for Ford in Corsica
BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team finished second and third on Rallye de France in Corsica today to top the points on this 13th round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen claimed second in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, arriving at the Ajaccio finish 6.9sec ahead of team-mates François Duval and Patrick Pivato in a similar car.
Hirvonen and Duval tussled for second and third for the opening two days, with the gap never greater than six seconds. However, when Hirvonen hit a pothole and had to stop to change a tyre on this morning's opening speed test, the top of the leaderboard was turned on its head. The 28-year-old Finn slipped to fifth behind the Focus RS WRC duo of Duval and Jari-Matti Latvala and also Petter Solberg. When Solberg punctured on the next stage, Hirvonen climbed to fourth and the team was able to activate a plan to keep alive the title hopes of both Ford and Hirvonen.
Duval deliberately checked into the start of the final special stage early to incur a two minute penalty while Latvala intentionally clocked in late to pick up a 90sec penalty. It allowed Hirvonen to move back into second. The extra points gained leave him 14 points from the lead with two rounds remaining, while second-placed BP Ford Abu Dhabi closed the gap to 23 points in the title race.
The Mediterranean island was bathed in sunshine throughout the three-day event, which comprised 16 speed tests on the west coast covering 359.02km. Tortuously twisty mountain roads provided a tough challenge for drivers while a mix of the high temperatures and frequently broken asphalt demanded strong durability from Pirelli's PZero tyres.
"I really appreciate what Jari-Matti and François did to help my title challenge," said Hirvonen. "There was a lot of broken asphalt in these stages and I saw a pothole in the distance about 4km after the start. I decided to drive over it – sometimes you do and sometimes you don't – but unfortunately the impact broke the wheel rim and allowed the air to escape from the front right tyre. I could have avoided it by driving around the hole so it was my mistake. I had to stop and change the tyre.
"There's still a chance to win the title and I will do all I can on the final two rounds in Japan and Britain. I'm really pleased with my speed on asphalt and my confidence has improved greatly on this surface both in Spain last week and here," he added.
Duval, whose third place followed fourth in Spain last weekend after being called into the team for the first time since 2004 due to his asphalt expertise, was happy. "I made no mistakes and a podium is a great result," said the 27-year-old Belgian. "My role was to help the team and so it made perfect sense for me to help Mikko here. This was a tough rally and I've had to work hard for third, but that's how I like it. The roads were narrow and difficult but those are the type of stages I enjoy."
Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr finished 12th in the team's other Focus RS WRC. "I made changes to the car's set-up this weekend and I'm nearly happy with that now. I have more to learn about my driving style on asphalt. I have a little knowledge, and I will gain more, but in general I'm pleased with the weekend," said Al Qassimi.
BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson explained the team's decision. "Rallying is a complex sport and the situation we found ourselves in this afternoon was far from ideal. However, we have to do everything we can to try to win the manufacturers' title for a third consecutive season and to give Mikko the best opportunity of claiming the drivers' crown," he said.
Ford of Europe's motorsport director, Mark Deans, said: "To see three Focus RS WRCs in the top four places is a great result. We've kept our championship hopes alive. It will be difficult to retain the manufacturers' title but we'll give our all during the final two rounds. We have a fantastic group of drivers and Jari-Matti Latvala's return to the official team in Japan augurs well for our chances there."
Team Roumd Up
Sébastien Loeb (Citroen) led from start to finish to claim his second victory in consecutive weekends and his fifth in a row. The Frenchman won by 3min 24.7sec. Behind the Ford trio, Petter Solberg (Subaru) claimed fifth despite losing more than two minutes with a puncture on both passes through the second stage in the loop and team-mate Chris Atkinson rounded off the top six. Eighth for Stobart driver Matthew Wilson (Ford) and 13th for Toni Gardemeister (Suzuki) were enough to claim the final manufacturers' points.