Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen matched their career-best result by finishing second on the Acropolis Rally of Greece today in a Focus RS World Rally Car. The Finns equalled their runner-up position on the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally and climbed
to third in the FIA World Rally Championship as the series reached its midpoint. They are one of only two pairings to have scored points on all eight rounds to date.
Fellow countrymen Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen finished fifth in a privately-entered Focus RS. They held off another Finn, Harri Rovanperš, by powering their car to fastest time on both the final two speed tests.
The mountain roads of central Greece were generally regarded as being smoother then ever, although there were still several rough and rocky sections for which this rally is so renown. Temperatures hovered just below 35įC, ensuring a tough test of stamina for the drivers and demanding strong reliability from engines, transmission and suspension. Drivers tackled 19 special stages covering 349.57km. All but the spectacular opening test in Athens' Olympic Stadium, which attracted 65,000 fans, were on gravel.
Today's final leg comprised just four stages and 98.79km. Having edged ahead of Carlos Sainz in a titanic battle yesterday, Gardemeister was intent on cementing second place this morning. His Castrol-branded Focus RS was quickest through the opening test and second fastest on the next to widen his overnight 7.7sec advantage over the Spaniard to 25.6sec. Sainz was unwilling to risk third by fighting any longer and Gardemeister was able to ease his pace in the final two stages.
"It was definitely maximum attack early this morning," said 30-year-old Gardemeister. "I had an excellent tyre choice and the car was perfect. I tried to drive in the clean line on the road and eased off a little when I saw Carlos' split times were slower than mine. The second loop was difficult. We tracked Carlos' split times and slowed a little. But it's harder to drive slower because I lose my rhythm when I drop my speed.
"We've had no big problems and the whole weekend has gone well. We've pushed hard from the very first kilometre. It's hard to fight against someone as experienced as Carlos but we did it. The Focus has worked well, Michelin's tyres have been excellent and now we have to try to turn second place into a win in the second half of the season," he added.
Hirvonen and Lehtinen, who took full advantage of better road conditions to lead the rally on the opening morning, came out on top of a huge battle with Rovanperš. The margin between the two drivers fluctuated greatly yesterday but Hirvonen started today with a 26.9sec advantage. Rovanperš narrowed the gap to 2.3sec on the first two tests but a blistering pace on the final two stages allowed Hirvonen to stretch the advantage to 31.2sec. He set three fastest times in total.
"It was really slippery in the first stage and so dusty that in places I couldn't see where I was going," said Hirvonen. "I think I took the wrong tyres, they were too hard. I expected Harri to be faster than me on the opening stage because he has driven it before and I haven't. He was quick and I admit I was a bit worried going into the final two stages. As a privateer we have to work hard, but we've had a lot of help from M-Sport and Michelin for which I'm grateful. It has finally gone as it should. We had a few problems but we overcame them and this is a fantastic result."
BP-Ford team-mates Roman Kresta and Jan Moěnż, restarted today under the SupeRally regulations after retiring their Focus RS on each of the first two legs. They completed the first two stages but Moěnż felt unwell and the Czech duo withdrew.
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted with Gardemeister's podium. "He was under pressure to score a good result and he's delivered," he said. "Sebastien Loeb
made history here and so this feels as good as a win for our team. Toni maintained a podium position virtually all weekend. It's taken him a while this season to fully understand the Focus but this rally has always been a good one for the car and so it proved again. Mikko was superb. Driving a 2003-specification car he set three fastest stage times and that proves the car is still super- competitive."
After four consecutive hot weather events, the temperature will cool somewhat when BP-Ford travels into the south American winter for the Rally Argentina in Villa Carlos Paz on 14 - 17 July.
Press release Ford World Rally Team