Ford take 1-2 in Turkey
- 16th October 2006, 8:38am
It was Ford's first 1-2 finish since the Rally Mexico in 2004 and the result propelled the team into an eight point lead in the manufacturers' championship with just three rounds of the 16 event series remaining. In the drivers' standings, 38-year-old Grönholm narrowed the gap to injured championship leader Sébastien Loeb to 25 points while Hirvonen climbed to third in the table.
This 13th round of the series delivered some of the most perilous conditions seen in the WRC for a long time. Torrential rain turned the gravel tracks in the Toros mountains, above the south coast holiday resort of Kemer, into swamps. More than half of the opening day's action was cancelled, slashing the competitive distance to 268.78km. Drivers yesterday compared the flooded roads to a skating rink. In contrast, today's final leg was played out in glorious sunshine and drying roads.
Grönholm started the morning with a 2min 05.2sec lead over Hirvonen. Both Finnish pairings took no risks on the final three speed tests, covering 50.96km, and returned to the Kemer finish without any challenge from behind. Neither driver experienced any problems with their Focus RS cars throughout the three-day event, and both were delighted with the performance of BFGoodrich's tyres in the hazardous conditions.
"To win with no problems in such tricky conditions is a fantastic achievement from the whole team," said Grönholm, who won five speed tests and for whom this was his 23rd WRC victory. "Yesterday was one of the worst days I have seen in the WRC. It was a difficult rally with so much mud and I felt far more relaxed when I no longer had to push after Petter Solberg retired yesterday. It was incredibly hard to attack on roads that were so slippery it was difficult to stand up.
"Now we have to try to extend our lead in the manufacturers' series. That is my priority. This victory has allowed me to close the gap on Sébastien Loeb in the drivers' championship but I'm not really thinking about that title now," he added.
"This has been a really strong weekend from the team and a very important result," said 26-year-old Hirvonen, who won two stages. "We made no mistakes which is excellent in these tough conditions. They constantly changed and we even saw hail yesterday. I was confident before the start because I knew changes to the set-up of my car would benefit me and I would be quicker. It is fantastic to have a 1-2 finish for Ford and Finland. We had such a good car and it was a good team effort. There are three more rallies and I hope for three more podiums."
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson: "This is a dream result, especially on an event with difficult conditions in which it was so easy to make mistakes. Full credit goes to both drivers. Marcus imposed himself on the rally from the start and Mikko was fabulously strong, showing how much he is improving. He is doing a remarkable job and has an extremely mature head on young shoulders. It was a great performance by the whole team. We wish Sébastien a speedy recovery and hope he is back in action as soon as possible."
Jost Capito, director of Ford TeamRS, added: "This has been the best performance we have seen from the new Focus RS World Rally Car in its first season of competition. What is equally impressive is that this result was achieved in appalling weather and road conditions but neither car had any troubles. We now lead the manufacturers' standings and preserving that advantage is our target for the rest of the season."
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Henning Solberg (Peugeot) claimed his first WRC podium finish in third, despite a leaking brake pipe on the penultimate stage which he fixed himself. A thrilling three-car battle for fourth saw the trio swap positions on every stage. It ended with Xevi Pons (Citroen) leaping from sixth to fourth on the final test. He finished 1.1sec ahead of Kosti Katajamaki (Ford), who climbed to fourth on the penultimate stage but suffered a loss of power on the final test due to high oil and gearbox temperatures. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) started the day in fourth but spun on the penultimate stage to slip to fifth and dropped another place on the last test. Dani Sordo (Citroen) started the day in 10th but snatched seventh with top three times on the final two stages. However, team-mate Colin McRae had less success, stopping on the final test with alternator troubles and losing seventh place.
The championship moves to Australia later this month for the first of two rounds in Australasia. The Western Australian capital of Perth hosts Rally Australia for the final time on 26 - 29 October.
1. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen Ford Focus RS 3hr 28min 16.3sec
2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen Ford Focus RS 3hr 30min 39.7sec
3. H Solberg/C Menkerud Peugeot 307 3hr 31min 22.3sec
4. X Pons/C Del Barrio Citroen Xsara 3hr 31min 43.7sec
5. K Katajamaki/T Alanne Ford Focus RS 3hr 31min 44.8sec
6. C Atkinson/G MacNeall Subaru Impreza 3hr 31min 52.8sec
7. D Sordo/M Marti Citroen Xsara 3hr 32min 41.1sec
8. M Stohl/I Minor Peugeot 307 3hr 32min 46.6sec
9. F Duval/ P Pivato Skoda Fabia 3hr 33min 51.9sec
10 A Aigner/K Wicha Skoda Fabia 3hr 35min 13.7sec
FIA World Rally Championship (after round 13 of 16)
1. S Loeb 112pts   ;
2. M Grönholm 87pts
3. M Hirvonen 47pts
4. D Sordo 43pts
5. M Stohl 34pts
6. H Solberg 25pts
1. BP-Ford 153pts
2. Kronos Citroen 145pts
3. Subaru 83pts
4. OMV - Peugeot Norway 67pts
5. Stobart VK M-Sport Ford 35pts
6. Red-Bull Skoda 23pts
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