Sixth for Gardemeister edges Ford closer to half century BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen finished sixth on the Rally New Zealand today to extend the Blue Oval's scoring record in the FIA World Rally ...
Sixth for Gardemeister edges Ford closer to half century
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen finished sixth on the Rally New Zealand today to extend the Blue Oval's scoring record in the FIA World Rally Championship to an unprecedented 48 consecutive events. The Finns are one of only two pairings to score points on all four rounds this year in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car and lie fourth in the drivers' standings with the first quarter of the season completed.
Gardemeister and Honkanen were edged out of fifth place on the final speed test of the three-day rally when Markko Märtin, with whom they had battled over tenths of a second since Friday's opening kilometres, moved ahead.
Beautiful early autumn weather graced the rally and the stunning North Island scenery around Auckland provided a spectacular setting for three days of fierce competition. Drivers faced 356km of driving on smooth and flowing gravel roads. Today's final leg took competitors to the west coast town of Raglan, south of Auckland, where the speed tests offered a stunning contrast as they weaved between the vivid blue Tasman Sea coastline and verdant green farmland.
Thirty-year-old Gardemeister began the day in fifth in his Castrol-branded Focus RS and extended his advantage over Märtin on the opening two special stages. As the temperatures climbed, he opted for Michelin's hard compound rubber for the final two tests. However, regulations limiting teams' tyre options meant he had used all the new construction rubber which provided him with such good performance during the warmer stages on the opening two legs, and he had to use an older version. Although he was sixth on both stages, he could not hold off a charging Märtin who finished just 7.2 seconds ahead.
"The morning started well," said Gardemeister. "I was quicker than Märtin on the first stage. On the next I was nervous about the condition of the tyres so I drove carefully at the beginning. The final 10km were twisty and narrow so I tried to keep the Focus on the clean line in the road which had been created by the cars ahead. It was still pretty slippery so I drove as smoothly as possible.
"I chose harder compound tyres for the final stages but because there were no new tyres left in our allocation, I had to use ones with an older construction. The grip wasn't quite as good as the new version. I tried my hardest, but I couldn't keep Markko behind me. A points result is always good but I'm disappointed not to finish fifth. I would have been much happier if I could have finished in front of him," he added.
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson was left with mixed feelings. "After losing one of our drivers before the start following an accident, a points finish is a good result and extends our scoring record to 48 rallies. On the other hand, I'm disappointed Toni lost out to Markko on the final stage. It's the second rally in a row where we have lost places on the last stage. We paid the price for using our allocation of new construction tyres on the first two days. It's nobody's fault, just the way the rules are," he said.
Antony Warmbold and Michael Orr finished 11th in a privately-entered Focus RS. The German driver lost several minutes with a power-steering problem on the opening morning. He dropped to 44th but recovered well, despite spending the final two days first in the start order on roads covered with slippery lose stones.
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Overnight leader Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) cruised through the final day to claim his second victory of the season and climb to second in the championship. He signed off with fastest time on the final stage and his winning margin was 49.8sec. There was no battle for second as Petter Solberg (Subaru) refused to risk a solid points haul in pursuit of Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot). The Finn ended 18.9sec ahead and Solberg maintained his one point lead at the head of the championship. Fourth earned François Duval (Citroen) his first points of the season while fifth for Markko Märtin (Peugeot) means he joins Gardemeister as the only drivers to score on every round this season. Eighth for Gigi Galli (Mitsubishi) earned his team the final manufacturers' point. Janne Tuohino (Skoda) became the first manufacturer retirement when the Finn stopped after the opening stage with a blown turbo. He was followed by Harri Rovanperä (Mitsubishi) who stopped on the liaison section after the final stage with no tread left on his tyres.
After two long-haul rallies, the championship returns to Europe for round five. The island of Sardinia hosts the Rally Italia-Sardinia, another all gravel event, on 28 April - 1 May.