Ketomaa completes S-WRC hat-trick in Sapporo Jari Ketomaa is the first Ford Fiesta S2000 driver to claim three victories in the Super 2000 World Rally Championship (S-WRC) following his win at Rally Japan this weekend. With only three...
Ketomaa completes S-WRC hat-trick in Sapporo
Jari Ketomaa is the first Ford Fiesta S2000 driver to claim three victories in the Super 2000 World Rally Championship (S-WRC) following his win at Rally Japan this weekend.
With only three S-WRC entrants venturing to the Far East to take up the challenge of Rally Japan -- all of which were Ford Fiesta S2000 drivers -- Jari Ketomaa, Martin Prokop and Bernardo Sousa were fighting an even battle for class honours.
As well as finishing first and second in the S-WRC this weekend, Ford Fiesta S2000 drivers Ketomaa and Prokop also led the N4 class in first and second position respectively throughout the event.
The fight for the S-WRC title has become extremely close after Martin Prokop's second place finish at the Sapporo-based event - the Czech driver is now jointly leading the S-WRC alongside fellow Ford Fiesta S2000 driver Xevi Pons.
Jari Ketomaa's victory at Rally Japan has launched the Finn up the S-WRC leaderboard from fifth position into third position, 13 points adrift of Pons and Prokop. Three Ford Fiesta S2000 crews now fill the top three in the S-WRC standings and will see Prokop, Pons and Ketomaa fight a hotly contested battle in the championship's two remaining rounds.
Bernardo Sousa had a troubled weekend during his debut at Rally Japan after suffering from electrical problems on Saturday's opening stage. However, the Portuguese driver, re-entered under SupeRally regulations for the event's final day but failed to finish after a broken alternator belt dashed his hopes of his first podium finish.
Jari Ketomaa S-WRC
final position: 1
The stage was set for a thrilling battle following Thursday's two runs through the Sapporo Dome Super Special but Jari Ketomaa was left leading the S-WRC after completing Friday's opening stage 30.5 seconds faster than Prokop and 39.6 seconds ahead of Sousa. The Finn reported oversteer throughout the morning's 58.23 km loop but after some changes at Service B, he enjoyed a trouble-free afternoon and at the end of the first day led the S-WRC by 55.3 seconds.
On Saturday, Ketomaa picked up the pace and showed signs of chasing the WRC runners ahead of him. The Finn took advantage of Matthew Wilson's retirement during SS11 to move up into the top ten and was only 7.2 seconds behind former Formula One Champion Kimi Raikkonen through SS13. As Ketomaa pulled into Saturday's Service E, he led the S-WRC by over one minute. The Ford Fiesta S2000 driver had no major problems on Saturday afternoon, finishing the day 52.8 seconds ahead of Prokop and tenth overall.
During the final day of Rally Japan Ketomaa suffered from a puncture at the end of SS24, but the Finn had no other problems and pulled into final service 33.7 seconds ahead of Prokop -- winner of both the S-WRC and the N3 class.
Jari Ketomaa said:
"It feels great to have achieved my third victory in the S-WRC and I'm third in the overall standings -- it's all to play for! Japan has been a great experience because we have not driven in such rough conditions in the Ford Fiesta S2000 before and although it didn't rain over the weekend, there were damp sections under the trees - this was good practice for when we'll compete at Rally GB in November. Before this weekend, we had always been on rallies with good grip but that hasn't been the case here -- the stages were slippery and also very soft at times. We had some problems turning into the high-speed corners on Friday but we worked on the set-up on Saturday which seemed to help. I've had a good weekend and it's become very tight at the top -- I'm ready to fight at the final two rounds."
Martin Prokop S-WRC
final position: 2
Czech driver, Martin Prokop, endured a tough start on his debut at Rally Japan when he collided with a tree trunk lying on the road after Khalid Al Qassimi crashed only one kilometre into Friday's opening stage. The driver's Ford Fiesta S2000 was damaged at the front-right corner and the impact caused his onboard intercom system to fail. This made hearing co-driver Jan Tomanek's pacenotes virtually impossible and Prokop finished SS3 30.5 seconds behind Ketomaa as a result. During Service B, his team worked on the car and Prokop was happier with the car's set-up during Friday afternoon's repeat loop. A few problems with his pacenotes during SS6 cost the Czech driver approximately ten seconds and he finished the opening ten stages 55.3 seconds behind Ketomaa.
Prokop's biggest challenge on Saturday was negotiating the rough stage surface but he had no other problems and consolidated his second place position in the S-WRC at the end of the day, 52.8 seconds adrift of Ketomaa.
Prokop picked up the pace on Sunday's opening stages and by the end of SS21, the Czech driver had managed to close the gap on Ketomaa to only 45.8 seconds. However, the gap proved too wide for Prokop, despite claiming five out of eight stage wins, and he pulled into the final service 33.7 seconds behind the Finn. As a result of Prokop's second place finish, he is now jointly leading the S-WRC alongside Xevi Pons.
Martin Prokop said:
"It was very difficult to find the right rhythm after our incident on Friday's opening stage -- it was a real confidence knock. I was just aiming for a good finish and wanted to gain solid experience this weekend but it wasn't easy to drive the car on such poor roads. We wanted to keep out of trouble and to get to the finish. It was always important to build on my experience because it was my first time competing in Japan. I wasn't pushing too hard yesterday [Saturday] - there was nobody to fight with because Jari was nearly a minute ahead and Bernardo had to retire for the day. But on a positive note, I'm now leading the S-WRC alongside Pons -- the remaining rounds are going to be very exciting but I've only got one round left and that's at Rally GB in November. I'm not sure if a victory is possible taking into account that some of the other drivers have two more rounds to go but I'll try my best."
Bernardo Sousa S-WRC final
Rally Japan debutant Bernardo Sousa had a strong start at Thursday evening's Super Special Stages and claimed the fastest time on SS2 out of the S-WRC competitors.
Sousa encountered no major problems during Friday's ten stages covering 122.74km but reported that the road conditions were extremely rough -- the 22-year-old remained third in the S-WRC throughout the day. He finished the day 14th overall at the end of SS10, one minute and 35.5 seconds behind Martin Prokop. Sousa's engineers tried a new set-up on Friday evening which his team had developed following Friday's opening stages in an attempt to close the gap on Ketomaa and Prokop.
However, Saturday did not begin well for Sousa and only 500 metres from the start of the 17.68km Nikara stage [SS11] Sousa's Ford Fiesta S2000 ground to a halt with an electrical failure. The S-WRC driver failed to get any power and the disappointed 22-year-old was forced to retire for the day. However, with Sousa over one minute adrift of Martin Prokop at the start of the day, his exit has had little impact on the overall classification.
Sousa returned under SupeRally regulations for the final day of action on Sunday and managed to increase his pace to keep up with his two S-WRC competitors. The 22-year-old produced the quickest time through SS20 -- 1.9 seconds ahead of Prokop. However, during the road section between SS22 and SS23, Sousa was struck with more bad luck as his alternator belt snapped before the start of the next stage. A disappointed Sousa was forced to retire from his debut at Rally Japan and the driver remains ninth in the S-WRC overall standings.
Bernardo Sousa said:
"What can I say? I'm gutted. The ruts on Friday's stages were ridiculous - it felt like the car was floating and I just couldn't get the wheels on the ground to get any traction. There was no warning we had a problem on Saturday morning - the car just stopped and we knew straightaway that there was something wrong with the electrics. It was very frustrating because we did some changes on the car on Friday night to try to reduce the gap to Ketomaa and Prokop but we didn't get to try them out. Then today I knew there was a problem during SS2 but then our alternator belt on the road section going into SS23. It's so frustrating -- when everything was running smoothly, we had some fast times and I was managing to keep up with the other two. This leaves me with only France and GB to go, I'm really wanting to push at those events."