WRC

Rally Argentina: Ford final notes

Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot claimed their third podium finish of the season when they finished third on the Rally Argentina today. Their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car avoided the serious problems which hindered...

Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot claimed their third podium finish of the season when they finished third on the Rally Argentina today. Their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car avoided the serious problems which hindered the challenge of many of their rivals on this demanding eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, allowing the Belgians to claim their fifth points finish of the campaign.

Much of the 382.63km of speed tests was new to Duval who was competing here for only the second time. However, experienced co-driver Prevot was able to offer valuable advice to his 23-year-old partner to guide him through the toughest sections of the four-day rally. It was Ford BP's seventh podium of the season and the result strengthened the team's hold on second in the manufacturers' championship. Duval maintains sixth in the drivers' standings.

The Cordoba province, 700km north of Buenos Aires, has not seen rain for several months and the gravel tracks were sandy and dusty for most of the 1347.27km route. The conditions took a heavy toll and only 29 of the 69 starters reached the finish at Cordoba's soccer stadium.

Today's third leg covered 84.96km north and west of the rally base in Villa Carlos Paz and ended with a sting in the tail. The famous Giulio Cesare and El Condor special stages, rising to over 2200 metres amid the moonlike landscape of the Traslasierra mountains, are rocky and tough and many drivers regard them as the most difficult tests of the entire championship. Today, however, they were in benign mood and with large time gaps separating the top drivers there was no need to take risks and none of the leaders encountered serious problems.

Duval's policy of caution from the start paid off. He climbed to third during the opening two legs as many of his rivals fell by the wayside and cruised through today's final five tests with no problems to secure a podium place.

"It's a great result for the team, especially after Markko's bad crash," he said. "The car hasn't been so easy to drive but we've had no real problems and I made no mistakes. The roads were difficult, especially yesterday and today. There were many new stages for me as it's only my second time here so I've not pushed too hard and I'm delighted to be on the podium. It's incredible to see the huge crowds and it's been great to drive in front of so many people."

"The first stage this morning was awful. The sun was so low that visibility was poor and, even with three-minute gaps between cars, there was so much dust hanging in the air that it was difficult to see. Because I was driving cautiously, I felt I was driving badly. I wasn't happy with my driving this morning but I had to continue to be careful," he added.

Prevot revealed that before the season he set a target of podium finishes on both the Monte Carlo Rally and Rally Argentina. The pair finished third on both. "They are special rallies for me so it's fantastic to achieve that target," said Prevot.

Ford BP team director Malcolm Wilson paid tribute to Duval's performance. "To come to Argentina and finish on the podium on only his second start here was an excellent display. We had a safety-first plan for him from the start and he followed the instructions perfectly. During the weekend we've seen how difficult this rally is and this was another extremely mature drive from someone who is still only 23 years of age."

Markko Martin and Michael Park have been cleared to fly back to Europe today following Friday's accident. Both will fly to Britain where Martin will visit a specialist tomorrow evening for further tests as the 28-year-old Estonian is still suffering from blurred vision.

The crash happened after his Castrol-branded Focus RS landed on bed rock jutting out of the track after a flat out jump. Martin admitted he had not seen the rock during the recce and it was not in his pace notes. But he added: "The crash could maybe have been avoided. I didn't see the rock in the recce. But if we had a gravel crew checking the stages, they may have noted it and I'm not sure whether the accident would have happened."

Martin's appearance in a Focus RS at the PlayStation 2 Rally Experience at Punchestown in Ireland next Sunday has been cancelled. "After such a heavy accident it is important that Markko rests and receives the necessary medical treatment. On the advice of our medical staff we have unfortunately had to withdraw him from the event. This will be a big disappointment to the Irish fans but Markko's well-being must come first," explained Wilson.

News from our Rivals

Carlos Sainz (Citroen) cruised through the leg to win by 1min 32.5sec and become the most successful rally driver in history. This was his 26th world rally victory, edging one ahead of ex-Ford driver Colin McRae. Team-mate Sebastien Loeb was second to extend his championship lead to 17 points. Behind Duval, Mikko Hirvonen (Subaru), Harri Rovanpera (Peugeot) and Argentine private entrant Luiz Perez Companc maintained their overnight placings. Gilles Panizzi (Mitsubishi) completed his recovery after first day problems to finish back in the drivers' points in seventh.

Next round

The second half of the season begins with the fastest rally on the calendar. The all-gravel Rally Finland, based in Jyvaskyla on 6-8 August, is known to locals as 'The Finnish Grand Prix'.

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team