Hirvonen (Ford/BFGoodrich) takes the spoils in Perth, while the world crown goes to Loeb (Citroen/BFGoodrich)* Sebastien Loeb and his co-driver secure their third consecutive world title despite not being in Australia. * subject to...
Hirvonen (Ford/BFGoodrich) takes the spoils in Perth, while the world crown goes to Loeb (Citroen/BFGoodrich)*
Sebastien Loeb and his co-driver secure their third consecutive world title despite not being in Australia.
* subject to publication of the official results by the FIA
Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen (Ford/BFGoodrich) score their first WRC win. BP-Ford extends its lead over Kronos Total Citroen in the provisional Manufacturers' standings. Both are BFGoodrich partner teams.
This is not the first time a driver has clinched a world title without being present on an event. In 1998, Tommi Makinen had retired from the RAC Rally and was about to board a plane for Helsinki when a third Drivers' crown fell into his lap following the last-minute retirement of his rival Carlos Sainz, 800 metres from the end of the final stage!
Like Makinen, Sebastien Loeb (Citroen/BFGoodrich) secured his third title without fighting for it to the very end. Sitting some 20,000km away from Perth because of a forced convalescence following a fall while mountain biking, the Frenchman had to give both the Turkish and Australian rounds a miss, but his cushion at the top of the Drivers' points table was such that Marcus Gronholm needed to finish on the podium of all the remaining events if he was to stand any chance of stealing the glory from his absent rival. However, the Finn was unable to do any better than 5th 'down under' after he lost 10 minutes when he rolled on Friday morning. The incident dropped him to 40th overall and, despite a spirited fight back, his bid finally fell two places short of the top-three finish he needed.
Although he didn't have to fight for it this weekend, Loeb certainly merits the 2006 crown. With a personal score of eights victories and 12 podium finishes from the 12 events in which he has taken part so far this year, the Citroen/BFGoodrich driver has also profited from the season to establish a new record for the number of world class wins thanks to a total career tally of 28. "It's a genuine exploit," says Aime Chatard, BFGoodrich's Rallies Programme Manager. "As a tyre manufacturer, we are particularly proud to have contributed to his success. The World Rally Championship tests competitors over a wide variety of terrains, conditions and types of weather and the tyres must be able to adapt to all these different parameters. Sebastien, Daniel, their engineers and the BFGoodrich technician who works with Kronos made some excellent tyre choices in the course of the season. I'm thinking especially of the Monte Carlo Rally, Argentina, Germany and Cyprus. Bravo and a big thank you to Seb, Daniel and Kronos."
Meanwhile, at the age of 26, Mikko Hirvonen (Ford/BFGoodrich) today became the twelfth Finn to win a round of the World Championship since its creation. He too fully deserved his maiden WRC success which comes after an amazingly consistent season that has harvested 6 podium finishes from 11 starts. Handicapped by his status as first driver on the road pretty much throughout the opening leg, the Finnish youngster successfully completed Day 1 in front ahead of the 2003 Rally Australia winner Petter Solberg (Subaru). The next day, Hirvonen heroically
shrugged off pressure from the Norwegian over the classic 'Bunnings' stages despite the fact that his mission was to stay on the road and score as many Manufacturers' points as possible for BP-Ford.
Indeed, thanks to Hirvonen and Gronholm's combined efforts in Australia, BP-Ford has extended its cushion over Kronos Total Citroen in the provisional Manufacturers' standings to 16 points. The British team's Belgian rival had nominated two Spaniards - Xevi Pons and Dani Sordo - to represent it this weekend but Sordo, who was competing on this event for the very first time, suffered an early setback when his Xsara WRC gearbox seized barely 1km into the first true stage. He was able to re-start the next day, however, thanks to the SupeRally ruling and ultimately finished 24th which was worth one point for his team. His team-mate Xevi Pons was 3rd overall and battling with Peugeot/BFGoodrich's Manfred Stohl during the early part of the event but he was finally forced to let the Austrian cruise home to a second consecutive podium finish in Perth.
This year saw the Australian round of the World Rally Championship take place for the very last time in the capital of Western Australia. The region's fast, eucalyptus tree-lined are reputed for not leaving the slightest margin for error and this year's event saw a long list of entrants forced to call on the SupeRally ruling following a spate of accidents and incidents on Day 1. Indeed, no fewer than five of the ten WRC drivers were stopped in their tracks during the first leg, namely Sordo, Wilson (Ford/BFGoodrich, accident), Perez-Companc (Ford/BFGoodrich, accident), Atkinson (Subaru, accident) and Henning Solberg (Peugeot/BFGoodrich, accident). All but Solberg rejoined the competition the next day however to slowly but surely climb back up the leaderboard despite taking heavy time penalties.
The penultimate round of the 2006 championship will take teams to New Zealand which this year features a new host town, Hamilton, south of Auckland. The stages of this region are reputedly extremely twisty with a top- coating of loose gravel, but BFGoodrich will be keen to extend its unbeaten run since the beginning of a year that has reaped 14 consecutive wins over all the different types of terrain featured on the WRC calendar.
Mikko Hirvonen, Ford/BFGoodrich: Perfect. My tyres were competitive and I made some good tyre choices, including Saturday morning when I went for the hard compound g-Force Gravel '9+' . It gave me good high-speed stability and the rather special 'cut' I had made to the tread pattern paid off handsomely."
Patrick Letort, Chief Technician, BFGoodrich: "Our drivers used practically the full range of g-Force Gravels that we had here in Australia, from the medium-soft compound '9-' to the hard compound '9+' . 'Re- cutting' is a key factor on this event in order to try and clear as many of the small, marble-like bauxite stones that litter the stages here as possible . And this year the top coating of stones was fairly deep. The drivers described the stages of Day 1 as especially slippery, even second time through. This was the last Rally Australia to be based in the western part of the country. According to the information we have, the terrain found in the state of Queensland, which could host the event from 2008, is very different."