The 'old shape' Ford Focus RS World Rally Car ended its career as a works car with a double points haul on Spain's Rally Catalunya - Costa Daurada today. BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Roman Kresta and Jan Tomanek and team-mates Toni...
The 'old shape' Ford Focus RS World Rally Car ended its career as a works car with a double points haul on Spain's Rally Catalunya - Costa Daurada today. BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Roman Kresta and Jan Tomanek and team-mates Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen both claimed points on this 15th and penultimate round of the FIA World Rally Championship to strengthen Ford's hold on third in the manufacturers' standings.
Private entrants Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen brought more joy to the Focus' farewell by finishing third in a 2003-specification car after a thrilling final stage showdown with fellow private entrant Xavi Pons. The Finns came from behind to snatch a podium position in the final 5km section of the 358.75km, three-day asphalt event in the mountains south of Barcelona. Another privately-entered Focus RS, driven by Antony Warmbold and Michael Orr, finished seventh.
Twenty-nine-year-old Kresta was fifth, matching his career-best result set in Corsica just seven days earlier. Gardemeister was 14th after a troubled rally in which he twice went off the road. The points double was a fitting farewell to the current specification Focus RS WRC. An all-new Focus RS rally car, based on the Focus ST road car, will make its first public appearance on the final round of the championship in Australia next month.
Mixed weather added an additional challenge for drivers, many of whom were competing on the fast, flowing roads for the first time following the event's move south from Lloret de Mar to Salou. Drivers often faced both wet and dry roads in the same group of speed tests, making tyre choice a compromise. The scheduled 15 special stages were reduced by one when the opening test of yesterday's second leg was cancelled for safety reasons due to the sheer volume of spectators.
Kresta, lying fifth overnight, took no risks on today's final three tests, covering 68.08km. The Czech said: "It was another good result, especially considering that a lot of people drove really well here. I made a few mistakes but that's part of the sport. Tyre selection was tough but the team and Michelin gave us good advice and we made some good decisions. Today went very well, especially the opening stage where I had a great feeling with the Focus and set second fastest time. The time gaps were still quite close so I couldn't relax too much."
Gardemeister restarted in 13th, having dropped from fourth yesterday afternoon when a brake problem sent his car off the road for 12 minutes. With no chance of making up ground, the 30-year-old Finn drove cautiously but slid off the road for a second time early in the second stage, losing more than four minutes but remaining in a points-scoring position.
"I missed a pace note and slid into a ditch," he explained. "It's a problem for me when I'm not driving at 100 per cent because it affects my concentration. I wasn't concentrating fully and braked 10 metres too late for a corner and I was off the road. It was good to score a point for Ford but it was a disappointing weekend for me personally. It looked good until yesterday and without the brake problem and a lack of concentration, it could have been a podium result."
Hirvonen started the day in fourth, a 20 second time penalty last night dropping him 7.7sec behind Pons in third. He narrowed the gap to 6.5sec with just the last 28.33km Vilaplana test remaining. The Finn went into the final 5km section of the stage tied with Pons, but produced an outstanding last sector to finish 1.2sec ahead. He won the stage by almost eight seconds, his second fastest time of the weekend, to claim a career-best result.
"I've finally scored my first podium and I can't believe it was on asphalt and not gravel," said Hirvonen. "It was my first asphalt rally for a year and it proved I can be quick on both surfaces. We had great help from Michelin with the tyres. When I saw Pons mess up his start on the final stage I decided to really attack and try to make my dreams come true. It was a great battle and I can't believe I had such a good weekend considering how long it is since I drove on this surface."
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson reflected on a solid weekend for the team. "I'm delighted we scored points on the last event for the current model Focus RS as a works car and that also kept our points scoring record intact. Ford has now scored points on 59 consecutive WRC events. I'm also pleased for Mikko. To finish on the podium in a 2003-specification car emphasises the ability of the Focus RS. He impressed me because he was so determined this morning to keep fighting and not just settle for fourth," he said.
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Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) completed a double by winning his second sealed surface event in consecutive weekends. He has won all four asphalt rounds and victory sealed the manufacturers' title for the French team. He won his 10th rally of the season by 1min 21.9sec from team-mate Francois Duval. Spain's privately-entered Xavi Pons delighted his home fans by scoring the best result of his career in fourth after a thrilling fight with Hirvonen, and Nicolas Bernardi (Peugeot) achieved the same feat with sixth on only his second works drive. Jan Kopecky (Skoda) claimed the final drivers' point while 10th for Harri Rovanpera (Mitsubishi), 11th for Armin Schwarz (Skoda) and 13th for Petter Solberg (Subaru) earned manufacturers' points for their teams.