Ford Rallye Sport claimed their second double points haul of the season as four Focus RS World Rally Cars secured top 10 positions on the Swedish Rally today. Spanish duo Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya finished third on this second round of the FIA...
Ford Rallye Sport claimed their second double points haul of the season as four Focus RS World Rally Cars secured top 10 positions on the Swedish Rally today. Spanish duo Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya finished third on this second round of the FIA World Rally Championship, their second podium of the campaign, while team-mates Colin McRae and Nicky Grist finished sixth after a superb final leg charge.
Private entrants Janne Tuohino and Petri Vihavainen finished seventh while Belgians Francois Duval and Jean-Marc Fortin were 10th, a tremendous result for the 21-year-old who became the youngest works driver in rallying history on his Focus debut.
The unseasonably mild weather continued to have an adverse effect on the forest roads north of the Karlstad base, in which there was barely a flake of snow to be seen. The snow and ice continued to thaw among the pine trees, exposing previously frozen lakes and gravel roads and submitting tyres to unusual levels of wear.
Such were the conditions that organisers cancelled one stage, which was almost pure gravel, and the Ford Rallye Sport team resorted to digging trenches in the service area to allow surface water to drain away.
Sainz withstood a determined challenge from Richard Burns to maintain third, his sixth podium finish here in seven years on a rally traditionally dominated by Nordic drivers. He started the final stage 12.5sec ahead of the reigning world champion and held on to finish 8.1sec ahead, despite a few nervous moments.
"The final stage went really well at the beginning but because there was so much gravel on the road we started to lose some studs towards the end," said Sainz. "Then I thought we had a front left puncture but it turned out that the anti-deflation system had broken. I was starting to get a little concerned but everything worked out fine.
"To win this rally you need to have a clear run with a good package of car and tyres. We had a good car and good tyres but unfortunately we didn't have a clean run in the fresh snow on the first leg. It also seems to help if you are Swedish or Finnish!" added the 39-year-old Madrid-based driver.
McRae, who re-started in 11th this morning, launched a concerted attack to climb the leaderboard, although even by mid-morning the 33-year-old Scot thought a points finish was unlikely. However, a stage victory and three other top four times allowed him to claim sixth. After a thrilling final stage battle with brother Alister, McRae ended just three tenths of a second behind after almost 360km of flat-out driving.
"We had to give everything in the final stage but we spun into a ditch halfway through and lost about 20sec," said McRae. "After losing time yesterday with a broken wheel, a points finish looked out of the question. But we gave our best and we were rewarded by sticking with it. These points could prove crucial later in the season."
Junior World Championship leader Duval grew in confidence at senior level as the rally progressed, climbing into 10th on the final stage. "I'm so pleased," he smiled. "We've had no major problems and I grew more confident with the car as the weekend went on. I had only driven a Focus for 40km in testing but once I became familiar with it I found it very easy to drive. I'm really looking forward to Corsica."
Tuohino was on the leaderboard all rally and accepted a 10sec penalty when he sportingly left final service a minute late to allow McRae a point. "I was delighted to help," said Tuohino. "We've not put a spanner on the car all rally and I'm so happy to finish so high."
Ford Rallye Sport director Malcolm Wilson paid tribute to his drivers. "Carlos produced a typically gritty display. He found it tough on the first leg but persisted and was rewarded with a good result. It's unfortunate Colin lost time yesterday but he produced an amazing fightback and I hope it's the last time he and Alister finish so close! Francois did everything we asked of him. The making of a champion is about learning and finishing rallies. He gave a solid drive with no mistakes and in these conditions that's tremendous."
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Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) cruised through the final leg to claim his second Swedish win by 1min 24.5sec from team-mate Harri Rovanpera. After Sainz, Richard Burns (Peugeot) recovered from his first day accident to take fourth ahead of the McRae brothers. Eighth was sufficient for Juha Kankkunen (Hyundai) to claim the final manufacturers' point but elsewhere it was a disappointing day for his team.
Armin Schwarz stopped on the liaison section to the second stage with broken transmission and fifth-placed Freddy Loix, driving with a brace around his ankle and pins in his foot following his accident in Monte Carlo, stopped in the stage with broken suspension. Kenneth Eriksson (Skoda) was on course for fifth until a broken radiator sidelined him 7km from the end of the last stage.
Teams have a break until the third round, the all-asphalt Tour of Corsica in Ajaccio on 8 - 10 March. The rally has a new date this season, having previously been held in October.