MÃ¤rtin nets fourth in Sweden as Ford extends record run. Ford Rallye Sport drivers Markko MÃ¤rtin and Michael Park finished fourth on the Swedish Rally today to extend the team's remarkable reliability and points scoring record in the FIA World...
Märtin nets fourth in Sweden as Ford extends record run.
Ford Rallye Sport drivers Markko Märtin and Michael Park finished fourth on the Swedish Rally today to extend the team's remarkable reliability and points scoring record in the FIA World Rally Championship. It was the 16th consecutive event in which the Ford Focus RS World Rally Car has scored championship points, a record dating back to the opening event of the 2002 season and one unmatched in modern day rallying.
Martin's result on this second round of the 2003 championship follows a similar score on the opening event in Monte Carlo last month and leaves the 27-year-Estonian as one of three drivers sharing third place in the drivers' standings. Ford lies third in the manufacturers' table. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen finished 11th in their Focus RS World Rally Car, a career best result for the 22-year-old Finnish driver on only his fifth world rally and his second with the Ford squad.
The three-day rally is the only pure winter event in the 14-round championship. Temperatures as low as -25°C before the start left the roads of central Sweden in perfect condition. Frozen ice provided a solid surface on top of the loose gravel, although as temperatures climbed to around freezing during the course of the event a partial thaw set in and fresh snow lying on the ice turned to slush.
Märtin began the final leg embroiled in a battle with former team-mate Colin McRae (Citroen). The duo traded seconds over the opening three of the day's five speed tests, covering 120.75km in total, before Märtin put the issue beyond doubt on the long penultimate special stage when he sped to fastest time and added another 10sec to his advantage over the Scot. He eventually finished a comfortable 30.0sec ahead after posting second fastest time on the final test.
"Our first stage win of the rally took a while to arrive but at least we did it," said Märtin. "We had to respond to Colin taking three seconds from us on the previous test and that was the best way to do it. After 10km of the last stage we received a split time that showed we were four seconds faster than Colin, so we knew he couldn't catch us then and we eased off for the remaining 30km.
"Before the start I thought we could take a podium finish but after losing time in the snow due to our early road position on Friday, fourth was the best we could hope for. We were under pressure from Colin today and we've had to work pretty hard but our motivation came from the whole team which desperately wanted us to beat him. On my last two rallies I lost out in a final day battle, against Petter Solberg in Britain and Carlos Sainz in Monte Carlo, so this is third time lucky," he added.
Hirvonen grew in confidence and experience as the rally progressed. "I've learned so much in these last three days. It's great to be at the finish but part of me is sad because I would like to carry on driving for a few more days. We pushed quite hard at the start of the final stage but had two scary incidents so we decided to calm down, stop taking risks and settle for what we had.
"We've had a fantastic weekend. My stage times have been good throughout and we've achieved our main target which was to finish. This rally has done a lot for my confidence and my understanding of the Focus which is a great car to drive," he added.
Ford Rallye Sport team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted with the performance of both drivers. "Considering Markko didn't compete here last year, he's had a fantastic rally. He kept his head, especially this morning, and really threw down the gauntlet to Colin, increasing his advantage as the day went on. There were quite a lot of people who said Markko wouldn't be able to hold off Colin and he's proved them wrong. "It's also been a great weekend for Mikko. It's only his fifth world rally and he's driven a sensible, calculated event with no mistakes. Our youth policy will pay off in the long run. I'm disappointed not to bring all three cars to the finish and I think François Duval, who retired on Friday, missed valuable experience by not completing the rally," he added.
News from our Rivals
Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) was untroubled en route to his third Swedish Rally success in four years, crossing the Karlstad finishing line 50.8sec ahead of Tommi Mäkinen (Subaru). Richard Burns (Peugeot) completed the podium positions, a further 27.1sec behind, none of the top three encountering any problems during the final leg. Behind Märtin, fifth place was good enough for Colin McRae (Citroen) to take a share of the championship lead with team-mate Sebastien Loeb, who climbed from 10th to seventh today. Finn Toni Gardemeister (Skoda) finished eighth to claim the final drivers' and manufacturers' point but team-mate Didier Auriol's disappointing rally ended with gearbox problems on the last stage which cost more than three minutes. He finished 17th.
The championship moves to Turkey for the first time later this month. The all-gravel Rally of Turkey, based in the coastal resort of Kemer on 27 February - 2 March, has replaced Kenya's Safari Rally in the calendar.