WRC

Rally Australia: Ford final summary

Hirvonen extends Ford's record-breaking rally run Ford maintained their record-breaking run of points finishes in the FIA World Rally Championship when Finns Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen extended the sequence to 24 consecutive events on the...

Hirvonen extends Ford's record-breaking rally run

Ford maintained their record-breaking run of points finishes in the FIA World Rally Championship when Finns Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen extended the sequence to 24 consecutive events on the Rally Australia today. Their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car claimed the final point in the manufacturers' series on the four-day event which finished in Perth this afternoon to stretch a run which dates back to the opening round of the 2002 championship in Monte Carlo.

Following the exclusion from fourth place of Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Markko Märtin and Michael Park in the early hours of this morning, 23-year-old Hirvonen, competing in Australia for the first time, was the leading Ford driver in ninth place. Driving a 2002-specification Focus RS run by M-Sport, he climbed from 11th at the end of yesterday's second leg to win a private battle with Ford BP drivers François Duval and Stéphane Prévot, who finished one place behind in 10th.

Today's third and final leg of this 10th round of the championship was based entirely in the Sotico pine plantation, south-east of the Western Australia capital of Perth. Four long speed tests covering 117.11km took the rally total to 386.31km and competitors twice tackled the famous Bunnings roller-coaster jumps and watersplash which every year provide such spectacular television pictures. Intermittent rain made the gravel tracks slippery and muddy, adding an extra challenge for the already weary teams.

Hirvonen began the day 5.2 seconds behind Duval and the 22-year-old Belgian increased that advantage over the opening test. But Hirvonen, by now relishing the fast special stages, fought back and moved ahead of Duval on the penultimate test. He confirmed victory in their private fight when Duval overshot a junction on the final stage, the Finn a superb fourth fastest on the 33.45km test.

"My target here was to drive cautiously and learn the roads and the nature of the stages," said Hirvonen. "But this morning Malcolm Wilson (team director) told me I could go as fast as I wanted as long as I kept the car on the road. So I trusted my pace notes and went flat out. I'm really happy to score a point for Ford because that wasn't in my plan before the rally. I've enjoyed the event hugely, the fast stages are great fun to drive on."

Duval admitted his mistake on the last stage. "I was driving flat out and just missed a junction. I went straight on and had to turn the car around and go back so it cost quite a lot of seconds. The Focus has been perfect all rally and after retiring on the last round in Finland, I'm happy to have finished here. We've made many alterations to our pace notes and that will benefit us in the future. I'm now looking forward to the asphalt events next month," he said.

Ford BP team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted by Hirvonen's points contribution. "We've extended Ford's points-scoring record and that's a superb achievement," he said. "Mikko delivered a stunning drive today. His times were excellent, especially as he was behind the wheel of a 2002 car. I'm glad that François finished as he has put more kilometres and more experience under his belt. It's amazing how things change in this sport. Four weeks ago we were celebrating Markko Märtin's victory in Finland and today we are so disappointed by his unfortunate exclusion. But we will come back and our efforts are now concentrated on winning our first asphalt rally with the 2003 Focus RS next month."

News from our Rivals

Petter Solberg (Subaru) claimed his third world rally victory after coming out on top in a thrilling final day battle with overnight leader Sebastien Loeb (Citroen). The Norwegian was fastest on the opening stage to move ahead but Loeb won the next test to move back in front by 1.3 seconds. However, Solberg was quickest on the penultimate stage to regain the lead and when Loeb stalled his engine in the final test, the battle was over. The winning margin was 26.6 seconds. Richard Burns (Peugeot) cruised to third to extend his world championship lead while Colin McRae (Citroen) came out on top in the three-way battle with team-mate Carlos Sainz and Tommi Mäkinen (Subaru), sealing fourth place with fastest time on the final stage. The final drivers' point was taken by Freddy Loix (Hyundai), his first of the season.

Next round

There are three asphalt rallies scheduled around the Mediterranean during four weeks in October. The series begins with Italy's Sanremo Rally which is based in the Ligurian mountains high above the genteel coastal resort on 2 - 5 October.

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team , M-Sport