BP-Ford Duo Claims Double Points
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Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen
in action at the 2006 Rally Mexico
on this page,
6th March, 2006
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen and team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen both claimed points finishes on the Rally Mexico. Grönholm recovered from a first day crash to finish eighth in his Ford Focus RS World Rally Car while Hirvonen bounced back from rolling on day 2 to take 15th in a similar car. The result maintains the team's record of scoring points on every world rally since the start of the 2002 season.
Both BP-Ford pairings retired from the leg after their accidents but returned the following day under SupeRally regulations to complete this demanding three-day event, the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship 2006. Grönholm fought back from 22nd to claim drivers' and manufacturers points while Hirvonen secured the final manufacturers' point. Ford now lies second in the standings and Grönholm holds second in the drivers' championship.
Sizzling heat graced the León-based rally and high temperatures in the gravel mountain speed tests north and east of the city posed a tough challenge for drivers, cars and tyres. Only 17 of the 39 starters completed the entire 359.54km of competition.
As the opening gravel rally of the season, the dominant surface in the 16-round championship, performances here are expected to provide a reliable guide for the year ahead. The Focus RS posted a string of top three stage times, despite running at the head of the running order for much of the rally on slippery loose gravel which was swept clear to leave a cleaner line for those behind.
Grönholm started the final leg in 11th, intent on using the three stages covering 60.42 kms to climb back into a drivers' points position. He was second fastest on the opening two stages to move up to eighth and reach his target.
"We've enjoyed really good reliability and speed from the car on our first gravel event - it was the driver that made the mistake," said the 38-year-old Finn. "I've felt confident here and that is a good sign for the other gravel events this season. I would have liked to have had a good fight with Loeb and Solberg and I could have taken a good result without that mistake. I'm sure we can respond on the next two asphalt rallies because the Focus has a good history on that surface."
Twenty-five-year-old Hirvonen started this morning in 17th. His aim was to preserve the final manufacturers' point for BP-Ford and he took no risks to achieve that. "I'm happy with my speed this weekend but I just need to put my mistakes away," he said. "I realise now that I don't need to take any risks to set good stage times. I need to be a bit calmer. But at least we know that the Focus RS is competitive on gravel. It has been perfect - it just doesn't run very well on its roof!"
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson drew some positives from a weekend that didn't live up to hopes. "We scored points and salvaged something from the event," he said. "It was a good effort from Marcus to score driver points. I'm pleased we were fighting for the lead on the first day with both drivers and equally happy that we had no technical issues with the car on its first gravel rally."
News from Ford's Rivals
World champion Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) cruised through the final leg to score his first victory of the season and move to the top of the drivers' championship. He won by 48.9 seconds from Petter Solberg (Subaru) with Manfred Stohl (Peugeot) taking the final podium place. Fourth was a career best result for Dani Sordo (Citroen) on his first gravel event in a World Rally Car. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) climbed back into the drivers' points after his first-day roll. He finished seventh.
The championship returns to Europe for the first pure asphalt rally of the season later this month. The sweeping roads close to the rally base of Salou host Spain's Rally Catalunya - Costa Daurada on 23rd - 26th March.
FIA World Rally Championship (after round 3 of 16)
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