Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot finished fourth on the Acropolis Rally today after the Greek event lived up to its reputation as one of the most gruelling events in the FIA World Rally Championship. This sixth...
Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot finished fourth on the Acropolis Rally today after the Greek event lived up to its reputation as one of the most gruelling events in the FIA World Rally Championship. This sixth round became a rally of attrition as rocky mountain tracks sidelined more than half the entry, but Duval and Prevot headed a quartet of Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars on the leaderboard.
Duval's Focus RS never missed a beat during the 377.13km of speed tests over four days in the mountains near Lamia. In finishing fourth, the Belgian pair extended Ford's record of scoring world championship points to 34 events, a figure unmatched by any other manufacturer. It dates back to the opening round of the 2002 season in Monte Carlo.
Pre-event rain and showers on the opening day ensured unusual conditions for the Acropolis. Wet roads and even mud made tyre selection difficult. And although temperatures rose to 26C, that is cool by Acropolis Rally standards and the heat did not impose the kind of stress on cars that is normally witnessed here. But the punishing rocks made strength and reliability as important as outright speed.
Duval held a top four position for the entire rally. After battling throughout yesterday's second leg for second place with Sebastien Loeb and Harri Rovanpera, the 23-year-old eased off today. Competing on special stages he had never driven before, Duval refused to take unnecessary risks in fighting with his more experienced rivals and happily settled for fourth.
The result leaves Ford second in the manufacturers championship, just five points behind the leaders. Duval climbs to fifth in the drivers' standings while Ford BP team-mate Markko Martin, who retired on Friday's opening leg, is third.
"It's been a good weekend," said Duval. "A podium would have been nice. We tried to match Rovanpera and Loeb early this morning but could not do it so we eased off and settled for fourth. We didn't want to take any risks and that tactic paid off. This is the first time I have finished the event in four starts.
"Today was especially hard because all the stages were new to me. But we have made improvements to our pace notes as well as driving quickly and that's good for the future. With Markko having retired on Friday, it was important to finish and score points for Ford," he added.
Martin and co-driver Michael Park continued their testing programme today under the experimental 'SupeRally' system, which allows retired cars to re-start in subsequent legs. After tyre and suspension work yesterday in their Castrol-backed Focus RS, they concentrated on trying different differential settings and more tyre work today. With no pressure of competition, they even had time to stop for an ice-cream after the final stage en route to the finish!
Ford BP team director Malcolm Wilson was full of praise for Duval. "Francois drove very well, a real professional effort considering he had many new stages to contend with. He set a good pace from the beginning and has been impressive throughout. Markko completed some valuable testing for us over the last two days which is important for the next round in Turkey, which will be held in similar conditions," he said.
Three privately-entered Focus RS cars also claimed top 10 finishes. Janne Tuohino and Jukka Aho were seventh, Aris Vovos and El-Em eighth and Antony Warmbold and Gemma Price ninth. All three cars were run by M-Sport.
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Late last night leader Petter Solberg (Subaru) received a 30 second penalty for not having mudguards fitted to his car earlier in the day, slicing his lead to just 28.5sec. However, he remained in control throughout today to win by 18.4sec. Harri Rovanpera (Peugeot) and Sebastian Loeb (Citroen) enjoyed a thrilling battle for second. Loeb closed in on the second-placed Finn during the morning before moving ahead in the afternoon and holding on to claim the runners-up spot by 9.9sec. Behind Duval, Daniel Carlsson was the leading private entrant in fifth ahead of Manfred Stohl. Tuohino and Vovos claimed the final drivers points. Gilles Panizzi (Mitsubishi) was on course for sixth until engine problems this afternoon cost him four places. Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot), re-starting today under the 'SupeRally' system, rolled on the first stage this morning but continued.
The championship remains in the eastern Mediterranean for the third consecutive round later this month. The Rally of Turkey, another hot weather, rough road event, is based in the south coast resort of Kemer, near Antalya, on 24 - 27 June.