BP-Ford and Gardemeister lead world championship BP-Ford World Rally Team leads both the drivers' and manufacturers' standings in the FIA World Rally Championship after claiming a podium finish on the Swedish Rally today. Toni Gardemeister and...
BP-Ford and Gardemeister lead world championship
BP-Ford World Rally Team leads both the drivers' and manufacturers' standings in the FIA World Rally Championship after claiming a podium finish on the Swedish Rally today. Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen finished third in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car to head the drivers' series by a point after two of the 16 rounds. Fifth place for Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud in an M-Sport run Focus RS enabled Ford to take a three point advantage in the manufacturers' table.
To complete a superb weekend in Scandinavia for Ford, Roman Kresta and Jan Tománek finished eighth in another BP-Ford Focus RS to claim the final drivers' point on only their second visit to the championship's only pure winter rally.
A dramatic final leg in the countryside around Hagfors in central Sweden set the seal on one of the most exciting world rallies witnessed in recent years. Today's six speed tests, two of which were shortened for safety reasons, covered 89.54km, taking the three-day rally's total to 335.55km. Overnight snow and freezing temperatures left many tracks covered in packed snow, while others had a thin layer of powdery snow which blew about in the strong wind. Both were in contrast to some roads earlier in the rally which were worn down to gravel after a lack of pre-event snow.
Gardemeister and Honkanen recovered from a poor start to begin today's leg in fifth in their Castrol-branded Focus RS. The 29-year-old Finnish driver posted three consecutive second fastest times to see off the challenge of fellow countryman Harri Rovanperä. As the pressures and the tough special stages took their toll on both man and machine ahead of them, Gardemeister climbed to his second consecutive podium finish.
"Absolutely fantastic!" he said. "To be leading both world championships is a superb situation for both myself and Ford. I've never been in this position before. My pace wasn't so good on the first day but I've felt much more comfortable since and gained a lot more confidence in the car. I took no risks but just kept to a speed with which I felt happy. The last two stages were comfortable. The team sent us split times for Rovanperä and I was able to moderate my speed accordingly to ensure he didn't get too close. We had some luck with the retirement of drivers ahead of us, but the Focus is a strong car and while others had problems, we didn't."
Fifth was a career-best result for Solberg and Menkerud. They enjoyed a thrilling battle with Rovanperä for fourth and the pair started the final 11.25km speed test with Solberg just 0.9sec behind. However, he could not overhaul the Finn and they ended 3.4sec apart. "It has been a great weekend for me and the team," said Solberg. "The final results just show that it doesn't matter how fast you are, you get nothing if you don't reach the finish. I did the best that I could and although I'm not used to the kind of weather conditions that we've had today, I've had great fun. Yesterday morning wasn't so good for me when I hit a stone and damaged a wheel, but we recovered from that and a points finish is always a good outcome."
Kresta and Tománek were relieved from the pressure of being nominated for manufacturer points to allow them to learn more about this highly specialised event. The Czechs proved fast learners. After two days of gaining confidence and improving their experience, 28-year-old Kresta climbed four places on the final day and posted second fastest time on the final stage.
"This is a great result for me," he said. "I'm especially pleased because there were many good drivers here with more experience than me. Yesterday was difficult because I made a few mistakes and my times weren't so good, but today my performances have been better. Some of my times were quite close to Toni which is good. I would prefer this rally to be a few days longer because I have really enjoyed it and learned so much," he said.
Antony Warmbold and Michael Orr finished 11th in another M-Sport run Focus RS.
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted with the result. "I can't ask for more than to be leading both championships," he said. "All three drivers finished in the points here and that is a tribute not only to their pace but also to the strength and reliability of the Focus. Conditions have been unusual but we've had no major technical difficulties all weekend."
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The titanic battle for victory between Petter Solberg (Subaru) and Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) ended on the second stage. Grönholm rolled into retirement and Solberg cruised home to win by 2min 11.1sec. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) was on course for second despite engine problems which forced the French team to detune it before today's action began. He drove slowly to protect the engine, regularly topping it up with water, but it eventually stopped after stage 18. Markko Märtin (Peugeot) therefore took second. Harri Rovanperä (Mitsubishi) split the Ford duo in fourth, despite losing fifth gear on the penultimate test, while Daniel Carlsson recovered from Friday's problem to round off the top six. Chris Atkinson's (Subaru) hopes of a top 10 finish on his debut ended when he went off the road three stages from the end for more than 12 minutes. He finished 19th. Janne Tuohino (Skoda) was on course for eighth but went off on the penultimate test. He started the final stage on just three wheels but lost all oil pressure midway through and retired.
Round three takes competitors to Mexico for the first gravel rally of the season. The Rally Mexico is based in Leon on 10 - 13 March.