Double points finish in Japan extends Ford's record Ford today extended its record-breaking points scoring run in the FIA World Rally Championship after claiming a double points haul on the Rally Japan. BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni ...
Double points finish in Japan extends Ford's record
Ford today extended its record-breaking points scoring run in the FIA World Rally Championship after claiming a double points haul on the Rally Japan. BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen finished the demanding three-day event in sixth in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car with team-mates Roman Kresta and Jan Tomanek in seventh in a similar car. A third privately-entered Focus RS of Antony Warmbold and Michael Orr was ninth.
The result was Ford's 57th consecutive points finish in the championship, a record which dates back to the opening round of the 2002 series in Monte Carlo. All 57 scores have come with the Focus RS World Rally Car, blending a mixture of speed and reliability to create a record that no other manufacturer has achieved in the sport's history. BP-Ford remains third in the 2005 manufacturers' standings.
Rally Japan was based in Obihiro on the country's northernmost island of Hokkaido. Drivers faced 26 speed tests on narrow gravel roads covering 350.18km. Torrential rain during the opening day made the tracks extremely slippery and they also became heavily rutted to create an additional challenge for competitors.
Both Gardemeister and Kresta were competing in Japan for the first time and their inexperience of the special stages meant they gave away a considerable advantage to their rivals. Gardemeister took some time to become acclimatised to the Japanese roads but started today's third and final leg north-west of Obihiro in eighth in his Castrol-branded Focus RS. The 30-year-old Finn climbed two places during the five speed tests, covering 85.94km, to record his 11th points finish from 13 rallies this year. He remains fifth in the drivers' championship.
"Today's stages were the best of the rally," said Gardemeister. "They were really tricky and muddy but a lot more flowing and driveable and they were enjoyable to compete on. I didn't push too hard today because I wanted to correct my pace notes for next year. I've made a lot of corrections throughout the rally but that will help when I return next season. It's hard to be competitive when everyone else has driven these stages before. On Friday I didn't trust my notes and had no real confidence in them, but they improved as the weekend went on.
"Before the rally I heard from other drivers that this was a difficult event but it turned out a lot harder than I imagined. The car was good all weekend and I'm pleased with the result," he added.
Kresta, ninth overnight, also moved up two places to finish 59.7sec behind his team-mate and the result lifted him to eighth in the drivers' standings. "I drove carefully this morning," said the 29-year-old Czech. "The team kept me well informed of Daniel Carlsson's split times behind us and I drove at a pace that kept me ahead of him - no more. I didn't want to make any mistakes and concentrated on scoring points for Ford.
"It was a very difficult rally but I've learned a lot and made many changes to my pace notes. It was good to have a battle with Toni yesterday and I'm pleased to have set times that were comparable to his," added Kresta.
Warmbold recovered well after losing time on the opening day. He posted third fastest time on the penultimate stage but admitted to being disappointed with his final result. "I was hoping for a top six finish and if I hadn't lost time on Friday then that might have been possible. But my stage times were good," he said.
News from our Rivals
Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) clinched his second consecutive world drivers' title (results subject to FIA confirmation) by finishing second after a dramatic final day. The Frenchman, needing just a top three finish to lift the crown, adopted a cautious policy all weekend on the slippery roads. He was set to take third until Petter Solberg (Subaru), who led since early on the opening morning, retired after hitting a rock 1km after the start of the penultimate stage and breaking his car's front right suspension. That allowed Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) to take his second win of the season, the Finn heading Loeb by 1min 22.1sec. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) secured the best result of his career in third. A stunning fastest time on the second stage carried him passed Francois Duval (Citroen), who had to settle for fourth. Harri Rovanpera (Mitsubishi) dropped a minute after his engine stalled on the opening test and then the Finn hit something buried in the grass on the next stage and damaged his front right suspension. He was fifth. Daniel Carlsson (Peugeot) took the final drivers' and manufacturers' point in eighth. Gigi Galli (Mitsubishi) retired on the liaison section following the second stage after the Italian broke his car's left rear suspension.
The championship returns to the Mediterranean later this month for the first of two asphalt rallies on consecutive weekends. The Rallye de France - Tour de Corse is based in Corsica's capital town, Ajaccio, on 20 - 23 October.