WRC

Rally Japan: Ford final summary

Märtin scores podium for BP-Ford on Rally Japan Markko Märtin and Michael Park claimed BP-Ford World Rally Team's fourth consecutive podium place after finishing third on the Rally Japan today. Their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car never missed...

Märtin scores podium for BP-Ford on Rally Japan

Markko Märtin and Michael Park claimed BP-Ford World Rally Team's fourth consecutive podium place after finishing third on the Rally Japan today. Their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car never missed a beat during three days of tough driving on Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido and the result maintains Ford's grip on second in the FIA World Rally Championship.

Team-mates François Duval and Philippe Droeven retired this morning after sliding off the road in their Focus RS when lying sixth. Duval's retirement ends a superbly consistent run which brought five consecutive points finishes.

Huge crowds packed the villages and forests north of the rally base in Obihiro to watch Japan's entrance into the world championship. For the drivers it was new also. None of the leading teams had competed here before and the narrow, but fast, gravel roads provided a tough challenge, with grass filled ditches lurking close to the edge of the tracks, ready to trap the careless.

Like the rest of the rally, today's final leg was held in warm sunshine. The route took competitors north-west of Obihiro for two identical loops of three speed tests, split by a crowd-pleasing super special stage in the suburbs of the city. Loose gravel made conditions slippery during the first pass over the special stages and large ruts made driving just as hard on the second run. The 111.94km of competition took the rally total to 387.50km.

Märtin and Park re-started in a comfortable third in their Castrol-branded Focus RS, despite two days of struggling to come to terms with pace notes that were too optimistic for the roads. They cruised through the seven speed tests, setting fastest time on three of them, as the 28-year-old Estonian finally found notes that worked well.

"At last our pace notes were perfect and today felt like a new rally for me," said Märtin. "We made a few corrections, but that's normal on a new rally. Ironically, I had my notes right but on the long stage this morning I couldn't hear them because of an intercom problem. We were still fastest though, so it wasn't too bad! The problem was that I'd had two days of not trusting the notes so I found it hard to put all my faith in them. Today the stages were quite technical, but really nice and flowing, and they were great to drive. I drove at 100 per cent but on the safe side of 100 per cent."

"It really didn't look good on Friday but we found some speed and when Marcus Grönholm had a problem we were able to move ahead and build on it. Certainly the last day was much easier than the first and I'm frustrated that the notes were so bad to start with. But third is a good result for us. The car has been fantastic and, apart from trying a few small suspension modifications on Friday, we've not had to do anything to it," he added.

BP-Ford team-mates Duval and Droeven, lying sixth overnight, were fourth quickest through the opening test. However, 2km after the start of the following stage, the Belgians slid off the road on a tricky corner just before a bridge - a well-known trouble spot to local drivers.

"We came round a left bend leading into a third gear right," said Duval. "The pace notes said it was a long corner but it turned out to be a short one. I went into the bend too deep and tried to correct the line but the car slid off backwards down a steep bank. It was a small mistake. The car wasn't damaged but the bank was far too steep for us to get it back on the road.

"It's been a difficult weekend for both of us but we set some good stage times so I'm happy with that. It's a shame that we didn't complete all the stages because that would have helped with my pace notes for the future but I have gained good experience here. Philippe was a good choice as co-driver. It was his first time with me in a World Rally Car and it wasn't so easy for him," added Duval, whose regular partner, Stéphane Prévot, had to return to Belgium before the start for personal reasons.

News from our Rivals

Petter Solberg (Subaru) paced himself through the final day to score his third win of the season. His winning margin over Sebastien Loeb (Citroen), fastest on today's opening two stages, was 1min 13.3sec. Loeb can now seal the world title on the next rally. The only battle today concerned fourth place. Carlos Sainz (Citroen) started with a 11.6sec advantage over Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) but the Finn moved ahead on the third stage and claimed fourth by 13.1sec. Harri Rovanperä (Peugeot) climbed to sixth after Mikko Hirvonen (Subaru) was delayed by gear selection troubles. Hirvonen failed to start the Satsunai super special stage and was thought to have retired. However, regulations relating only to super special stages allowed him to limp to the service park where a new gearbox was fitted and he took seventh. Privateer Ford Focus RS WRC driver Antony Warmbold took the final drivers' point.

Next round

The championship returns to Europe later this month when the Welsh capital of Cardiff hosts the Rally GB on 16 - 19 September. The rally has moved forward two months so conditions in the south Wales forests should be drier and faster than usual.

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team