Markko and Francois snatch podium

Markko and Francois snatch podiumFrom Ford Press [ 25/01/2004 ].
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Ford leads the manufacturer's championship after claiming a double podium finish on the prestigious Monte Carlo Rally. Markko Märtin was second on the opening round in his Focus RS WRC with team-mate François Duval (pictured) third in a similar car after three days of tough competition in the snowy and icy French Alps. Ford holds a four point lead at the top of the championship. The Monte Carlo Rally is regarded as the elite event in the 16-round championship and treacherous conditions on the narrow Alpine mountain roads ensured the event lived up to its reputation as one of the most difficult, not least the fog, which caused Markko a whole host of problems during the second leg.

Competitors faced snow, ice, fog and streaming wet asphalt - often encountering all within a few kilometres of each other on the same speed test. It made tyre selection a complicated art but Michelin's winter rubber proved ideal in the inconsistent weather.

Today's third and final leg was based around Monaco's harbour area, with the action confined to the mountains immediately behind the Principality. Two loops of two special stages covering 104.40km brought the rally total to 389.32km, although three tests and more than 81km of competition was either cancelled or neutralised for safety reasons. Today's itinerary included two passes over the legendary Col de Turini, one of the sport's mythical venues, where thousands of fans gathered to provide a noisy and colourful atmosphere.

The Focus RS of Duval and Prévot started the day in second with a slender 13.0sec advantage over Märtin's Castrol-backed version. Märtin won the icy opening stage as Duval spun and stalled the engine but the 23-year-old Belgian was faster than his colleague on the next and the two cars returned to the Monaco service park separated by just 6.7sec. Märtin then won the Turini test for a second time, his third stage win of the rally, to move ahead of Duval and he maintained that advantage to finish 7.0sec ahead.

"It's been an incredibly tough rally," said Märtin. "We've had snow, ice and fog and these Monte-type conditions are quite new to me so to finish second is much more than I expected. This weekend has been playing on my nerves for a long time. I was close to leading on Friday but on Saturday morning I lost so much time in the fog. Perhaps I need to eat more carrots! I set out to get second place back and managed to do so but I've been counting down the stages and I'm glad it's over. It's a great start to the season for Ford and now we've got to keep this up for the rest of the year."

Third for Duval matched his career best results, set in Turkey and Corsica last season. "I'm really happy to start the year on the podium," he said. "Markko was very fast over the Turini stage on both occasions and I prefer to be third than risk everything and crash. I've enjoyed this weekend a lot, taken no risks and made no mistakes. The conditions have been tough, especially on the Turini today, but I like that. My Focus has been perfect all rally and two cars in the top three, on one of the hardest rallies of the season, is a great way to start the year."

Duval, the youngest manufacturer-entered driver in the championship, was named the Inmarsat Star of the Rally for his performance.

Ford BP team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted. "It's a great start to the season for Ford to lead the championship," he said. "The Monte Carlo Rally is the most classic event in the series. Markko had a difficult rally but he pulled through and second was a good result for him. François had a fantastic event. He delivered an impeccable performance throughout and I'm confident he will win a world rally soon."