Ford Martini driver FranÃ§ois Delecour gave his support to the Rallye Deutschland's campaign for world championship status after Focus World Rally Cars took two of the top three placings on the inaugural event which ended in Trier this ...
Ford Martini driver François Delecour gave his support to the Rallye Deutschland's campaign for world championship status after Focus World Rally Cars took two of the top three placings on the inaugural event which ended in Trier this afternoon.
Delecour and co-driver Daniel Grataloup finished third in their Focus RS, just 4.9sec behind the second-placed Red Bull-backed Focus of Raimund Baumschlager and Klaus Wicha after three days of asphalt competition in south-west Germany. Frenchman Delecour, part of the Ford Martini team which currently leads the FIA World Rally Championship, said he would be happy to see the rally succeed in its bid for championship status next year.
"The stages are mostly good enough to be in the championship and the organisation of the rally was also up to standard, except in one or two minor areas," he said. "The first day's stages weren't so enjoyable because there were too many junctions and hairpin bends but those on the second and third legs were excellent. The second day on the Baumholder military land was very tough and the roads were fantastic to drive.
"The third leg stages remind me of those in northern France and there's nothing like that in the championship at the moment. It's important that the series has a variety of different rallies and this event would bring something new to the championship. Each day here is like a different rally because the roads are so varied," he said.
Tyre problems and two spins during Friday's sun-baked opening leg in the vineyards of the Mosel region left Delecour in eighth. However, he recovered superbly on the dauntingly fast and flowing roads of Baumholder, used by the US Army for tank training exercises, to climb to fourth.
Pirelli's soft compound rubber was ideal for the cool temperatures on the final leg in the Saarland region and Delecour posted fastest time on four of the five stages as he attacked hard in his attempt to overhaul Baumschlager.
"I think if there had been one more stage we would have caught Raimund and taken second but we lost a little too much time both on the first day and on the second leg when we had to stop and change a puncture. But many drivers had two or three punctures on Baumholder so we can't complain about that," added Delecour.
Baumschlager's Focus never missed a beat as the Austrian claimed his best result since joining the Red Bull team at the start of the season. Always in the top six positions, he climbed to second early on the final day and fought hard to fend off Delecour's charge.
"With the strength of the competition here, my best hope was to finish in the top four and so second was a big, big surprise," said Baumschlager. "Unlike most of the others, we avoided any punctures so I think good fortune was on our side. I tried to drive tidily and avoid the big kerbs on Baumholder, which paid off. This is a really big boost for me and I hope I can maintain this form in the Austrian Championship for the rest of the season."
Martin Rowe and Chris Wood, driving a works-entered two-wheel drive Ford Puma Kit Car, started well on their first visit to the rally and completed the opening leg second in the 1600cc class. However, the leaders of Britain's Formula Rally championship, crashed out on the second stage of the second day. Neither was hurt.
"We hit a big stone hidden in the grass on the inside of a bend," said Rowe. "The car rolled over two or three times and was too badly damaged to continue. It was disappointing because the foot and mouth problems in Britain meant this was my first major rally in the Puma for 12 months and I wanted as much time behind the wheel as possible. The good side is that there's been a tremendous improvement in the Puma in those 12 months, especially within the engine."
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After trailing German amateur Armin Kremer early on, Philippe Bugalski (Citroen) moved into the lead midway through the opening leg and was never headed. The Frenchman took control with fastest time on five of the seven second leg tests to win by 4min 27.2sec. World champion Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) was his closest challenger but when the Finn had to stop to change a puncture on the second afternoon, his victory chances had gone. Second looked likely but a sixth gear accident on the opening stage of the final leg cost two minutes and he slipped behind the battling Ford duo. Armin Schwarz (Skoda) retired from fourth on the opening stage of the second day with a broken propshaft.
Final positions 1. P Bugalski/J-P Chiaroni F Citroën Xsara 3hr 23min 12.7sec 2. R Baumschlager/K Wicha A Ford Focus 3hr 27min 39.9sec 3. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Ford Focus RS 3hr 27min 44.8sec 4. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 3hr 28min 02.6sec 5. M Kahle/D Schneppenheim D Seat Cordoba 3hr 28min 38.7sec 6. A Kremer/F Berssen D Toyota Corolla 3hr 29min 28.2sec