Ford World Rally Team won two of the four speed tests on today's final leg of the Rally Finland as both drivers claimed points finishes in the FIA World Rally Championship. Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen finished fifth on the fastest rally of the season in their Ford Focus RS World
Rally Car with team- mates Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen one place behind in sixth in a similar car. Each claimed a special stage victory this morning.
Finn Hirvonen was promoted to the BP-Ford squad for his experience and knowledge of the dauntingly fast Finnish roads, the most specialised in the 16- round calendar. He never put a foot wrong and was only just edged out of fourth by former world champion Petter Solberg in a thrilling final day battle. He finished 1min 18.8sec ahead of the Castrol-branded Focus RS of Gardemeister, who was comfortable in fourth until a puncture late yesterday cost two minutes. The results strengthened Ford's grip on third in the manufacturers' standings.
Average speeds topped 129kph on the smooth roller-coaster gravel speed tests of this 10th round of the series. The wide, hard forest roads were packed with spectators throughout the three days of action, which included 355.59km of competition. Overcast skies threatened rain throughout today's final leg, which covered two loops of two speed tests near the rally base of Jyväskylä.
Hirvonen started 3.7sec behind Solberg. The 25-year-old won the third stage and posted two other top three times but could not close on the Norwegian, ending just 5.6sec behind.
"It's a great result both for me and the team," he said. "The fight today with Petter was one of the best battles of my career. The team sent us Petter's split times during the stages so I knew exactly what I had to do, but unfortunately I couldn't quite manage it. It has been a fantastic opportunity to drive for the Ford team and the pace has been high all weekend. Before the rally started my target was to set times that were close to Marcus Grönholm and Sebastien Loeb
and I achieved that."
After yesterday's time loss, Gardemeister's target for today was to overhaul fellow Finn Harri Rovanperä. He started just 3.8sec behind and moved into sixth on the opening test, eventually stretching his advantage to 55.5sec.
"I attacked hard on the first two stages and that was enough to get by Rovanperä," said Gardemeister, who was fastest over the opening test. "After that I was able to cruise because he was too far back to worry me. The roads were quite wet today and I had a tyre vibration on the second stage so I drove carefully to avoid any problems - fast but safe. I'm pleased to score points for Ford but disappointed from a personal view. Until yesterday evening, I was comfortable in fourth."
Roman Kresta and Jan Moný, driving a 2003-specification Focus RS, enjoyed a clean run today after two troubled legs. The Czechs, competing in Finland for the first time, adopted a risk-free strategy throughout as they concentrated on learning the characteristics of the technically difficult Finnish stages. After going off the road and losing further time with hydraulic problems on the opening two legs, 29-year-old Kresta climbed from 30th overnight to 23rd today.
"At last I've had a good day!" said Kresta. "I just drove to finish this morning. It has been a hard weekend and I hope the next round in Germany will be easier than this. This was my first time in Finland and the pace of the event was just incredible. It is like Formula 1 in the forests and it really does take some getting used to. The amount of time in sixth gear is amazing."
Private entrants Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud finished ninth in a Focus RS. "Friday and Saturday were hard and more difficult than I expected," said Solberg. "I wanted more from Friday and losing time yesterday, when the car stalled on the startline, was time I didn't want to lose. But I've really enjoyed the rally and the set-up of the car is now perfect for my next event in Britain."
Antony Warmbold and Michael Orr restarted today under SupeRally regulations after crashing yesterday. They completed all the stages but having dropped so much time yesterday, they withdrew before the finish.
The championship returns to asphalt later this month for the first time since the opening round in Monte Carlo in January. The Rallye Deutschland is based in Trier on 25 - 28 August.
Press release Ford World Rally Team