Flying Finn takes home win

Flying Finn takes home winFrom Ford Press [ 20/08/2006 ].
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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?"

Hirvonen 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?"

BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson said: "We have won before here but to achieve a double podium with two Finns is fantastic and we are in a great position for the rest of the season.  For Mikko to finish on the podium in his home city is fantastic for him.  He did a great job and has progressed so much this year.  It would have been very difficult for him to beat Marcus here and he did a mature job.  This rally started just four days after the finish of the previous event in Germany and this result is a reward for the thoroughly professional job done by the whole team."

Ford TeamRS director Jost Capito said: "This rally is the fastest and most spectacular in the championship and victory here is one of the most prized possessions in the sport.  This is our fourth win of the season with the new Focus RS WRC and Ford hasn't done that since 1993.  It's further evidence of the success of our rally programme and reflects the strong relationship that has been built between technicians, engineers, drivers and management - the whole team."

News from our Rivals

Sébastien Loeb (Citroen) took no risks through the final day to be the meat in BP-Ford's sandwich in second.  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.

Next round

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
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