Sardinia : Ford World Rally Team - Finish
Ford World Rally Team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen scored the best result of their careers by finishing second on the Rally d'Italia Sardegna today. The Finns took no risks in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car during
the final leg of this seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship to better their third place in Spain last year.
The result moved 25-year-old Hirvonen up to sixth in the drivers' championship, while BP-Ford strengthened its grip on second in the manufacturers' standings. Team-mates Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen retired from the lead yesterday morning after hitting a rock and losing all the oil from their car's engine. They remain second in the points table.
Searing temperatures in the north of the Mediterranean island, which reached 34˚C in the shade on the opening leg, and massive clouds of dust characterised this three-day event. Competitors tackled 344.94km of competition and the gravel tracks, which ranged from smooth to rocky and badly rutted, took a heavy toll on the 79 starters. Only 28 completed the entire route.
Today's final leg north of the rally base in Olbia was a real sting in the tail. Drivers faced six stages covering 77.94km with no opportunity for service once the action began. Hirvonen started with a comfortable 39.0sec advantage over third-placed Dani Sordo and adopted a cautious policy throughout, with no opportunity to catch the leader.
Nevertheless, he still posted two second fastest stage times and extended his margin over the Spaniard to 46.3sec.
"Finally everything has come together for me this weekend and it feels fantastic to finish second on a WRC event with a factory team for the first time," he said. "I just have one more step to reach the top level of the podium. It was a long and difficult weekend and I was nervous all day in case anything went wrong. I had just one problem yesterday but that was my mistake when I touched a bank. The roads were rougher then they looked on the recce but they were enjoyable to drive.
"Sardinia is a good island for me and it seems to have a good history for Finns. More than anything this weekend I have learned how to drive in these conditions without taking any risks and yet still achieve a good result. Previously when I have been chasing a podium I have had to push all the way, but here I was able to drive at a speed with which I was comfortable," he added.
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted with both Hirvonen's performance and that of the Focus RS. "Marcus won five of the seven stages before his retirement which gives a clear indication of the car's pace. Mikko delivered a powerful performance. Nobody can complain about finishing second to Loeb. He is becoming stronger with every event and looking to the rest of the season I feel confident as our driver line-up is improving and the team continues to move forward," he said.
Jost Capito, director of Ford TeamRS said: "I'm really happy for Mikko to achieve his career-best result, especially the mature way in which he secured it for a 25-year-old. Marcus' retirement was disappointing but his performance with the new Ford Focus RS WRC encourages us for the forthcoming events."
Irish duo Gareth MacHale and Paul Nagle were 11th in a privately-entered Focus RS, one place ahead of the similar 2004-specification car of Argentines Luis Perez Companc and Jose-Maria Volta. Matthew Wilson and Michael Orr were 34th in a Stobart VK M-Sport entered Focus RS after suspension and fly-by-wire throttle troubles on the opening day cost 45 minutes.
The first half of the season comes to an end with another hot weather, rough road event next month. The Acropolis Rally of Greece is based at Athens Olympic Stadium on 1 - 4 June and, having moved south to the capital city, will take in roads not used on the rally for many years.
Press release Ford World Rally Team