Ford Rallye Sport driver François Duval claimed a career best result when he and co-driver Stéphane Pr
évot finished third on the Rally of Turkey in a Focus RS World Rally Car.
Twenty-two-year-old Duval became the youngest driver to claim a podium position in the history of the FIA World Rally Championship and the result was all the more remarkable as this was the first occasion on which the two Belgians have competed together.
The event was won by Carlos Sainz ahead of Richards Burns.
Teammates Markko Märtin and Michael Park added to Ford’s joy by finishing sixth in another Focus RS and ensuring a double points haul for the team. The 27-year-old Estonian now lies fourth in the world championship with Ford maintaining third in the manufacturers’ standings.
An extremely wet winter ensured the gravel tracks on this third round of the 14-event championship were so rough that just 27 of the 60 starters completed the four days of competition, covering 337.88km in the mountains of southern Turkey.
Ford Rallye Sport’s points haul on such a tough event enhanced the reputation of the Focus as a strong and dependable car that thrives in rugged conditions. It was the car’s 17th consecutive finish in the points and a fitting end to the career of the 2002 Focus RS WRC which will be replaced by the 2003 model on round four in New Zealand next month.
The partnership between Duval and Pr
évot was formed less than two weeks before the start of this rally and Pr
évot's remarkable achievement was recognised when he was named the Inmarsat Star of the Rally, winning $US5000 for a charity of his choice. The 34-year-old will donate the money to UNICEF.
“I drove to avoid the rocks and the Focus was perfect throughout the event,” said Duval.
“I felt very relaxed until the final two stages when I became quite nervous. It helped when Carlos, who was my teammate last year, came up to me before the final stage and told me to keep calm and take no risks.
“Before the start my aim was to finish but it was just as important to build a good relationship with Stéphane on our first rally. We worked well together and I'm as pleased about that as I am about the result.”
Duval now sits eighth in the drivers’ standings.
Märtin recovered superbly after a broken shaft in the gearbox cost 3min 30sec early on the opening day. Despite a poor road position for the entire rally, which left his Focus RS running close to the head of the field and inadvertently sweeping the loose gravel clear for the benefit of those behind, he set two fastest stage times after charging back up the leaderboard from 12th position.
Ford Rallye Sport team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted with the outcome of the rally.
“Stéphane was a big influence on this result but François knows that his work is only just starting now,” said Wilson.
“He now has to live up to this performance. I'm disappointed for Markko because so many people thought he was capable of winning here and his stage times proved that was the case.”
The championship now heads to one of the drivers’ favourite events. The fast, flowing and smooth roads of the Rally New Zealand (11 - 13 April) are regarded as the best rally stages in the championship calendar. The North Island's largest city of Auckland hosts the event.