BP-Ford World Rally Team claimed its best result of the season in Corsica today to celebrate the centenary appearance of the Ford Focus World Rally Car. Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen finished second on the Rallye de France Tour de Corse in...
BP-Ford World Rally Team claimed its best result of the season in Corsica today to celebrate the centenary appearance of the Ford Focus World Rally Car. Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen finished second on the Rallye de France Tour de Corse in a Focus RS WRC, securing the 60th podium finish for the car on its 100th start in the FIA World Rally Championship. Team-mates Roman Kresta and Jan Tomanek were fifth in another Focus RS to emphasise Ford's best performance of 2005.
Second for Gardemeister on round 14 of the 16-event series equalled his career-best result and lifted him to fourth in the drivers' standings. Fifth for Kresta was the best finish of his career and also the highest world rally finish for a Czech driver. The double points haul enabled Ford to strengthen its third place in the manufacturers' championship.
The winding, bumpy asphalt roads of the Mediterranean island provide the toughest sealed surface challenge of the season. The craggy mountain speed tests of Corsica's west coast demand precision from both driver and co-driver. Gardemeister and Honkanen were second fastest on five of the three-day event's 12 special stages, covering 341.68km, and third fastest on five more.
The inconsistent weather often plays a decisive part in the outcome here. But sunshine throughout provided few of the tyre selection dilemmas normally associated with the rally and Michelin's dry weather medium compound rubber was the choice for both Ford Focus RS drivers all rally.
Gardemeister was in the top three for all but one of the 12 stages in his Castrol-branded Focus RS, and climbed to second yesterday morning. He stretched his advantage over his pursuers to return to the finish in the Corsican capital of Ajaccio with a 50.3sec lead over Petter Solberg.
"It means a lot to me to be second behind a driver who was fastest on every stage," said the 30-year-old Finn. "It's my best asphalt performance. I felt sure I could take a good result because I knew the Focus RS is a great car on asphalt and I quickly realised that if I didn't make any mistakes, then everything would be fine. The car, Jakke, and I worked well together all weekend.
"Today's stages were quite dirty, with gravel and stones on the asphalt, and on the final stage I just kept the car in the middle of the road to avoid the mud and filth. Generally the stages were tricky when they were dirty and in such situations I decided to take things carefully. I really like next weekend's Rally Catalunya so let's see if we can do as well or even better," he added.
Kresta had not competed here since 2002 and most of the stages had changed so much that he treated this as a new rally in his preparations. His confidence grew as the event progressed and he steadily climbed the leaderboard to start the final leg in sixth. He took fifth on the opening test this morning and paced himself superbly to finish 6.3sec ahead of Alex Bengue.
"I feel very proud this afternoon," he said. "Proud for Ford, proud for my country and proud for myself. The team sent me Bengue's split times all day and I was able to pace myself accordingly so as not to take unnecessary risks. I was worried before the start on Thursday evening. I knew this would be a difficult event because I had little experience of the roads. But things went a lot better than I expected. On Friday I drove carefully but it was probably worth it because it settled my nerves."
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted to celebrate the Focus' 100th start with such a good result. "Both cars ran faultlessly. It was a great drive from Toni from the beginning to the end and his consistency was superb. We knew Loeb would be virtually unbeatable on his home rally so this is almost like a win. I'm delighted with Roman's performance. He drove sensibly and in a controlled manner and when he was under pressure today, he managed it well," he said.
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Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) created rallying history by setting fastest time on all 12 speed tests en route to his ninth win of the season. No driver has ever claimed a clean sweep on a world rally before. Petter Solberg (Subaru) secured third behind Gardemeister despite a late scare. He had a gear selection problem on the penultimate stage and then struggled to move the car off the line at the start of the final test. Team-mate Sarrazin took fourth while sixth for Alex Bengue (Skoda) was his best result and the best finish of the year for the Czech team. Nicolas Bernardi (Peugeot) claimed the final drivers' point on his debut for the French team while 10th for Harri Rovanpera (Mitsubishi) was enough for the final manufacturers' point after a troubled rally.
There is no time to pause for breath as the championship moves swiftly onto Spain's Rally Catalunya - Costa Daurada which is based in Salou on 27 - 30 October. Another asphalt event, competitors will be required to use the same chassis and engine they drove in Corsica.