Ford Martini drivers Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya sped to their second podium finish of the FIA World Rally Championship season today when they finished third on the gruelling four-day Rally of Portugal. The Spanish pairing, driving a Ford Focus...
Ford Martini drivers Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya sped to their second podium finish of the FIA World Rally Championship season today when they finished third on the gruelling four-day Rally of Portugal. The Spanish pairing, driving a Ford Focus World Rally Car, climbed to fourth in the drivers' championship standings and maintained the Ford Martini team's record of scoring points on each of the four rounds so far.
Thirty-seven-year-old Sainz was untroubled during today's final three speed tests around the town of Ponte de Lima, close to the Spanish frontier. With his position under no threat from behind, he adopted a cautious policy through the day's 60km of competitive driving and returned to the finish in Porto more than a minute ahead of fourth-placed Harri Rovanperä.
Sainz claimed three stage victories during the 1646km rally and was encouraged by the performance of his Focus over the tough Iberian gravel tracks, which took a heavy toll on many of the leading cars and drivers. Well over half the 110 starters failed to finish.
"This was my first pure gravel rally in the Focus and initially it took time for me to settle," said Sainz. "But I quickly came to terms with the car and the fact that I was able to set fastest times shows we're at a pretty good level of performance on gravel.
"It was a tough rally for everyone, especially yesterday evening when the thick dust clouds hanging among the trees made driving at speed extremely difficult and emphasised the importance of accurate pace notes.
"I'm now looking forward to the Catalunya Rally, which of course is my home event. In a way it's like another debut because that will be the first proper asphalt rally for me in the Focus and so we'll have a good indication of where we are with the car on that surface," added the Madrid-based driver.
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson was happy with another points scoring finish. "I said before the rally that at this point of the season it's important to accumulate points regularly. We've done that again here with our third podium finish of the season and Carlos has produced his usual professional, consistent performance to finish well. It's pleasing that Carlos, Colin McRae and Petter Solberg all set fastest times during the rally and only only one other team bettered our total of six stage wins.
"The new development engine on Carlos' car ran faultlessly and that gives us great confidence because we know there's more development to come. We also cured the first day problems that Carlos and Colin had with the new steering system and having done that we had no further troubles," he added.
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Richard Burns (Subaru) came from behind to lead for the third time on the rally, overhauling Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) on the penultimate stage. He began the final test with a lead of 1.7sec and extended that to win by 6.5sec. It was his second consecutive victory and lifted him into the lead of the championship. Elsewhere caution was the order of the day. Behind Sainz, private entry Harri Rovanperä (Toyota), Francois Delecour (Peugeot) and Markko Martin (Toyota), another non-works driver, maintained their overnight formation to secure the final drivers' points. Freddy Loix (Mitsubishi) and Armin Schwarz (Skoda) secured the final manufacturers' points. There were no major retirements today.
The hectic start to the season continues as the championship remains in Iberia, crossing the border into Spain for the next round. The coastal resort of Lloret de Mar is the base for the all-asphalt Catalunya Rally on 31 March - 2 April.