Ford Focus seals impressive rally debut with stage wins The all-new Ford Focus RS World Rally Car claimed two special stage victories on today's final leg of Rally Australia to end a hugely impressive debut for Ford's 2006 FIA World Rally ...
Ford Focus seals impressive rally debut with stage wins
The all-new Ford Focus RS World Rally Car claimed two special stage victories on today's final leg of Rally Australia to end a hugely impressive debut for Ford's 2006 FIA World Rally Championship challenger. BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Roman Kresta and Jan Tomanek and team-mates Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen each set a fastest time as Ford secured third in the final championship standings with a record-breaking 60th consecutive points finish.
Kresta finished sixth on the four-day rally based on demanding gravel tracks in Western Australia. Gardemeister retired on the penultimate speed test with a broken water pump drive belt but the performance of the new Focus RS delighted BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson.
"It has been a fantastic weekend for us," he said. "We came here to test and the most important target was to last the full distance so that we could learn as much about the Focus RS as possible. I'm sorry we lost Toni on the penultimate stage but we scored two fastest times, which is remarkable for a car which has been designed and built in less than 11 months. It has been a great effort from the whole team and we've shown the potential of the car for the future."
After successful initial testing in Britain, the team brought the car here as part of its test and development programme to evaluate it in a competitive environment for the first time. The Focus RS competed in 2006 layout against 2005-specification cars which, under rules which will change next year, are more technologically advanced.
The third and final leg of this 1345.41km rally took competitors east of the host city of Perth for two identical loops of three tests near the town of Mundaring. Overcast skies early this morning quickly burned off as the sun broke through. The dry and dusty tracks were slippery during the first pass as a thick coating of loose gravel on the surface made conditions hard for the early starters.
Kresta, starting in seventh, dropped 30 seconds on the short opening stage after spinning. "The road was extremely narrow and the car became wedged between two trees," said the 29-year-old Czech. However, he recovered well and set fastest time on the final stage as he just failed to overhaul fifth placed Gigi Galli, pulling back more than 30 seconds during the last three stages.
It was Kresta's first stage win on gravel and sealed an excellent performance on a rally in which he was competing for the first time against rivals with far more experience. The result ensured he finished eighth in the drivers' championship.
"I made a few small mistakes over the weekend but the performance of the car has been fantastic," he said. "I've never had the opportunity to drive a car like this before, I've never driven anything as good as this Focus RS. I can't believe what I have achieved because it was my first time on these roads and I hadn't even driven the car until the shakedown on the morning of the start."
Gardemeister started in eighth and was delighted with the pace of the Focus RS after the team discovered a leak in the turbo pipe which was replaced this morning. "The car had much more pace today than yesterday and I'm 100 per cent sure that if the car had been working like this yesterday, I would have set a fastest time because it felt totally different today," said the 30-year-old Finn, who finished fourth in the drivers' standings.
However, he did not have long to wait as he powered to fastest time through the opening stage of the second loop. "The car felt superb, there was just so much power there," he added. "It was a shame to retire so close to the finish but the main aim of the weekend was to test the car and everyone has learned a huge amount. It's a great car to drive and I'm delighted it has proved so competitive so soon. Next year's rules mean the cars must use less technology so it's really encouraging for the team for the Focus RS to be a match for the current cars."
Spain's Dani Solà and Xavier Amigo finished seventh in a privately-entered 2005-specification Focus RS. It was their best result of the season. "My only aim before the rally was to finish so I've achieved that and I'm happy with my finishing position," he said. "It has been a difficult weekend because it's not an easy rally but the team has worked really hard. It's a good way to end the season because there were a lot of drivers here with more experience than me. I've learned a lot this year and I've had so much help from a superb team."
News from our Rivals
After one of the most dramatic rallies of the season, Belgium's Francois Duval (Citroen) claimed his first world rally victory. He was untroubled today to beat Harri Rovanpera (Mitsubishi) by 52.9sec. Private entrant Manfred Stohl claimed his second podium of the season in third after Colin McRae (Skoda) retired in the mid-morning service with three stages remaining. A routine clutch change took longer than expected and he exceeded the time limit. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) completed a remarkable fight back from 13th after day one steering problems to claim fourth, failing to overhaul Stohl by just 6.0sec. Gigi Galli (Mitsubishi) held off Kresta for fifth while Armin Schwarz (Skoda) claimed the final drivers' point on his last rally before retirement.