Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers François Duval and Stéphane Pr
évot claimed their third podium finish of the season when they finished third on the Rally Argentina. Their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car avoided the serious problems which hindered the challenge of many of their rivals on this demanding eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, allowing the Belgians to claim their fifth points finish of the campaign.
Teammates Markko Märtin and Michael Park have been cleared to fly back to Europe following a massive accident on the opening leg. Both will fly to Britain where Märtin will visit a specialist for further tests as the 28-year-old Estonian is still suffering from blurred vision.
The crash happened after his Castrol-branded Focus RS landed on bed rock jutting out of the track after a flat out jump. Märtin admitted he had not seen the rock during the recce and it was not in his pace notes. But he added: "The crash could maybe have been avoided. I didn't see the rock in the recce. But if we had a gravel crew checking the stages, they may have noted it and I'm not sure whether the accident would have happened."
Much of the 382.63km of speed tests was new to Duval who was competing here for only the second time. However, experienced co-driver Pr
évot was able to offer valuable advice to his 23-year-old partner to guide him through the toughest sections of the four-day rally. It was Ford BP's seventh podium of the season and the result strengthened the team's hold on second in the manufacturers' championship. Duval maintains sixth in the drivers' standings.
The Cordoba province, 700km north of Buenos Aires, has not seen rain for several months and the gravel tracks were sandy and dusty for most of the 1347.27km route. The conditions took a heavy toll and only 29 of the 69 starters reached the finish at Cordoba's soccer stadium.
Duval's policy of caution from the start paid off. He climbed to third during the opening two legs as many of his rivals fell by the wayside and cruised the final day’s five tests with no problems to secure a podium place.
"It's a great result for the team, especially after Markko's bad crash," he said. "The car hasn't been so easy to drive but we've had no real problems and I made no mistakes. The roads were difficult, especially the final two days. There were many new stages for me as it's only my second time here so I've not pushed too hard and I'm delighted to be on the podium. It's incredible to see the huge crowds and it's been great to drive in front of so many people."
évot revealed that before the season he set a target of podium finishes on both the Monte Carlo Rally and Rally Argentina. The pair finished third on both. "They are special rallies for me so it's fantastic to achieve that target," said Pr
Ford BP team director Malcolm Wilson paid tribute to Duval's performance. "To come to Argentina and finish on the podium on only his second start here was an excellent display. We had a safety-first plan for him from the start and he followed the instructions perfectly. During the weekend we've seen how difficult this rally is and this was another extremely mature drive from someone who is still only 23 years of age."
News from our Rivals
Carlos Sainz (Citroen) cruised through the final leg to win by 1min 32.5sec and become the most successful rally driver in history. This was his 26th world rally victory, edging one ahead of ex-Ford driver Colin McRae. Teammate Sebastien Loeb was second to extend his championship lead to 17 points. Behind Duval, Mikko Hirvonen (Subaru), Harri Rovanperä (Peugeot) and Argentine private entrant Luiz Perez Companc maintained their overnight placings. Gilles Panizzi (Mitsubishi) completed his recovery after first day problems to finish back in the drivers' points in seventh.
The second half of the season begins with the fastest rally on the calendar. The all-gravel Rally Finland, based in Jyväskylä on 6-8 August, is known to locals as 'The Finnish Grand Prix'.
Final positions – Rally Argentina
1. C Sainz (Esp) / M Marti (Esp) - Citroen Xsara 4hr 23min 11.0sec
2. S Loeb (Fra) / D Elena (Mon) - Citroen Xsara +1:32.5
3. F Duval (Bel) / S Pr
évot (Bel) - Ford Focus RS +4:23.5
4. M Hirvonen (Fin) / J Lehtinen (Fin) - Subaru Impreza +8:27.7
5. H Rovanperä (Fin) / R Pietilainen (Fin) - Peugeot 307 +9:59.9
6. L Perez Companc (Arg) / J Volta (Arg) - Peugeot 206 +16:24.7
7. G Panizzi (Fra) / H Panizzi (Fra) - Mitsubishi Lancer +17:39.0
8. G Pozzo (Arg) / D Stillo (Arg) - Subaru Impreza +20:38.6
FIA World Rally Championship (after round 8 of 16)
1. S Loeb 61pts
2. P Solberg 44pts
3. M Märtin 34pts
4. C Sainz 34pts
5. M Grönholm 32pts
6. F Duval 29pts
1. Citroen 98pts
2. Ford 71pts
3. Subaru 64pts
4. Peugeot 51pts
5. Mitsubishi 14pts