Ford's Finns strive for winning farewell in 150th start at Rally GB Newly-crowned world rally champion BP-Ford aims to add the drivers' title to its second- consecutive manufacturers' success in the FIA World Rally Championship in Wales next...
Ford's Finns strive for winning farewell in 150th start at Rally GB
Newly-crowned world rally champion BP-Ford aims to add the drivers' title to its second- consecutive manufacturers' success in the FIA World Rally Championship in Wales next week. Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen have their sights set on celebrating their 150th WRC start by securing a third world title on Rally GB (29 November - 2 December) on their final event before retiring from the sport.
The Finns stand second in the record books with 30 WRC victories, five of which have come this season in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. They head into the final event of the 16-round series with everything to do after losing their long-time lead to arch-rival Sebastien Loeb in Ireland earlier this month. They lie six points behind the Frenchman and must win in Wales and hope that Loeb finishes sixth or lower to claim the title.
Gronholm, who has been given a clean bill of health after crashing in Ireland, knows he faces a tough task but can draw on the unpredictability of Rally GB to aid his challenge. The hilly forests of south Wales, where the three-day rally is based, can be evil in late November as unpredictable wintry weather poses the biggest single challenge to competitors.
All but one of the 17 speed tests are held on privately-owned gravel tracks. Most are in regular use, either by military vehicles on the most northerly special stages, or by lorries transporting logs to timber yards.
Narrow tree-lined sections high in the Vale of Neath forests contrast with wide open sections, both on the military land and where forestry work has removed the trees. If the weather is gloomy, fog can hang between the trees in the forests while throwing a white blanket across the exposed areas on higher land. The roads are fast and flowing and invite drivers to attack but at this time of the year they can be treacherously slippery and even icy if true wintry weather sets in. And, in a return to the past, Friday and Saturday's legs will include tests in full darkness.
Thirty-nine-year-old Gronholm has won twice from 10 previous starts, last year providing Ford with its first British win since 1979. Apart from the desire to end his career on a high, Gronholm has national pride on which to draw.
"It will be difficult to win the title but I have a chance and have to make the most of that opportunity. What happened in Formula 1 is a good example. With two races left, Kimi Raikkonen had a big gap to make up to win the title -- and succeeded. That's a big spur for me because for Finland to win both the Formula 1 and the WRC titles would be something special for my country," he said.
"I don't feel under pressure because it is out of my hands now. All I can do is try to win the rally and hope Seb has problems. This is my 150th WRC start so it would be great to mark that and my last rally with a victory. But it's the title I'm thinking about. I would swap a win for a top three finish and the title if that was all that was required," he added.
This will be the fifth Rally GB start for BP-Ford team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen, who have only one aim. "All we can do is to try to finish in front of Loeb and do our best to help Marcus," said 27-year-old Hirvonen. "The roads in Wales will be fast and slippery and after my win in Japan last month, I feel confident in those conditions. The uncertain weather is the biggest concern on this rally. Some stages will be held entirely in the dark and if it rains or is foggy then it will be extremely tricky.
"I've not driven proper stages in the dark since the Monte Carlo Rally in January but when I began my rallying career in Finland there were plenty of night stages so I'm used to it. Our pace notes will be more precise than usual in case it is foggy in the forests so that's also a benefit for the night stages," added Hirvonen.
* Rally GB will mark the final event for Jost Capito at the helm of Ford's European motorsport programmes. At the end of the season he will take up a new role as Vehicle Line Director for Ford Performance Vehicles within the company's Product Development organisation. Mark Deans will take up the new role of Motorsport Director for Ford of Europe from January 1 2008. "I'm proud to have been heading Ford's rally programme during the most successful period in our history," said Capito. "We've won back-to-back manufacturers' titles in the last two seasons and the Focus RS has won 15 WRC events in that period." Capito will make a farewell speech during Happy Hour in the BP-Ford service area at Swansea at 18.00 on Wednesday 28 November.
* BP-Ford will use BFGoodrich's g-Force gravel tyre for the low-wear loose surface roads. The pattern is relatively compact to ensure a maximum amount of rubber is in contact with the ground for the best possible grip and traction. The grooves can be hand cut to open them if there is a lot of loose gravel on the road surface or if the tracks become muddy. The tyres will be available in soft and medium compounds.
* The team has launched a new public website packed with news and inside information from the team. As well as containing news and views from key team personnel from all WRC rounds, the site also contains profiles of the drivers and co-drivers, action photographs, technical details about the Focus RS WRC, downloads, games and much more. The site can be found at www.bpfordwrc.com