BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen won Rally Finland today after dominating the fastest rally of the year in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car.
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen won Rally Finland today after dominating the fastest rally of the year in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. It was the team's fourth victory of the FIA World Rally Championship season, already making this Ford's most successful campaign since 1993 with six rounds still remaining. The victory was Grönholm's sixth in seven years here and his triumph marked Finland's 50th win in the rally's 56-year history.
Team-mate Mikko Hirvonen delighted his home town fans by bringing a similar BP Ultimate and Castrol-branded Focus RS to the finish in Jyväskylä in third. It was the third podium of the season for Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen, and the double points haul enabled BP-Ford to close the gap on the leaders in the manufacturers' championship, leaving the title race open. Grönholm retains second in the drivers' standings and Hirvonen climbs to fourth.
Rally Finland is regarded as the classic event in the championship. Wide, smooth gravel roads and stomach-churning jumps through the forests ensured that precision driving and bravery were more important here than anywhere else. The pace through the 21 speed tests covering 351.61km was breathtaking, 38-year-old Grönholm winning one special stage yesterday at an average speed of 128.81kph. BP-Ford's domination was such that the team won 16 stages.
Thirty-eight-year-old Grönholm led from virtually the first kilometre of the four-day rally and was fastest on 12 stages. He began the third and final leg with a comfortable lead of over a minute. He set a fast but safe pace through the final four tests to win by 66.7sec.
"When I was a young driver in the 1990s, I could never have believed that I would win this rally six times," he said. "I've not had a single problem all weekend and victory here is really important to me. I had a good fight with Loeb but once he hit a rock and dropped time yesterday, I had a comfortable lead and could pace myself to the finish. My target is to win every rally now. I know I can win more rallies this season. With the Focus RS, I have the car to do it, so why not?"
Second place went to a consoled Sebastien Loeb (Citroen): "I won't pretend that I didn't want to win this rally, but that plan didn't quite work out. While there's no shame in giving best to Marcus Grönholm on his home territory, I still feel a bit disappointed. What I will remember about this event is the fact that my Xsara has taken yet another step forward, thanks to all the hard work from Citroen Sport's development team. The car's stability has got even better, and its handling is more precise now. It really gave me a lot of confidence. I don't think we have ever been so close to Marcus here : thanks to a big attack and a trouble-free run we were able to beat him for the first time on the Ouninpohja stage. So now we know it's possible - and we know as well just how much effort we need to put in to get there."
Making it a Ford 1-3, Gronholm's team-mate MikoHirvonen was also in a comfortable position starting the final day, with no pressure from behind. He was fastest on all four stages to fulfil a boyhood dream of a podium in a country where rallying ranks among the top three sports.
"It's hard to describe my feelings," he said. "I have watched this rally since I was a kid, dreaming of a podium and now I have achieved it. It has been clear since yesterday that I could take a podium and it's a great personal achievement. I was happy with my speed but I need more experience of these roads to be able to fight Marcus for victory. I finished fifth last year, third now so where will I be next year?"
Henning Solberg (Peugeot) equalled his career-best result in fourth and, despite a 20 second time penalty imposed overnight, Gigi Galli (Peugeot) held off Janne Tuohino (Citroen) for fifth. The final driver points went to Jussi Välimäki (Citroen) and Jan Kopecky (Skoda). There were no major retirements today.
The busy start to the second half of the season continues as the BP-Ford team heads to Obihiro next month for Rally Japan (31 August - 3 September). The gravel event is based on Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido.
Final positions Rally of Finland 2006
1. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS 2hr 52min 50.3sec
2. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen Xsara 2hr 53min 57.0sec
3. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 2hr 54min 24.8sec
4. H Solberg/C Menkerud N Peugeot 307 2hr 56min 48.1sec
5. G Galli/G Bernacchini I Peugeot 307 2hr 58min 30.2sec
6. J Tuohino/M Markkula FIN Citroen Xsara 2hr 58min 55.3sec
7. J Välimäki/J Kalliolepo FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 2hr 59min 45.7sec
8. J Kopecky/F Schovanek CZ Skoda Fabia 3hr 03min 05.3sec
9. M Stohl/I Minor A Peugeot 307 3hr 06min 18.3sec
10 M Wilson/M Orr GB Ford Focus RS 3hr 07min 37.7sec
FIA World Rally Championship (after round 10 of 16)
1. S Loeb 92pts
2. M Grönholm 61pts
3. D Sordo 41pts
4. M Hirvonen 27pts
5. M Stohl 24pts
6. P Solberg 20pts
1. Kronos Citroen 122pts
2. BP-Ford 107pts
3. Subaru 65pts
4. OMV - Peugeot Norway 50pts
5. Stobart VK M-Sport Ford 24pts
6. Red-Bull Skoda 22pts