back into fourth, just one second from claiming third position.
Xevi Pons said:
"This wasn't a good rally for me - it was a big battle between me and Michal [Kosciuszko] this weekend and I'm so disappointed I didn't managed to catch him on the final stage. For sure, it is good that I finished fourth and that I got some points for the championship but I was really aiming for a podium finish to take some pressure off. We had a good feeling and drove well in a bid to win championship this weekend but it's been a difficult event and now I must push for victory in Wales to try and win the title."
Martin Prokop S-WRC final position: 6th Overall: 21st
Martin Prokop got off to a flying start at Rallye de France and was placed third overall in S-WRC after the opening stage -- one second ahead of fellow Ford Fiesta S2000 driver Xevi Pons. However, disaster struck for Prokop when he lost his power steering during SS2 and by the end of SS3 the Czech driver had dropped to 34th position overall, leaving Pons to lead the S-WRC out of the remaining Ford Fiesta S2000 crews. Without the required spare parts to fix the fault in the remote service at Mulhouse, Prokop had to complete the rest of the day with no assisted steering and lost more than five minutes as a result. Despite this, Prokop managed to pull into the end of the first day sixth in the S-WRC but feeling very disheartened.
The second day of Rallye de France went more smoothly for Prokop but after the time he lost on the opening day, he remained sixth with little hope of catching the other S-WRC competitors. The Czech driver was feeling deflated after his misfortune on the opening day and pulled into Service E at the end of the day 21st overall. Prokop encountered no problems on the final four stages covering 57.80 km on Sunday to consolidate his sixth place finish.
Martin Prokop said:
"I lost the championship this weekend and I am so disappointed. We got off to a good start on Friday but when the power steering went I knew that we had lost the title. This was our last points scoring opportunity of the season as I'm not competing in Wales so this event meant everything to me. The car was pretty much impossible to drive without the power steering -- I'm strong but not that strong. I tried to repair the time I had lost as much as I could on Saturday but unless something happened to the others I didn't have a chance of catching them. I've lost the championship now so there's not much more to say -- it wasn't a good event for me and I'm extremely disappointed."
Bernardo Sousa S-WRC final position: 7th Overall: 32nd
After an unfortunate ending at the previous S-WRC round in Japan, Sousa was aiming for his first podium finish of the year in France this weekend. At the end of the opening four stages, Sousa was fourth out of the eight Ford Fiesta S2000 crews and placed sixth in the S-WRC. However, 9 km towards the end of SS7 Sousa clipped a banking which damaged the rear suspension of his Ford Fiesta S2000. The disappointed Portuguese driver was forced to retire for the day as his car was led back to service.
Sousa returned to the second day of Rallye de France under SupeRally regulations and encountered no major problems on Saturday morning, gradually moving up the WRC leaderboard from 53rd position at the start of the day to 26th position by the end of the second day. Sousa was placed seventh in the S-WRC at the end of SS16 but with more than ten minutes separating Sousa and Prokop in sixth position, it seemed unlikely that the Portuguese driver would move any higher up the S-WRC rankings. Sousa had a trouble-free day on Sunday's four closing stages and pulled into Service G 32nd overall and remaining seventh in S-WRC.
Bernardo Sousa said:
"Ok, so it was annoying that we had to retire on Friday but this event was very tough and I am pleased to have made it to the end. The road conditions yesterday were just ridiculous and some of the hardest stages that I have had to contend with. I struggled to find the pace required this weekend and I wasn't feeling too confident with the roads. It was annoying but that is the nature of rallies and you just have to adapt as best you can. I think I've had my fair share of bad luck this year but so have many other S-WRC drivers and you can only learn from the experiences to learn to become a better driver."
Julien Maurin S-WRC final position: 8th Overall: 43rd
Wildcard entrant Julien Maurin made up the final Ford Fiesta S2000 crew fighting for S-WRC honours in France this weekend. The French driver was 1.6 seconds behind Dennis Kuipers through SS1 and eighth out of the nine S-WRC crews. On SS2, Maurin produced an extremely fast stage time -- second fastest out of the Fiesta S2000 crews and launched the Frenchman into 21st position overall, 3.8 seconds ahead of Jari Ketomaa. However, disaster struck Maurin on SS3 when he spun 9 km before the end of SS8 and went off the road, damaging his exhaust. Maurin struggled to restart his Ford Fiesta S2000's engine due to the amount of gravel in the exhaust and lost too much time so was forced to retire for the rest of the day.
Maurin restarted the second day of Rallye de France under SupeRally regulations and adopted a low-risk approach to ensure he made it through the eight stages covering 149.22 km. However, a steering problem and puncture slowed his progress and the Frenchman held eighth in S-WRC overnight. Maurin had no major dramas on the final day of Rallye de France and finished his second WRC event piloting the Ford Fiesta S2000 43rd overall and eighth in the S-WRC.
Julien Maurin said:
"It always feels great to compete on a home rally and the fans this weekend have been fantastic. It was a very hard event for me and I wasn't sure what the best driving technique was for driving on these muddy road conditions but I gave it my best shot and I still enjoyed myself. The other Fiesta S2000 drivers are all very fast drivers so I'm very happy to have finished the rally, especially after having to retire at Rallye de Portugal in May."
Henning Solberg S-WRC final position: N/A Overall: 9th
Rallye de France marked the third outing for Henning Solberg piloting the the Ford Fiesta S2000 and the Norwegian was also joined by a new co-driver for the event, Stephane Prevot. The Norwegian was on flying form throughout the weekend and produced three fastest stage times out of the Fiesta S2000 cars on Friday's opening four stages, leading both the N4 and S2000 class. He was placed fourteenth overall at the end of SS4, only 30.7 seconds off snatching thirteenth position from BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi. Friday afternoon also bode well for Solberg as he produced three out of four fastest stage times out of the eight Ford Fiesta S2000 crews to pull into the end of day service twelfth overall at the end of the first day and leading the N4 class by 34.9 seconds.
Solberg moved up to eleventh position overall after SS9 and by the end of SS10, Solberg moved up into the top ten due to Kimi Raikkonen who stopped on the 15.50 km stage. The Norwegian was only 14.5 seconds behind Khalid Al Qassimi but after a quick time on SS11 he moved up into ninth position. Solberg continued at a similar pace on Saturday afternoon, encountering no major problems and remaining ninth overall. He was also leading N4 class by an impressive 40.6 seconds. The final four stages of Rallye de France on Sunday saw Solberg remain eighth, leading his class by 23.4 seconds and bagging the Norwegian an extra two WRC driver points.
Henning Solberg said:
"I am very, very happy with this result and it feels great to be at the top of the S2000 class. The car went well again for me this weekend - I really enjoy driving this car on Tarmac. I felt slightly nervous on Saturday's stages -- I really wanted to win this event for the Ford Fiesta S2000 and didn't want to let the Skodas get ahead. Although I was quite far ahead by the end of Saturday, I still had four stages left today and in rallying anything can happen so I wanted to push to ensure I was still leading. I have had two very good events driving this car now -- first in Bulgaria and now in Germany. I just love driving the car and I'm looking forward to returning to drive the Fiesta S2000 when we contest in Spain later this month."
Dennis Kuipers S-WRC final position: N/A Overall: 20th
Kuipers was just 0.3 seconds behind Bernardo Sousa on Friday's opening 9.90 km stage and the 24-year-old Dutch driver was placed 24th overall. The Dutchman encountered no other problems on the opening day until 3 km towards the end of SS8 when his Ford Fiesta S2000 suffered from a puncture. This cost Kuipers approximately 20 seconds but he finished the day 20th overall and was the fourth out of the eight Fiesta S2000 by the end of SS8.
Kuipers had no major problems on Saturday morning and pulled into the Service D 19th overall, fourth out of the eight Fiesta S2000 crews. Another trouble-free afternoon for Kuipers meant the Dutchman moved up the leaderboard into 17th overall at the end of SS16.
Sunday proved difficult for the Dutch driver as he struggled to steer his Ford Fiesta S2000 on the slippery road conditions but he managed to keep the car on the road and was relieved to make it to end of a difficult event and finish 20th overall.
Dennis Kuipers said:
"This was a very hard weekend for us. The roads were so muddy and I have never driven stages like that before so it was a huge challenge for us. I'm very happy to have got to the end of the rally and apart from the puncture we had on the first day, we've had no other major problems so we've been quite lucky really. I can't say that I've enjoyed myself driving on these types of roads but it's been a good challenge and fantastic training."
Mads Østberg S-WRC final position: N/A Overall: 41st
Mads Østberg got off to a flying start on Friday as he was the fastest Fiesta S2000 through SS1, placing him 12th overall in the WRC leader board and the fastest out of eight Ford Fiesta S2000s. However, on SS2 the Norwegian went off the stage at a right hand corner. Marshalls did not allow spectators to push the car back onto the road and another car then collided with Østberg which meant he had to retire from the first day of Rallye de France.
The 22-year-old driver returned under SupeRally regulations to contest the second full day of Rallye de France but was feeling deflated after an unfortunate opening day. On SS10, he was the second-fastest Ford Fiesta S2000 driver and Østberg finished SS11 eleventh-fastest out of the 57 WRC crews that were competing on day two. This was then followed by a ninth-fastest stage time on SS12. Østberg's confidence continued to grow as he tackled the repeat afternoon loop and the talented Norwegian challenged his fellow countryman Henning Solberg as he produced two top ten stages times on SS14 and SS15. On the day's closing stage, the Norwegian was on fire as he finished the 13.09 km test seventh-fastest overall. By the end of the day, Østberg had successfully climbed the overall leaderboard from 63rd position at the start of the day to 43rd by the end of SS16. He had a drama-free final three stages of Rallye de France and again climbed the overall leaderboard to finish 41st overall.
Mads Østberg said:
"Yesterday and today have been good days so I can't complain about that but I am still so disappointed about what happened on Friday. When something like that happens, it makes it very hard to change to the right mindset and I really struggled with motivation first thing on Saturday morning. I didn't really enjoy myself after that because I was so annoyed about having to retire on Friday. We did try to test a little bit and to try out some new techniques on the Tarmac so it has been a good experience for me in that regard. It was also good to battle with Henning [Solberg] today and yesterday and I was happy to put in some quick stage times."