WRC

Rally New Zealand: Ford final summary

New Focus claims points on world rally debut Down Under. Ford Rallye Sport's revolutionary new Focus RS World Rally Car finished in the world championship points on its debut in New Zealand today. François Duval and Stéphane Prévot finished...

New Focus claims points on world rally debut Down Under.

Ford Rallye Sport's revolutionary new Focus RS World Rally Car finished in the world championship points on its debut in New Zealand today. François Duval and Stéphane Prévot finished ninth on the Rally New Zealand, fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, and so extended the team's remarkable record of speed and reliability which has now enabled the Focus to score points on 18 consecutive world rallies.

The Belgian pairing's single point, which was secured on Duval's first New Zealand start, ended a hugely encouraging debut for the new car. It claimed four speed tests victories and held a strong second overall for more than half the rally in the hands of Markko Märtin and Michael Park before they retired yesterday afternoon with an engine problem. Ford Rallye Sport team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen finished 10th in an older specification Focus RS, a career best result for the 22-year-old Finnish driver and a first top 10 result on only his seventh world rally.

Technical director Christian Loriaux's achievement in creating a car which proved so competitive on its debut was recognised when he was awarded the Inmarsat Star of the Rally award and US$5000 for charity. Loriaux will donate the money to a Down's Syndrome charity, a cause close to his heart. "My son, Max, was wrongly diagnosed with Down's Syndrome and the week between the initial diagnosis and learning the truth was without doubt the worst of my life," he said.

Today's third and final leg was based south of Auckland, using the powdery gravel roads on the west coast around Te Akau before switching across country for the more European-style plantation roads in Maramarua Forest. Six more special stages were tackled covering 113.81km, bringing the rally total to 403.34km.

Duval maintained his quick but cautious progress and returned to the finish on the edge of Auckland after a troublefree day, happy to have gained maximum experience of the sweeping New Zealand roads. "I just continued at the same pace as I drove yesterday, not really pushing too hard," said 22-year-old Duval. "I'm pleased to finish and to score a point for Ford to maintain the team's record. It's a difficult rally to compete on for the first time and I think it maybe takes two or three starts before a driver can be truly competitive.

"We've made many corrections to our pace notes and that will help us when we return next year. The roads are tricky, with many difficult crests, but they're nice to drive on. I now know why most drivers regard them as the best in the championship," he added.

Hirvonen, whose rally was marked by several time-consuming spins, felt he, too, had gained plenty of experience. "We've had a colourful event," he said. "It's a really difficult rally - fast, twisty and slippery and it's important to remain sharp all the time otherwise it's easy to make a mistake and slide off the road. But I've enjoyed it and learned a lot and, despite all our spins yesterday, it's a good feeling to look at the leaderboard and see my name in the top 10 for the first time."

Ford Rallye Sport team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted with the weekend's work. "The performance of the car exceeded all our expectations here. It's shown its potential and it's a fantastic platform on which to build for the future. Markko drove superbly on an event in which he doesn't have great knowledge. He has much more experience of the next few events and if we can address the technical issues which have arisen here, then we'll be looking for great things from the Acropolis Rally in Greece in June.

"Both our youngsters achieved exactly what I asked of them by keeping a check on their pace and finishing the rally. They've gained valuable experience for next year and in the future they will look back and appreciate me asking them to follow those tactics. I'm delighted for them both and just as pleased that we're taking two undamaged new cars back to Britain!" added Wilson.

News from our Rivals

World champion Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) cruised through the final day to claim his second victory of the season. The Finn headed team-mate Richard Burns by 1min 08.7sec to give the French squad maximum points and lift them into the lead of the manufacturers' championship. Petter Solberg (Subaru) was untroubled en route to third, ahead of Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) who lost 45 seconds on the day's second stage with a gearbox sensor problem which required him to switch to a manual gearchange. Toni Gardemeister and Didier Auriol (both Skoda) maintained the Czech manufacturer's consistent start to the season in fifth and eighth respectively. Auriol looked on course for seventh but a jump start and a loose turbo pipe allowed Tommi Mäkinen (Subaru) to ease by into seventh. He was headed by Alister McRae (Mitsubishi), the Scot scoring points on his first world rally since Sanremo last October. Freddy Loix (Hyundai) was the day's only major retirement, the Belgian sliding off the road and out of fifth place on the second stage.

Next round

Ford Rallye Sport faces another long journey for round five of the championship when Villa Carlos Paz hosts the all-gravel Rally Argentina on 8 - 11 May.

-frs-

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team