Ford retained the lead of the FIA World Rally Championship after Markko MÃ¤rtin and Michael Park finished third on the gruelling Cyprus Rally today. It was the fourth podium finish in five rounds for the Ford BP Rallye Sport duo and their Focus RS...
Ford retained the lead of the FIA World Rally Championship after Markko Märtin and Michael Park finished third on the gruelling Cyprus Rally today. It was the fourth podium finish in five rounds for the Ford BP Rallye Sport duo and their Focus RS World Rally Car and the team leads the manufacturers' standings by two points. Märtin and Park lie third in the drivers' table, just two points from the lead.
Twisty, rock-strewn gravel roads in the mountains in the centre of the Mediterranean island and air temperatures approaching 30°C provided a stern test for cars, drivers and tyres. But Märtin's Castrol-backed Focus RS found just the right blend of speed, reliability and strength during the three-day rally which comprised 17 speed tests and 296.35km of competition.
After the severe disadvantage of starting the special stages first on the opening day, when loose gravel provided slippery conditions and reduced traction, Märtin regained time during the second leg to climb to third. He maintained that position during today's third and final leg to finish just 15.1sec behind second-placed Sebastien Loeb.
"I believed it was possible for us to catch Sebastien today," said 28-year-old Märtin. "But he drove very well and there was no point in taking risks because it was quite slippery this morning. If you take risks then you put more wear onto the tyres and that is counter-productive. He wasn't to be caught but I hope that will change on the next rally. We've driven well this weekend. Third was where I would have predicted we would finish and we maintained the same speed from start to finish.
"We were first to tackle the stages on Friday and that was a difficult day, but we knew that was going to be the case. Once you lose time here, it's hard to regain it. I'm happy to be third in the championship going into the next round in Greece because that will give us a better start position. I'm actually pleased not to be leading because it would be a big disadvantage to have to start first during the opening day there. I think we'll be strong there," he added.
Märtin survived a late scare when all the gearbox oil leaked out with more than two stages remaining. "After about 5km of stage 16 we could smell oil and then the warning light came on. The gearbox was getting quite hot but all was OK. It must be a very strong gearbox to run with no oil," he said.
Ford BP team director Malcolm Wilson said: "In my view this is the hardest rally in the world championship and we have produced a good, solid performance which keeps us in the lead of the manufacturers' series. We finished a tough rally with no serious problems. We have identified some areas where we can make improvements so we have scheduled an extra test in Greece before the next round."
News from our Rivals
Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) scored his first victory since Argentina last year to move into the lead of the drivers' championship. His winning margin over Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) was 54.0sec and he now leads the series by a single point from the Frenchman. Loeb survived a small fire at the rear of the car near the end of stage 13. Team-mate Carlos Sainz finished fourth behind Märtin, ahead of Harri Rovanperä (Peugeot) who had another replacement gearbox fitted midway through the day after continued troubles. Petter Solberg (Subaru) climbed back to sixth after his opening day problems, moving ahead of team-mate Mikko Hirvonen who lost time after hitting a rock and breaking his car's power steering on the opening stage. The final drivers' point went to the M-Sport-run Focus RS of Janne Tuohino in eighth.
The world championship remains in the eastern Mediterranean for round six. Greece hosts the Acropolis Rally, another hot and rough gravel event which is based in the central Greek town of Lamia on 3 - 6 June.