Ford scored a double points haul on the Swedish Rally today to maintain its strong start to the FIA World Rally Championship. The Ford Focus RS World Rally Car of Janne Tuohino and Jukka Aho finished fourth after three days of tough competition in...
Ford scored a double points haul on the Swedish Rally today to maintain its strong start to the FIA World Rally Championship. The Ford Focus RS World Rally Car of Janne Tuohino and Jukka Aho finished fourth after three days of tough competition in the snowy pine forests of central Sweden while Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Markko Märtin and Michael Park were seventh in a similar car. Ford lies second in the manufacturers' standings and is the only team to have scored points with both cars on the opening two rounds of the 2004 campaign.
After unusually warm temperatures before the start, winter returned to the Varmland area of Sweden with several centimetres of snow falling overnight and heavy flurries today. Two loops of three speed tests, covering 96.60km, comprised the final day and organisers sent snow ploughs through the special stages before the action began to help clear the fresh snow.
Tuohino and Aho, driving an M-Sport run Focus RS but nominated for points by Ford due to their experience of this rally, began the day in fourth but only 0.8sec ahead of Carlos Sainz. A thrilling battle ensued between the duo. Sainz edged ahead on the opening stage before Tuohino fought back with a stage victory to arrive at the midday service park with a lead of 0.2sec. He was fastest on another test and the pressure paid off as Sainz lost time on the final two stages with an overheating engine, allowing the 28-year-old Finn to claim a career-best result and sixth in the drivers' championship.
"A happy ending to the weekend would have been for Carlos to finish behind me and that's what happened," said Tuohino. "This morning I made my tyre choice based on the middle stage, which was the longest and most important of the three. Snow tyres were the right choice and we were fastest. I'm really happy with the result and delighted with two fastest times, but still a little unhappy to have dropped time at the end of the second day otherwise I may have finished third. I came here to enjoy myself on my first rally for Ford and I've done that."
Märtin and Park, who led the rally comfortably for much of the opening two days before hitting a rock buried in a snow bank yesterday afternoon and losing six minutes, re-started this morning in eighth in their Castrol-backed Focus RS. They climbed to seventh and consolidated that position over the final three stages to boost Ford's points tally. Märtin now lies third in the championship.
"One mistake yesterday cost us a lot," said the 28-year-old Estonian. "It has been a strange rally as everyone seems to have made mistakes but we paid a high price for ours. On Friday we did everything we could to take the lead, but in the end it just didn't happen for us. I'm disappointed for myself and for the team. It will take a while to get over this. It hurts a lot and I still can't believe it happened. Let's see how many days it takes before I sleep properly again. Sweden has a lot of surprises for me. I can drive fast here but I can't put it altogether. People say drivers shouldn't lean on the snow banks but you have to here, it's part of the job. We were just unlucky that there was a rock there."
Ford BP team-mates François Duval and Stéphane Prévot, lying 46th overnight after going off the road yesterday, were first to tackle today's stages, unwittingly acting as a snow plough to sweep away the fresh snow and leave a clearer path for those behind. It gave Duval the opportunity to try Michelin's snow tyres for the first time and the 23-year-old Belgian was delighted with the traction and braking. However, he slid off the road again on the first corner of the penultimate stage and dropped more than three minutes before he could regain the road. "Shortly after the start I just slid into a ditch," said Duval. "Fortunately there were about 70 people there who helped push us back onto the road."
He completed the final test, satisfied to have gained crucial experience of the most specialised rally in the championship and to have improved his pace notes for future years. With that job completed he was withdrawn by the team at the final service park. "We have done all the stages, which has given me more experience, and made improvements to our notes and that's good for next year," he added. "I wasn't nominated for points so that took the pressure off me. My result wasn't really important but I would have preferred to have spent less time pushing and digging my way out of the snow!"
Ford BP team director Malcolm Wilson reflected on a mixed weekend. "Janne drove superbly to support the decision to nominate him. To come out on top in a final day fight with a double world champion is impressive. Markko was in control of this rally until he went off the road. That was disappointing but he brought the car home in the points so there was some consolation. François has again learned a lot and will return here next season all the better for his experience this year. It has been a good rally for the reliability of the Focus. Eight Focus cars started and all eight finished all the stages," he said.
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Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) broke the Nordic domination of this event by becoming the first driver from outside Sweden or Finland to win the rally in its 54-year history. He claimed his second consecutive WRC victory, finishing 46.4sec ahead of Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot). His task was made easier when Grönholm spun on the opening stage and dropped more than 30 seconds. Petter Solberg (Subaru) completed the podium with private entrant and brother Henning completing the top six behind Tuohino and the limping Carlos Sainz (Citroen), whose engine troubles on the last two stages cost 30 seconds. Another private entrant, Daniel Carlsson, scored the final drivers' point in eighth. Forty-nine of the 69 starters crossed the finish line in Karlstad.