Jean-Joseph breaks his duck for Ford in Italy
Ford Martini returned to points-scoring form in the FIA World Rally Championship today following an outstanding performance by Simon Jean-Joseph and Fred Gallagher on Italy's Sanremo Rally. Jean-Joseph belied his relative inexperience of both the gruelling three-day event and his Ford Focus World Rally Car to finish seventh after a tremendous final day battle with four times world champion Juha Kankkunen.
Thirty-year-old Jean-Joseph maintained his impressive asphalt pace on the final day of competition in the mountains high above the Italian Riviera resort to secure the final point in the manufacturers' series on only his fifth world championship rally. In so doing, Gallagher became the only co-driver in recent history to claim world championship points with three drivers in one season, having already scored with Ford Martini drivers Thomas Rådström and Petter Solberg.
It was only on the final 40.34km special stage that the experience of the legendary Finn edged out Jean-Joseph from sixth. The result was even more remarkable for Jean-Joseph, contesting his first Sanremo Rally, 12th round of the championship.
The 30-year-old Martinique-based Frenchman said the final stages had been a real test for both his driving skills and nerves. "It's been a difficult few days, both getting to grips with the Ford Focus WRC and learning about the stages,'' he said. "When we saw second-placed François Delecour stopped at the start of stage 17 we decided not to take any more risks and ensure that we picked up the world championship point by driving steadily on the final two tests.''
"This event was a big challenge as I have only completed one other rally this season. To drive a World Rally Car again after so long away from competition was not easy. I've made a few mistakes during the three days but that's down to a lack of experience of both the car and the rally and I hope I've proved my value," Jean-Joseph said.
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson was naturally delighted by the performance of Jean-Joseph who set a string of top times during a rally which boasted one of the highest quality entries for many years. "This result gives the whole Ford Martini team a boost after our recent run of bad luck. This point is something upon which we can build and we can leave here knowing we've got a very competitive package.''
He said the team had made significant progress in developing the car since the last asphalt rally in Corsica in May. "We certainly proved how competitive the Focus is during yesterday's twisty tests when Colin McRae won two special stages and we can go to the penultimate round in Australia next month in confident mood after two of the cars reached the finish without any technical difficulties.''
Norwegian Petter Solberg brought his Focus WRC home in 27th place but lost out on the chance of moving up after the day's two longest stages were cancelled following accidents to other competitors. "After sliding off the road on the first morning of the rally we concentrated on learning more about the Focus and the rally for the future.''
News from our Rivals
Current world champion Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi) won after a tough duel on the final stage - the longest of the rally - with Gilles Panizzi (Peugeot). The rally lead changed after each of today's four stages but Mäkinen overhauled Panizzi on that final test to put him back in the driving seat for this year's championship. Closest rival Didier Auriol (Toyota) finished third after a troublefree final day to extend his team's lead in the manufacturers' standings. Among today's leading retirements were François Delecour (Peugeot) who led for much of the rally before stopping at the start of the penultimate stage with a broken alternator belt. Citröen driver Philippe Bugalski crashed out on the final stage while Seat pair Piero Liatti (transmission) and Toni Gardemiester (engine) also failed to make the seafront finish in Sanremo.
FIA World Championship contenders make their final long journey of the season when they travel to Perth for the Rally Australia, the penultimate round of the series, on 4-6 November. Final positions 1. T Mäkinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 4hr 26min 45.0sec 2. G Panizzi/H Panizzi F Peugeot 206 4hr 27min 03.0sec 3. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Toyota Corolla 4hr 27min 27.2sec 4. F Loix/S Smeets B Mitsubishi Carisma 4hr 29min 58.1sec 5. A Aghini/L Roggia I Toyota Corolla 4hr 30min 35.2sec 6. J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Subaru Impreza 4hr 30min 45.5sec 7. S Jean Joseph/F Gallagher F Ford Focus 4hr 30min 59.5sec 8. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 4hr 31min 25.8sec 9. G Cunico/L Pirollo I Subaru Impreza 4hr 32min 35.2sec 10 A Navarra/S Fedeli I Ford Escort 4hr 34min 47.3sec
1999 FIA World Rally Championship (after round 12 of 14) Drivers Manufacturers 1. T Mäkinen 58pts 1. Toyota 103pts 2. D Auriol 52pts 2. Subaru 79pts 3. J Kankkunen 38pts 3. Mitsubishi 74pts 4. C Sainz 38pts 4. Ford 36pts 5. R Burns 35pts 5. Seat 18pts 6. C McRae 23pts 6. Peugeot 9pts