Ford scoops double points haul on Monte Carlo Rally. Ford Rallye Sport's young drivers overcame their inexperience of the world's most technically demanding rally to claim a double points finish on the Monte Carlo Rally today.
Ford scoops double points haul on Monte Carlo Rally.
Ford Rallye Sport's young drivers overcame their inexperience of the world's most technically demanding rally to claim a double points finish on the Monte Carlo Rally today. Twenty-seven-year-old Markko M?rtin and co-driver Michael Park claimed fourth place on this snowy and icy opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship in a Focus RS World Rally Car. Team-mates 22-year-old Fran?ois Duval and Jean-Marc Fortin scored their first ever points by finishing seventh in a similar car.
Both pairings have competed in the treacherous French Alpine mountains only once previously, in 2002 when conditions on the narrow and twisty asphalt roads were dry, in contrast to this year when large sections of the 13 speed tests were affected by winter weather. As a result tyre selection was complicated, drivers often encountering snow, slush, ice and dry asphalt on the same special stage, placing a huge emphasis on experience when trying to choose the rubber which would suit the ever-changing conditions the best.
Drivers faced four tests today, covering the final 104.20km of the three-day rally's 382.91km. The route was contained in the mountains directly above Monaco and included the climb of the legendary Col de Turini. Fires flickering on the mountainside to keep the spectators warm, many of whom spent the night there to obtain a good viewing position, waving flags and the sound of air horns greeted competitors as they sped to the summit
Estonian M?rtin, left exhausted by yesterday's illness which left him feeling listless and lacking strength, spent the last day engaged in a thrilling battle with former team-mate Carlos Sainz for the final podium place. Having re-started in fourth, almost 40 seconds behind Sainz, M?rtin capitalised on a superb tyre choice by Michelin's engineers to overhaul the Spaniard during the first loop of two stages, setting fastest time on the second test.
However, M?rtin spun into a wall on the penultimate stage, on the tricky climb to the summit of the Col de Turini and started the final 19.52km test just 3.4sec ahead of the Spaniard. He could not hold off Sainz to claim his second career podium, the Spaniard edging ahead by 3.3sec, but given M?rtin's illness and inexperience here, fourth was an excellent result.
"I still felt a bit weak because I didn't eat anything at all yesterday but at least I didn't spend the day feeling sick which was the case then," said M?rtin. "Carlos made it interesting for us. We had a good fight but ultimately our spin cost us third. Climbing to the col we slid into a wall and the car ended up facing the wrong way. We lost about 15sec but tried to regain the time on the downhill section and damaged the tyres. On the final test we couldn't match Carlos' pace because our tyres weren't at their best. Carlos gave us a gift but we couldn't use it. However, fourth is a good start to the season considering I didn't expect a lot from this rally."
Duval was under strict instructions not to take any risks and preserve Ford's points positions in the manufacturers' series. However, having started today in eighth, he climbed to seventh on the first stage and closed in on French driver Cedric Robert. They started the final test just 7.7sec apart but Duval missed out on a top six finish by an agonising four-tenths of a second.
"We had our instructions and took it quite easy because it was important to score the points for Ford," he said. "It's a shame we didn't catch Robert but it would have been silly to take any risks. It was a hard rally but the car worked well, the tyres were good and it's the first time I've scored world championship points so that's a boost for me. I feel like a proper team driver now!"
Ford Rallye Sport team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted by the team's result. "If someone had said before the rally that we would come away from this event with 10 points, given our lack of experience, I would have gladly accepted that. It took them a while to gain their confidence in tricky conditions but they were patient early on and they were rewarded. I'm disappointed for them both that they missed out on even better results by such a small margin. This result send out a strong message that our young drivers have huge potential and people will now be saying that they can't write us off," he said.
Ford claimed success this weekend on the European Championship Arctic Lapland Rally in Finland when Janne Tuohino piloted a Focus RS WRC to victory.
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French manufacturer Citroen claimed the top three positions, Sebastien Loeb taking his second world rally win ahead of Colin McRae to offset last year's disappointment when a rule infringement deprived him of victory. Sainz almost lost third after brake problems on the opening loop but recovered to edge out M?rtin. Richard Burns (Peugeot) cruised through the final day to claim fifth while team-mate and long-time rally leader Marcus Gr?nholm came home 13th to take the final manufacturer point. Two privately-entered drivers claimed top 10 finishes, Robert in sixth and Roman Kresta in 10th.
The championship's only all-snow rally is next on the calendar for competitors when Karlstad hosts the Swedish Rally on 6 - 9 February.