Gronholm claims Corsica podium with Focus for BP-Ford BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen claimed their fourth podium finish in five rallies by finishing second on the Rallye de France Tour de Corse today. The...
Gronholm claims Corsica podium with Focus for BP-Ford
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen claimed their fourth podium finish in five rallies by finishing second on the Rallye de France Tour de Corse today. The Finns won two speed tests and were fastest in the third and final leg over the twisty and challenging mountain roads in Corsica in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car.
Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen finished fourth in a similar BP Ultimate and Castrol-branded Focus RS to secure their best result of the season on this fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship. The double points haul strengthens BP-Ford's grip on second in the manufacturers' championship and the team lies just three points from the lead. Gronholm remains second in the drivers' standings and Hirvonen moves up to seventh.
The rally, celebrating its 50th anniversary, is regarded as the ultimate asphalt event in the series. Twelve speed tests in the craggy mountains covering 355.16km provided a tough challenge. The indifferent weather is so often a key factor here as it influences tyre selection, but three days of sunshine ensured no difficulties this year for the BP-Ford and BFGoodrich engineers.
Gronholm started the final leg in a comfortable second, with no chance of hunting down overnight leader Sebastien Loeb and under no pressure from behind. The 38-year-old Finn took the opportunity to try a few modifications to his car's centre differential settings and was fastest over the final two tests, to take his total for the rally to three special stage victories.
"Second place is a good, solid result and while a driver is never totally happy with second, I am pleased with the eight points it brings," he said. "I didn't have the chance to win here against Loeb. I think I can beat him on asphalt but I just don't know where or when. I didn't have enough experience of the new Focus in competition on asphalt to match him. It's the first time in Corsica with the car and we haven't tested on roads like this so we're still learning. I felt something was missing but I don't know what that was. But the team is only three points from the championship lead and that puts us in a strong position going back to three gravel events."
Hirvonen began the day in fourth, embroiled in a fierce battle with Dani Sordo for the final podium place. The 25-year-old Finn reduced the margin to just 0.4sec on the opening stage but the Spaniard retaliated to increase it to 7.7sec at the midpoint of the leg. Hirvonen closed in to 5.2sec on the penultimate stage but could not match Sordo on the final test and they ended 10.5sec apart.
"I enjoyed the fight with Dani," he said. "Third would have been great but I'm lucky not to be halfway down a mountain. About 8.5km after the start of the last stage I slide wide in a corner onto some gravel. The car was totally off the road and I thought we would tumble over the edge. Thankfully we didn't and I eased off after that. I drove to the maximum until then and it was fantastic, but I had to think about the manufacturer points as well. It was like driving on a knife but I had a great rhythm and feeling with the car."
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson was satisfied with the team's points haul. "It keeps us in contention, especially with rallies coming up that suit our car and drivers. I'm delighted that Mikko scored good points that will give him a better start position for the gravel events to come. Apart from Citroen, we were the only other team to set fastest stage times and that pleases me," he said.
Ford TeamRS director Jost Capito said: "Three stage wins for Marcus and one for Mikko emphasises that the car is competitive on asphalt. We have more still to come from the Focus RS and I think we will have improved further by the time the next asphalt rally comes around in Germany in August."
News from our Rivals
Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) claimed his third consecutive victory, and his second straight Rallye de France success. The Frenchman won by 29.0sec and now leads the drivers' championship by 11 points. Behind Gronholm, young Spaniard Dani Sordo secured his second career podium after taking his first on home ground two weeks ago. Fifth enabled Alex Bengue (Peugeot) to climb into fifth in the championship. Eighth for Stephane Sarrazin (Subaru) and 11th for team-mate Petter Solberg guaranteed the team a double points finish. Twelfth for Harri Rovanpera (Skoda) on his debut for the team and 16th for team-mate Andreas Aigner gave them the final manufacturers' points, a happy way for Rovanpera to celebrate his 40th birthday yesterday.
The championship moves to south America later this month for BP-Ford's second long-haul event of the season. Rally Argentina (27 - 30 April) marks a return to gravel and is based in Cordoba.