WRC

Rally Mexico: Ford final summary

Ford dominates Rally Mexico to finish first and second Ford BP Rallye Sport claimed a superb 1-2 finish on the gruelling Corona Rally Mexico today and now heads both the drivers' and manufacturers' standings in the FIA World Rally Championship.

Ford dominates Rally Mexico to finish first and second

Ford BP Rallye Sport claimed a superb 1-2 finish on the gruelling Corona Rally Mexico today and now heads both the drivers' and manufacturers' standings in the FIA World Rally Championship. Markko Märtin and Michael Park secured their third world rally victory, their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car returning to the finish in Leon 42.5sec ahead of the similar car of François Duval and Stéphane Prévot after three days of gruelling competition.

After three rounds of the 16 event series, Ford has built a 10 point lead in the manufacturers' championship while Märtin is joint leader of the drivers' standings. Duval, for whom second was the best result of his career, lies fourth. The victory was Ford's first 1-2 since the Cyprus Rally in 2000 and was a fitting finale to the weekend for M-Sport, the British team which runs the Blue Oval's rally programme, which was celebrating its 100th world rally.

This was Rally Mexico's first year in the championship, and the first WRC round in North America since 1988, and the three-day event became a rally of attrition. The gravel mountain tracks in the centre of the country proved too arduous for many and only 26 of the original 54 starters finished. However, both Focus RS cars ran without major problems throughout, enhancing its reputation as the fastest and most reliable car on rough and rugged rallies.

As the event was new to the championship, knowledge of the intricacies of the rally was little. A combination of the lack of previous experience and new regulations restricting availability meant accurate tyre selection was initially a tough challenge. However, the shrewd judgement of Michelin's engineers meant the rubber was perfectly adapted to the conditions. The rally was also the highest in the championship, reaching an altitude of more than 2700 metres, ensuring engines had to work harder in the thinner air.

Märtin and Park took the lead yesterday and started the final leg, comprising five speed tests and 132.06km of competition, with a 14.4 second lead over Carlos Sainz. The former team-mates swapped seconds over the opening two special stages before Sainz crashed, allowing the 28-year-old Estonian driver an untroubled run to victory.

"It's been a tremendous weekend for us and Ford," he said. "We've all worked hard as a team and we deserve this result. To lead the manufacturers' championship by such a margin is fantastic. We've had a few small problems but we've always kept on top of them. It has been a difficult event and hard for the cars but that makes victory all the better. My only mistake was a spin on the first day. Apart from that we've stayed to our plan and kept out of trouble. There was no point in trying to drive too quickly. Too many others did that and hit problems. It was necessary to be patient."

Duval and Prévot drove a faultless rally. Adopting a cautious, but fast, approach from the start, the Belgian duo never made a mistake. They began the final day in third and when Sainz crashed they were able to cruise through to the finish and the runners-up position.

"It's the first time I have finished second on a world rally and I'm so happy," said 23-year-old Duval. "I have had a perfect car for three days, it gave me no worries at all. It's like new and all the team have really had to do is to fit a new bumper. The rally was a new event for everyone and it's not been an easy weekend. We were under no pressure today and would have been happy to have finished third. But when Carlos crashed and we moved into second it completed a great three days. To finish first and second is the kind of result that teams dream of but to do it on a rally which is new to everyone makes it even more special."

Ford BP team director Malcolm Wilson was overjoyed with his team's performance. "Ford's last 1-2 was in Cyprus in 2000 and, like Mexico, that was achieved on a rally appearing in the championship for the first time. It's very special to achieve a 1-2 in the modern era of the sport and even more fitting that we should gain this result on M-Sport's 100th rally with Ford. It was a far more difficult event than we predicted but the reliability of the Focus has shone through again. Both Markko and François drove superbly. Our target for 2004 was for Markko to win the drivers' championship but the way that François is developing as a driver has put us in a strong position in the manufacturers' series," he said.

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Carlos Sainz (Citroen) was the only challenger to the Ford BP duo on the final leg. However, his chances ended midway though the third stage when his brakes failed and the Spaniard rolled. It took more than a minute to push his car back onto its wheels and he had to settle for third. Petter Solberg (Subaru) recovered superbly from his five minute penalty at the end of the opening leg to climb back to fourth, moving ahead of team-mate Mikko Hirvonen on the penultimate stage. Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) set two fastest times today to retain his overnight sixth while amateur Jussi Valimaki and Gilles Panizzi (Mitsubishi) completed the drivers' points scorers. Harri Rovanperä (Peugeot) climbed back to 10th after suspension problems yesterday to take the final manufacturers' point.

Next round

The Ford BP team faces its longest journey of the season for round four of the championship next month. Rally New Zealand is based in Auckland on 15 - 18 April and the fast, flowing gravel roads ensure the event is one of the most popular in the championship.

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team , M-Sport