BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen finished fourth on the Rally Argentina today after winning a tremendous final day duel with Harri Rovanpera. The Finns' Ford Focus RS World Rally Car edged out their fellow ...
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen finished fourth on the Rally Argentina today after winning a tremendous final day duel with Harri Rovanpera. The Finns' Ford Focus RS World Rally Car edged out their fellow countryman by 5.6 seconds after their battle, which raged from the very first kilometre of this ninth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, climaxed on the icy mountain tracks of central Argentina this morning.
Gardemeister extended his consistent run which has seen his Castrol-branded Focus RS finish in the points on all nine rounds this season. He is one of only two drivers to achieve this feat and now lies fourth in the points standings. Ford remains third in the manufacturers' series.
BP-Ford team-mates Roman Kresta and Jan Mozný finished 11th in their similar Focus RS on their Argentine debut. Privately-entered drivers Antony Warmbold and Michael Orr and Luis Perez Companc and Jose Maria Volta finished 12th and 14th respectively, ensuring that all four Focus RS cars completed the tough four-day event, which comprised 340.82km of competition.
Freezing temperatures and roadside snow in the Traslasierra mountains, west of the rally base in Villa Carlos Paz, made conditions treacherous this morning. Temperatures were down to -3C as competitors headed into the moonlike mountain landscape for two of the toughest and most famous speed tests in the entire championship. Two passes over the rocky roads of El Condor and one run through the equally gruelling Giulio Cèsare lay in wait.
Thirty-year-old Gardemeister fought for seconds with Rovanpera from Thursday evening's start. He began today's final leg 11.0sec ahead of his rival. However, Rovanpera sliced that to 5.9sec through the first 16.82km El Condor special stage. Gardemeister retaliated to set fastest time in the 24.45km Giulio Cèsare and the pair were split by 0.5sec on the repeat of El Condor.
As the drivers returned to the Pro-Racing motorsport complex for the final two short speed tests, Gardemeister held a 7.8sec advantage. Those final two stages, held in glorious sunshine in front of a capacity 40,000 crowd and broadcast live on television across south America and Europe, saw two drivers at a time race head-to-head around a purpose-built gravel track. The BP-Ford driver controlled his pace superbly to hold off Rovanpera.
"It was a difficult day, in fact it was a very difficult rally," said Gardemeister. "The roads this morning were icy but I had no choice other than to drive flat out to try to keep Harri behind me. The road surface changed from dry to wet to icy and it's hard to drive in constantly changing conditions. I set fastest time in the longest stage but we had a few lucky escapes in there.
"The weekend has been good, although I would have liked to be on the podium. If conditions had remained as dry as they were during the recce period then I think that would have been possible. But fourth is a good, solid result and that's my ninth consecutive points finish with the Focus RS this season which is good, reliable form," he added.
Kresta started the final day in 10th in his Focus RS but the icy conditions caught out the 29-year-old Czech. "I went off the road once and slid wide twice in the Giulio Cèsare stage and lost more than 20 seconds," he said. "The stage was very difficult and as slippery as hell." With no opportunity to regain the lost time, Kresta took no risks through the final stages to finish 11th.
"My feeling with the car wasn't perfect today. Some of my stages times this weekend were good and others weren't. The car has performed well but I'm not happy with my result, although maybe for my first time here it's not so bad," added Kresta.
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted that Gardemeister came out on top in his personal battle. "This was a great performance from Toni bearing in mind that he didn't do the rally last year. I'm pleased he has kept his points scoring run intact and this result should give him extra confidence going into his home event in Finland next month. It has kept the team in a strong position in the manufacturers' championship," he said.
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Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) claimed his sixth successive victory to equal the record for the most wins in a season set by fellow countryman Didier Auriol in 1992. However, Auriol's victories were not consecutive. Loeb eased through the final day to win by 26.1sec from Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) with Petter Solberg (Subaru) completing the podium. Behind Gardemeister and Rovanpera (Mitsubishi), Markko Martin (Peugeot) completed the top six while Francois Duval (Citroen) marked his return to the series with seventh. Ninth for Chris Atkinson (Subaru) was enough to earn his team the final manufacturers' point.