Flying Ford Focus finishes first in Finland Ford BP Rallye Sport's Markko Martin and Michael Park today became only the third non-Nordic drivers to win the Rally Finland in the event's 53-year history. The 27-year-old Estonian and his...
Flying Ford Focus finishes first in Finland
Ford BP Rallye Sport's Markko Martin and Michael Park today became only the third non-Nordic drivers to win the Rally Finland in the event's 53-year history. The 27-year-old Estonian and his 37-year-old co-driver powered their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car to victory on this ninth round of the FIA World Rally Championship by 58.9sec to claim their second world rally success in the last four events.
This most spectacular round of the championship is also the most specialised event in the series, with Nordic drivers dominating in the past on the fast, snake-like gravel roads and huge jumps which require precision driving and bravery of the highest level. However, Martin and Park took the lead in the first few kilometres and saw off the challenge of Finland's defending world champion, Marcus Gronholm, who was chasing a fourth consecutive victory on his home rally. It is the first time a Finnish driver has not been on the podium since 1959 and the first time ever that a Finn has not finished in the top five.
Martin and Park were roared on by an estimated 10,000 flag-waving Estonian fans who made the short journey across the Baltic Sea and transformed the Finnish countryside into a mass of black, blue and white. Such was the importance of this result to Martin's home country that Prime Minister Juhan Parts flew in by helicopter to view the final speed test and greet the winning Focus RS crew at the finish.
The victory promoted the Ford BP drivers to fifth in the championship standings, just 12 points from the lead with five rounds remaining. It also marked the 200th world rally triumph for French tyre company Michelin, whose rubber propelled Martin's Focus RS to victory on the Acropolis Rally in Greece in June.
Martin began today's third and final leg of the 1727.60km rally with a lead of more than 73 seconds. He was able to cruise through the final six speed tests in the sunshine, claiming another stage victory to take his total for the rally to eight from 23 tests.
"This is so special for me," he said. "Winning here means more to me than my first win in Greece because so few non-Finns achieve that and I've dreamed of victory here for so many years. I always thought I could do it and we had a fantastic battle with Marcus before he retired. The Focus is the fastest car in the championship and we've won the fastest rally of the year and beaten the Finns on home ground. If we can win here, we can win anywhere.
"The support has been fantastic. I've been concentrating too hard to see all the flags on the stages but every time we came into the service park the noise was incredible. It shows how much it means to them and I'm sure there will be some big parties back home in Estonia tonight also," said Martin.
Victory in Finland also meant so much to Ford BP team director Malcolm Wilson. "We designed the new Focus around events like this and this is a very special moment for me. Winning here is something which I've dreamed about since I started in the sport and yesterday, when we had a glitch with the car's electrical system while in the lead, was the most nerve-wracking time I've ever had. This is the Grand Prix of the rally world and to win here is as good as it gets," he said.
Ford of Europe president Martin Leach added his congratulations. "It's fantastic to see the Focus win the fastest rally in the championship where both reliability and speed are so important. Alongside our win in Greece, where reliability is even more crucial, it shows the strength of the car and we can look forward to the rest of the championship with confidence. It was a great drive by Markko and Michael and a tremendous performance by Malcolm Wilson, technical director Christian Loriaux and the whole Ford BP team."
Ford BP team-mates Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot started the day in 11th and in a points scoring position for the team. But the Belgians retired 6km after the start of the second stage after hitting a large rock and damaging the left front wheel beyond repair. "We came over a crest and there was a big stone on the inside of the following left-hand corner which we hit. My line wasn't good going over the crest and the rock wasn't marked in our pace notes. We weren't going too fast but it's not easy when the notes aren't perfect," said 22-year-old Duval, who has little experience of these stages and had set his sights on a cautious drive to the finish.
Finnish privateers Janne Tuohino and Jukka Aho finished seventh in a 2002-specification Focus RS while 18-year-old Finn Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila were 14th in a similar M-Sport-run car. Latvala, who moved to Britain last year to start his rallying career as he was too young at the time to hold a Finnish driving licence, was competing on this rally for the first time. "I was so excited to compete on my home event for the first time and it's great to see the finish line," he said.
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Richard Burns (Peugeot), Carlos Sainz (Citroen) and Petter Solberg (Subaru) began the final day covered by just half a second in their battle for the runners-up position. Sainz quickly fell away after hitting a stone on the opening stage, the impact badly affecting his car's handling. Solberg moved ahead of Burns on the same test but the Briton retaliated and they went into the final stage with Burns ahead by just 1.8sec. However, Solberg set fastest time to overhaul Burns by 1.2sec. Sainz took fourth ahead of team-mate Sebastien Loeb. The final drivers' points went to privately-entered drivers Janne Tuohino, at the wheel of a Focus RS, and Sebastian Lindholm. Tenth and 12th places were enough for Freddy Loix and Armin Schwarz (both Hyundai) to claim the final manufacturers' points for the Korean marque. Former world champion 52-year-old Ari Vatanen, who won the world title in 1981 for Ford, finished 11th on a one-off appearance. Jussi Valimaki (Hyundai) was the only major retirement today when he hit the same rock as Duval and ripped a wheel from his car.
Round 10 of the 14-rally championship is the penultimate event on gravel and the final non-European rally of the season. The Western Australian capital of Perth hosts the Rally Australia on 4 - 7 November.