BP-Ford claims world rally title with 1-2 finish in New Zealand* BP-Ford World Rally Team today secured the FIA World Rally Championship manufacturers' title after powering to a 1-2 finish in Rally New Zealand. Marcus Gronholm and Timo...
BP-Ford claims world rally title with 1-2 finish in New Zealand*
BP-Ford World Rally Team today secured the FIA World Rally Championship manufacturers' title after powering to a 1-2 finish in Rally New Zealand. Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen took their sixth victory of the season in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, finishing 56.0sec ahead of team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen in a similar car. The maximum points haul means that with one round still remaining BP-Ford has built an unassailable 25-point lead.
It is Ford's first manufacturers' title since 1979 and the squad's seventh victory of the season. Gronholm had already secured second in the drivers' series while Hirvonen's result means he is now assured of third. This was also Ford's 75th consecutive points scoring finish in the WRC, a record unrivalled in the sport's history and dating back to the opening round of the 2002 championship.
Round 15 of the 16-event championship was based in Hamilton, 130km south of Auckland. Drivers tackled three days of smooth, flowing gravel speed tests on North Island's west coast, many hugging the spectacular Tasman Sea shoreline. They covered 17 special stages in all, covering 358.48km, while early spring in New Zealand guaranteed a mix of weather conditions, ranging from sunshine to torrential rain.
Gronholm and Rautiainen led from Friday's opening kilometre. With no pressure from behind, the 38-year-old Finnish driver eased through today's final leg, comprising six stages and 95.48km near the coastal town of Raglan, to secure victory. He set a clean sweep of fastest times on the opening day by winning all five speed tests and increased his rally total to 13 with five more wins today.
"It's a great feeling to win the rally and secure the world title for Ford on the same day," said Gronholm. "When I joined the team I expected a high performance level from the Focus RS WRC because it was a new car and to experience the fantastic level of reliability that we have enjoyed during the season was a big bonus. This wasn't such a hard rally as the Focus RS has been absolutely perfect."
Hirvonen, too, was under no pressure from behind today and took no risks on the slippery stages. He finished 1min 43.3sec ahead of his nearest challenger. "I'm thrilled to be part of a world title-winning team," said the 26-year-old Finn. "The whole season has been fantastic and I have secured third place in the drivers' series. But that stays in the background because to win the manufacturers' title is a huge achievement for me. I started my career in world rallying with Ford. Malcolm Wilson gave me the chance to prove myself at the beginning of my career and again this year, so it is even better to be here helping Ford to the title."
Ford TeamRS director Jost Capito led the celebrations and said: "It's thrilling and rewarding to see Ford as world champions again, especially in the first year of competition for the new Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. This title was only possible due to an outstanding effort from every single member of the team."
BP-Ford World Rally team director Malcolm Wilson said: "This title brings great personal satisfaction. Ford has been so close to winning the manufacturers' title on many occasions but it is many years since we achieved this honour and I'm proud to be able to deliver it now. It has been a huge effort by everyone, not only all the employees at M-Sport, but also our partners at BFGoodrich and all the other suppliers and partners who have supported the team. It is the culmination of many years of building a world class team, infrastructure and resource capable of beating the best."
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Manfred Stohl (Peugeot) claimed his second consecutive podium in third ahead of a fierce battle between team-mates Dani Sordo and Xevi Pons (both Citroen). Sordo began the day in fourth but a charging Pons, despite a spin on the first pass through the classic Whaanga Coast test, set two fastest times and overhauled Sordo on the penultimate stage. Petter Solberg (Subaru) rounded off the top six, despite incurring a 60sec penalty when his car would not start before the first stage this morning. Luis Perez Companc (Ford) claimed his first drivers' points for his team in seventh.
*Subject to the official publication of the results by the FIA