Second place for Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) ensured the Frenchman secured his maiden drivers' title on home ground, with two events remaining. Team-mate Carlos Sainz was third and their efforts mean the manufacturers' title also goes to the French...
Second place for Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) ensured the Frenchman secured his maiden drivers' title on home ground, with two events remaining. Team-mate Carlos Sainz was third and their efforts mean the manufacturers' title also goes to the French team. Following Duval's retirement, everyone moved up one place but there were no changes in the order. Private entrant Stephane Sarrazin took an excellent sixth while Armin Schwarz (Skoda) scored his first point of the season in eighth. Tenth place was enough for Mikko Hirvonen (Subaru) to claim the final manufacturers' points.
Forty-six drivers left Ajaccio parc ferme at 0720hrs. Two of those had re-started after retiring on a previous Leg
The shortest of the event, Leg three included four stages (two repeated) south of Ajaccio and a competitive distance of 112.10km. Stages were separated by a 20-minute service
After overnight heavy rain, skies were overcast all day. Temperatures were 11C this morning, rising to 19C by the afternoon. Stages were a mixture of damp and dry asphalt
Markko Martin and Michael Park today won the Rallye de France after their BP-Ford World Rally Team dominated the asphalt event on the Mediterranean island of Corsica. Their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car crossed the finish line in Ajaccio with a lead of 2min 02.0sec after three-days of flat-out driving over slippery mountain roads. The Focus RS led the rally, round 14 of the FIA World Rally Championship, from the first of the 387.80km of competition. Martin and Park won seven of the 12 speed tests with team-mates Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot winning another three after a tremendous battle for supremacy between the BP-Ford duo. Their duel ended early this morning when Duval unfortunately retired with engine problems. This was the first asphalt success for the new-design Focus RS and the first sealed surface victory of Martin's career. His other three wins have all been on gravel. The 28-year-old Estonian climbs to third in the drivers' series while his victory consolidated second place in the manufacturers' standings for Ford.
Markko Martin / Michael Park: "It's a great moment for me to win on asphalt for the first time," said Martin. "Corsica is the classic asphalt event and the ultimate one to win. It has been a brilliant weekend and we've had a really impressive run. Today was enjoyable but Friday and Saturday were really hard work. It was satisfying to be able to enjoy today after having put in the hard effort for the previous two days. "When I stared my career, I had three goals. One was to win the Rally Finland, one was to win on asphalt, preferably in Corsica, and the other was to win the world championship. I have achieved the first two so I only have one more to go. We've finally been able to use the Christian Loriaux-designed Focus RS to its full potential on asphalt this weekend. We've had the fastest car for two years on this surface and at last we've made it all work. It was important for me to win here and full credit to the team. I've had a really low summer and now we have blown everyone away," he added.
Francios Duval / Philippe Droeven: Duval and Prevot re-started this morning in second place in their Focus RS, just 20.8sec behind Martin. However, the Belgians' hopes of a final day fight with the Estonian, and the team's hopes of a one-two finish, ended on the opening stage when they stopped with an engine problem. "About 1km after the start the water temperature and oil warning lights came on," said 23-year-old Duval. "The car then dropped onto three cylinders and I knew at that point that my rally was over. We finally stopped after 7km when there was a small fire under the bonnet, which we quickly put out. I'm incredibly disappointed."
After a difficult rally for the Subaru Team, Petter Solberg and Mikko Hirvonen crossed the finish line of the French Tour de Corse in fifth and tenth place respectively. Although both Impreza WRC's ran without fault all weekend, and both drivers collected Championship points, the result was disappointing following three consecutive rally wins for Subaru.
Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: Obviously I'm disappointed that the title race is over but that's just how it is. We've shown this weekend that we have a lot of work to do before we are truly competitive in these conditions. Sebastien's a good champion and I'm pleased for him. His team has done a good job and it's well deserved. We've had some good battles this year and, fair do's, he's the real champ this time. But, even though the title may be decided, you can be sure I'm going to go out and do my best on the last two events.
Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen: Well, I think overall this rally has been a good learning experience for me. The conditions have been tough, but I now feel much more at ease with the car and the tyres on this surface. There's still lots of work to do, but I'm hopeful that we can put some of what we've learned to good use in Catalunya.
In only their second year in the World Rally Championship, Citroën have taken both 2004 world titles ** at the weekend (15-17 October) with Sebastien Loeb securing the drivers' championship with a second place his home event and team mate Carlos Sainz' third place providing sufficient points to give Citroën the manufacturers' title.
Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: At the end of the final stage Loeb, a former Olympic gymnast, leap from the car doing multiple somersaults! "I really let go, that's for sure," he said with unashamed delight. "Relief, perhaps, after the undeniable pressure, even if the team did everything they could to give me the best conditions possible. And then there was the pleasure of seeing the joy I had given to all those people who were waiting for us, who were so happy for us."
So just how intense was the pressure on Loeb? Until the last two stages I was fine, I was concentrated and everything was going well, Loeb said at the finish. "In the last stage, around five km from the end of stage, it became more and more difficult to stay concentrated. At this time, you begin to hear a lot of problems with the car; you begin to think what will happen after the race, if you will be Champion, so it was a lot more difficult to stay concentrated. I was driving very carefully. It is wonderful for me and all the team to win the two titles here, in Corsica, in France. This was the absolute best thing we could hope for this year."
Carlos Sainz / Marc Marti: "In very difficult conditions, we managed a perfect rally," Carlos Sainz explained between two sprays of champagne. "We achieved both our goals just at the right time. Titles for a French manufacturer and a French driver during the French round of the WRC, what could be better? Now we have my home round, in Spain. I know it will not be easy, but we will enjoy ourselves, driving without any pressure, and I hope the party will be just as good!"
It would have been hard for Citroën team manager, Guy Frequelin, not to be emotional: "I just missed out on the world title in 1981" he explained Thanks to the wonderful team I have the pleasure to lead, thanks to the Xsara, thanks to our two teams of drivers, I now have almost achieved my goal twenty years later. That is a great pleasure. This joy is even greater if you consider that the pure talent crowned here today has come out of our Promotion Formulae. We pinpointed a young driver, and we have taken him all the way through to the ultimate title. For a manufacturer which believes firmly in sporting values, there is nothing finer!"
Claude Satinet, Sporting Director of Automobiles Citroën, was there to congratulate the whole team. "Citroën Sport achieved their objectives, even before the end of the season," he told the team at the finish. "That is very satisfying. As well as the pure result, we must mention the way it was achieved. The team understood during 2003, during its first full Championship, that it was important not to drop any points along the way. Thanks to excellent organization and perseverance, they put in a perfect performance in 2004, of which the race in Corsica is another fine example."
Peugeot drivers Marcus Gronholm and Freddy Loix have finished fourth and seventh respectively on the Rally de France-Tour de Corse, scoring valuable World Championship points. Marcus started the day fifth, and concentrated on trying out settings which will be useful on the all-asphalt Catalunya Rally in two week's time. He kept up a strong pace -- setting second-fastest time twice today -- to make sure of fourth place and continue the asphalt development of the all-new Peugeot 307 WRC. His car performed faultlessly throughout the leg, and he ended up half a minute off a podium place. Freddy's confidence took a blow on the opening leg, when he could not find a set-up which suited his driving style. But as the rally progressed, he worked with Peugeot's engineers to find a solution which enabled him to move up into the points. With his position firmly consolidated by the final day, Freddy's priority was just to get to the finish.
Marcus Gronholm / Timo Rautiainen: "It's been a long and tough three days," said the two-time World Champion. "I started off with little confidence in the car's handling but the feeling got a bit better as I made a few small changes to the set-up. We were also testing a few things which will be useful for the asphalt of Catalunya in the future. This has not been an easy rally, but I have not done so much testing with the car in these sorts of conditions."
Freddy Loix / Sven Smeets: "I never really recovered from the opening day," said the Belgian. "However, things got a little better all the time and on the final leg I was quite comfortable with the car. We were able to try some settings for Catalunya, so this rally has been a useful experience."
Cedric Robert / Gerard Bedon: Cedric Robert was forced to retire from a strong sixth place yesterday after sliding off on some standing water.
With the rally route concentrated in the mountains around the island's capital of Ajaccio, the notoriously changeable weather proved a critical factor in the overall performance of the Fabia WRC. With the format of the route based on pairs of long stages it proved virtually impossible to find a tyre that worked perfectly in all conditions throughout the weekend. Nevertheless the cars ran almost faultlessly over the three days and, has Skoda Motorsport been registered for the 2004 World Rally Championship both Armin and Toni would have scored manufacturers' series points.
Armin Schwarz / Manfred Hiemer: "Overall this hasn't been a bad performance but we could have finished higher if I hadn't had my hydraulic problem on the second stage yesterday. The format of the event and the changing weather conditions meant that tyre choice was a complete gamble and I have to say that we didn't really get it right this weekend."
Toni Gardemeister / Paavo Lukander: "When the road surface was consistent I was able to set some good times and I have been generally pleased with my performance on asphalt here. It's been a bit of an up and down rally all weekend."
The second of two consecutive Mediterranean asphalt rallies, Rallye Catalunya starts on Friday 29 October. The penultimate round of the 2004 World Rally Championship is based in the coastal resort of Lloret de Mar, and features high-speed, smooth asphalt stages. The longest test is the Viladrau stage at 35.18km, while the shortest will be the La Roca stage at 5.05km. The event will conclude when the winning car crosses the finish ramp in Lloret de Mar at 1526hrs on Sunday.