Martin Nets Fourth in Rally Sweden
Ford Rallye Sport drivers Markko Märtin (Estonia) and Michael Park (England) finished fourth on the Swedish Rally to extend the team's remarkable reliability and points scoring record in the FIA World Rally Championship.
It was the 16th consecutive event in which the Ford Focus RS World Rally Car has scored championship points, a record dating back to the opening event of the 2002 season and one unmatched in modern day rallying.
Defending World Champion Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) won his third Swedish Rally crossing the Karlstad finishing line ahead of Tommi Mäkinen and Richard Burns.
Märtin’s result on this second round of the 2003 championship follows a similar score on the opening event in Monte Carlo last month and leaves the 27-year-Estonian as one of three drivers sharing third place in the drivers’ standings. Ford lies third in the manufacturers’ table.
Teammates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen finished 11th in their Focus RS World Rally Car, a career best result for the 22-year-old Finnish driver on only his fifth world rally and his second with the Ford squad.
The third official Ford Focus entry of François Duval and Jean-Marc Fortin retired with suspension damage on the opening day.
The three-day rally is the only pure winter event in the 14-round championship. Temperatures as low as -25°C before the start left the roads of central Sweden in perfect condition. Frozen ice provided a solid surface on top of the loose gravel, although as temperatures climbed to around freezing during the course of the event a partial thaw set in and fresh snow lying on the ice turned to slush.
“Before the start I thought we could take a podium finish but after losing time in the snow due to our early road position on the opening day, fourth was the best we could hope for.” Said Märtin.
“We were under pressure from former teammate Colin McRae during the final stages and we’ve had to work pretty hard but our motivation came from the whole team which desperately wanted us to beat him.
“On my last two rallies I lost out in a final day battle, against Petter Solberg in Britain and Carlos Sainz in Monte Carlo, so this is third time lucky,” he added.
Hirvonen grew in confidence and experience as the rally progressed.
“I’ve learned so much in these last three days. It’s great to be at the finish but I would like to carry on driving for a few more days,” said the young Finn.
“We pushed quite hard at the start of the final stage but had two scary incidents so we decided to calm down, stop taking risks and settle for what we had.
“We’ve had a fantastic weekend. My stage times have been good throughout and we’ve achieved our main target that was to finish. This rally has done a lot for my confidence and my understanding of the Focus which is a great car to drive.”
Ford Rallye Sport team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted with the performance of both drivers.
“Considering Markko didn't compete here last year, he’s had a fantastic rally,” said Wilson.
“He kept his head, especially this morning, and really threw down the gauntlet to Colin, increasing his advantage as the day went on. There were quite a lot of people who said Markko wouldn’t be able to hold off Colin and he’s proved them wrong.
“It’s also been a great weekend for Mikko. It's only his fifth world rally and he’s driven a sensible, calculated event with no mistakes. Our youth policy will pay off in the long run. I’m disappointed not to bring all three cars to the finish and I think François Duval, who retired on Friday, missed valuable experience by not completing the rally.”
The World Rally Championship moves to Turkey for the first time later this month. The all-gravel Rally of Turkey, based in the coastal resort of Kemer on 27 February - 2 March, has replaced Kenya's Safari Rally in the calendar.
1. M Grönholm (Fin) / T Rautiainen (Fin) FIN Peugeot 206 3hr 03min 28.1sec
2. T Mäkinen (Fin) / K Lindström (Fin) Subaru Impreza +0:50.8
3. R Burns (GBR) / R Reid (GBR) Peugeot +1:17.9
4. M Märtin (Est) / M Park (GBR) Ford Focus RS +1:45.8
5. C McRae (GBR) / D Ringer (GBR) Citroen Xsara +2:15.8
6. P Solberg (Nor) / P Mills (Nor) Subaru Impreza +2:19.8
7. S Loeb (Fra) / D Elena (Fra) Citroen Xsara +3:14.7
8. T Gardemeister (Fin) /P Lukander (Fin) Skoda Octavia +3:19.2