MÃ¤rtin and Duval extend Ford's record points run to 40 Ford today claimed its 40th consecutive points finish in the FIA World Rally Championship as two Focus RS World Rally Cars finished in the top five of the Wales Rally GB. Markko MÃ¤rtin...
Märtin and Duval extend Ford's record points run to 40
Ford today claimed its 40th consecutive points finish in the FIA World Rally Championship as two Focus RS World Rally Cars finished in the top five of the Wales Rally GB. Markko Märtin and Michael Park were third to claim their seventh podium position of the season and BP-Ford World Rally Team colleagues François Duval and Stéphane Prévot were fifth.
The remarkable scoring run, the longest in the history of the championship, began on the Monte Carlo Rally in January 2002. Ford's achievement was officially recognised when the team received the Inmarsat Star of the Rally Award. Lewis Booth, president and CEO of Ford of Europe, was on hand to receive the award in Swansea from former world championship co-driver Nicky Grist
The double points haul on this 12th round of the championship consolidated the team's grip on second place with four rounds remaining. Märtin and Duval celebrated the record by setting the two fastest times on the final special stage in the dockland area of Cardiff, live in front of a huge national television audience.
"It's an incredible achievement to reach this landmark, especially in a championship that has become increasingly competitive," said BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson. "This record emphasises the remarkable blend of speed and reliability that the Focus RS WRC has shown in the toughest of competition for more than two-and-half seasons. It's a milestone of which Ford is rightly proud and I hope we can improve it even further in the future."
This year's event was brought forward from its traditional mid-November date but the expected improvement in conditions did not materialise. Torrential rain during the first two legs made the gravel forest tracks in south Wales treacherous. Slimy mud and standing water caused cars to aquaplane and the rate of attrition was such that only 42 of the 83 starters completed the 19 speed tests, covering 394.03km.
Märtin and Park started today's third and final leg, held in much drier conditions, in third position in their Castrol-branded Focus RS. With no realistic opportunity of progressing further, they concentrated their efforts on keeping ahead of fourth-placed Carlos Sainz. They were never troubled and cruised through the final four speed tests to strengthen their hold on third in the drivers' championship.
"It's good to finish on the podium again and obviously this is a fantastic achievement for Ford," said the 28-year-old Estonian driver. "It was great to end with fastest time - in front of the live cameras too! The pace was good today. It wasn't as fast as Friday but thankfully it wasn't as eventful either. Twice our rally almost ended in the trees then and I was not unhappy to see the end of that day. Driving in the fog yesterday wasn't easy but the conditions were the same for everyone. I had good speed all rally but unfortunately not enough to match Solberg and Loeb for victory on this occasion."
Duval and Prévot, winners of four special stages during the opening two legs, were in a similar position to their team-mates. They started this morning in fifth with large time gaps both in front and behind. They took no risks to ensure their eighth points finish of the season, only a minor engine problem on Friday depriving them of fourth.
"It has been a good rally for me in difficult conditions," said the 23-year-old Belgian driver. "The date change certainly didn't make any difference to the weather, which was awful. We tested in dry conditions, which unfortunately proved no benefit at all in the wet here, so our car set-up wasn't perfect on Friday. It was too hard and my confidence wasn't as high as I would have liked. But I made some modifications and I felt happier. I'm happy with the result and pleased with my pace notes. I have not had to make many changes."
Wilson was happy with his drivers' performances. "Markko drove well and it was a shame he dropped time yesterday with a technical problem. Fortunately it didn't cost him any places. François was hugely impressive yesterday. He matched the pace of Loeb and Solberg and that was superb," he said.
Wilson had further cause for celebration. His 17-year-old son, Matthew, and co-driver Scott Martin finished 13th in a privately-entered Focus RS on their first world rally. "I'm very, very proud of what they have achieved. Conditions could not have been harder but Matthew drove sensibly and quickly. It was an emotional moment seeing them cross the finish line in Cardiff," he said.
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The victory battle today was thrilling. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) led Petter Solberg (Subaru) by 7.3sec overnight. The Norwegian went off the road briefly in today's opening stage and the gap widened to 8.6sec. But he reduced it to just 3.5sec and moved ahead on the penultimate stage, holding on during a head-to-head battle over the final stage in Cardiff to win by 6.3sec. It was the closest finish of the season and Solberg's third consecutive triumph in Britain. The BP-Ford duo sandwiched Carlos Sainz (Citroen) in fourth while Harri Rovanperä (Peugeot) and Mikko Hirvonen (Subaru) completed the manufacturer-entered finishers in sixth and seventh. The privately-entered Focus RS of Mark Higgins looked set to claim the final drivers' point in eighth but he went off the road on the penultimate stage in Margam, allowing Manfred Stohl to move up.
All will be new when the team travels to the Mediterranean for the Rally Italia Sardinia on 30 September - 3 October. The gravel roads of northern Sardinia will replace the asphalt in the mountains behind Sanremo as Italy's world championship counter.