Rally Spanje 2008 03-05 oktober 2008

Duval generosity helps Hirvonen to podium place in Spain:

BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team finished third and fourth on Rally de España today after three days of tough competition in the hills above Spain's Costa Daurada coast. Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen claimed the final podium place, their ninth in 12 rallies this season, in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car while team-mates François Duval and Patrick Pivato were fourth in a similar car after an incident-free weekend on the asphalt roads of Catalonia.

The two Ford pairings held third and fourth from Friday's opening kilometre, with Duval holding the upper hand over 28-year-old Hirvonen. However, the 27-year-old Belgian, drafted into the Ford line-up for his asphalt expertise for the first time since 2004, allowed Hirvonen to move ahead on today's final leg to boost his challenge for the drivers' crown in the FIA World Rally Championship. The Finn retains second in the standings, 12 points from the lead with three of the 15 rounds remaining. Reigning champion Ford continues to hold second in the manufacturers' table.

This is the fastest sealed surface rally of the championship, the smooth asphalt and flowing bends likened to a race circuit by drivers. However, yesterday's second leg contained new sections of road which were tighter and twistier than the traditional speed tests. Some parts were also slippery as drivers cut corners and dragged stones and dirt on to the road surface. Competitors tackled 18 special stages covering 353.62km in the Tarragona region, south-west of Barcelona.

Duval started today's final leg, covering six tests and 93.88km, with a 13.2sec advantage over Hirvonen. He was fastest over the opening test and increased the margin to 20.1sec by the mid-leg service at the rally base in Salou. As he eased off during the second pass over the roads, Hirvonen came to the fore and won the final three stages to head his colleague by 8.3sec at the finish.

"This was a good weekend for me and I'm happy to be back in the Ford team," said Duval. "I made no mistakes and suffered no punctures and this has given me real confidence for next weekend's rally in Corsica. This isn't my favourite asphalt event because the surface is too pure and too smooth, like driving on a motorway at times. However, I found a good set-up for my Focus, my pace was consistent and I enjoyed the tougher and more slippery roads yesterday.

Hirvonen was frustrated at being unable to find a good rhythm until yesterday afternoon and paid tribute to Duval. "This wasn't how I wanted to take a podium and I really have to thank François. He was a true team player and helped me to score an extra point. Winning the drivers' championship will be very difficult now but it isn't out of the question so I will keep trying. I finally found a good rhythm yesterday afternoon and I've learned a lot about driving on this surface this weekend.

With no pressure on the BP Ford Abu Dhabi drivers from behind, Hirvonen tested Pirelli's soft compound PZero tyre this morning to gather data for next weekend's rally. "We wanted to know how the soft tyres would work in these conditions, even though we knew it wasn't the compound we would have chosen in normal circumstances, and I hope that information will pay off in Corsica," he added.

Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr finished 21st in their Focus RS WRC. They retired after the final stage of the first leg with differential problems following a spin into a ditch and restarted under SupeRally rules the next day in 42nd. "The weather made it easier for us," said Al Qassimi. "I changed my settings a lot and it was only on the last three or four stages that I was really happy and able to step up my commitment. I've learned how to drive on asphalt and have more confidence now."

BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson said the team delivered a strong performance after a difficult first day. "François' performance proved it was the right decision to bring him into the team. He did a great job to support Mikko in his quest to be drivers' champion. Now our attentions turn to Corsica where we feel the nature of the stages will better suit our cars and drivers," he added.

Mark Deans, Ford of Europe's motorsport director, said: "Francois came into the team to help our championship aspirations. We've greatly appreciated his efforts in fine-tuning the set-up of the Focus on asphalt and, of course, his spirit in assisting Mikko's title challenge this morning. I hope his professionalism can be rewarded further in Corsica next weekend."

News from our Rivals

Sébastien Loeb (Citroen) led from start to finish to claim his 45th world rally victory, heading team-mate Dani Sordo by 24.9sec. Behind Hirvonen and Duval, Petter Solberg (Subaru) claimed fifth after a close fight with Urmo Aava (Citroen). Aava moved ahead with two stages remaining but crashed on the penultimate test, breaking his car's suspension. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) and Stobart driver Jari-Matti Latvala (Ford) battled each other all rally, the Finn moving ahead with two stages remaining. He held off Atkinson's fightback to take sixth by just 1.1sec. Andreas Mikkelsen (Ford) claimed the final drivers' point while ninth for Stobart driver Matthew Wilson (Ford) took the final manufacturers' point.

Next round

There is no time for teams to rest as the BP Ford Abu Dhabi squad tomorrow crosses the Mediterranean to Corsica for next weekend's Rallye de France (9 - 12 October). The final all-asphalt event of the season, and round 13 of the 15-rally championship, is based in Ajaccio.

Final positions
1. S Loeb/D ElenaFRA Citroen C4 3hr 21min 17.4sec
2. D Sordo/M MartiESP Citroen C4 3hr 21min 42.3sec
3. M Hirvonen/J LehtinenFIN Ford Focus RS 3hr 22min 19.9sec
4. F Duval/P PivatoBEL Ford Focus RS 3hr 22min 28.2sec
5. P Solberg/P MillsNOR Subaru Impreza 3hr 24min 44.8sec
6. J-M Latvala/M AnttilaFIN Ford Focus RS 3hr 25min 21.2sec
7. C Atkinson/S Prévot AUS Subaru Impreza 3hr 25min 22.3sec
8. A Mikkelsen/O FloeneNOR Ford Focus RS 3hr 26min 37.0sec
9. M Wilson/S MartinGBR Ford Focus RS 3hr 29min 00.6sec
10 B Tirabassi/F Gordon FRA Subaru Impreza 3hr 30min 22.4sec

Bron: M-Sport

03-10-2008 - Duval edges out Hirvonen to lie third after opening day in Spain

BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team enjoyed a solid start to Rally de España to hold third and fourth places following today's opening leg. François Duval and Patrick Pivato, returning to the official Ford line-up for the first time since 2004, lie third in a Focus RS World Rally Car, just 2.8sec ahead of team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen. The equally-matched Ford duo traded places throughout the day and tonight's gap is the widest it has been all day.

Late summer holidaymakers and locals alike packed the seafront in the bustling Costa Daurada resort of Salou, south of Barcelona, last night for the start ceremony of this 12th round of the FIA World Rally Championship. The action began in earnest this morning as competitors tackled two identical loops of three flowing asphalt speed tests covering 131.76km in the Tarragona region.

Glorious sunshine bathed the hills north of Salou. While temperatures reached 19ºC on the coast, they were a chilly 8ºC when the opening special stage blasted into action this morning, and drivers initially found it hard to generate heat in their hard compound Pirelli tyres. Combined with dirt dragged onto the roads by drivers cutting corners to shave tenths of a second from their times, the smooth asphalt, likened to a race circuit in its characteristics, was slippery as grip was often hard to find.

Duval and Hirvonen swapped places on each test during the morning loop, the 27-year-old Belgian returning to the Salou service park just 2.2sec ahead of Hirvonen. While Duval was happy with his progress, 28-year-old Hirvonen was frustrated at his pace and softened his suspension spring settings for the afternoon loop to try to improve his feeling and increase his speed. Hirvonen was tied for third with Duval after the penultimate stage but Duval had the edge again on the final test.

Hirvonen was happier this afternoon after the changes gave him a more comfortable feeling. "The gap to the leaders was quite large after the first loop," he said. "I didn't feel confident with the car and didn't push as much as I knew I could so I talked with my engineers to see how we could find more speed. We changed to softer suspension springs, closer to the set-up I had for Rallye Deutschland in August. I prefer a softer set-up with more grip, that's my natural feeling, so I had more confidence and my times were closer to the leaders. It's not possible to make big changes to the car because then I would end up compromising in other areas.

"I had a good battle with François, and I'm sure it will be the same tomorrow, but I can't say I enjoyed the day. The morning was disappointing which I didn't expect. After the test in Spain last week I felt excited as everything felt good and I thought I'd made a good step in the right direction. I was happier this afternoon and I hope we can do some magic tonight," he added.

BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson was happy with third and fourth positions. "I'm surprised at the size of the gap that the leading two cars opened during the first three stages. However, we made some changes to Mikko's car at service which resulted in him feeling more confident this afternoon, and both drivers are in strong positions for the second leg," he added.

News from our Rivals

Sébastien Loeb (Citroen) controlled the day by winning all six stages to build a 15.8sec lead over team-mate Dani Sordo, who was second fastest on each stage. Behind the Ford duo, there was little movement on the leaderboard all day. Petter Solberg (Subaru) holds fifth ahead of Urmo Aava (Citroen) while Norway's Andreas Mikkelsen (Ford) lies seventh, having been fifth earlier in the leg. Stobart driver Jari-Matti Latvala (Ford) rounds off the top eight. Toni Gardemeister (Suzuki) spun on the opening stage before dropping off the top 10 leaderboard when he lost two minutes with a puncture in the penultimate test. Team-mate Per-Gunnar Andersson (Suzuki) retired on the second stage after crashing into a ditch.

Tomorrow's Route

The second leg takes drivers north-west of Salou for two identical clockwise loops of three tests covering 127.98km, split by a return to the town for service. The opening stage of each loop is the monster 38.27km El Priorat / La Ribera d'Ebre, the longest of the rally. Competitors leave Salou at 07.30 and return for the final overnight halt at 17.56.

Leaderboard after Day 1
1. S Loeb/D Elena FRA Citroen C4 1hr 10min 11.5sec
2. D Sordo/M Marti ESP Citroen C4 1hr 10min 27.3sec
3. F Duval/P Pivato BEL Ford Focus RS 1hr 10min 52.8sec
4. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 1hr 10min 55.6sec
5. P Solberg/P Mills NOR Subaru Impreza 1hr 11min 59.0sec
6. U Aava/K Sikk EST Citroen C4 1hr 12min 12.7sec
7. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Ford Focus RS 1hr 12min 15.9sec
8. C Atkinson/S Prévot AUS Subaru Impreza 1hr 12min 24.9sec
9. A Mikkelsen/O Floene NOR Ford Focus RS 1hr 12min 36.4sec
10 M Wilson/S Martin GBR Ford Focus RS 1hr 13min 53.6sec

Bron: M-Sport


Strengthened Ford squad prepares hard for Spanish encounter

After a five-week break from competition, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team returns to action in Spain next week for the first of two Mediterranean asphalt events on consecutive weekends that could go a long way towards deciding the 2008 FIA World Rally Championship titles. The team has prepared meticulously for Rally de España (2 - 5 October) and the subsequent Rallye de France in Corsica with back-to-back tests in both locations as the campaign enters its decisive phase.

The reigning manufacturers' world champion has also strengthened its driver line-up for the final sealed surface events of the season. Finland's Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen, lying second in the drivers' standings, will be joined by acknowledged asphalt experts François Duval and Patrick Pivato in the record-breaking Focus RS World Rally Car. They will replace Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila, who will rejoin the squad for the final two rallies of the year in Japan and Britain.

This 12th round of the 15-rally championship returns for a fourth time to Salou, on the Costa Daurada coast, south-west of Barcelona. The sweeping roads of the Tarragona region are fast and flowing and can be compared to a race circuit in their characteristics. The asphalt is smooth but often abrasive, and can quickly become slippery as drivers cut across the open corners to shave tenths of a second from their special stage times and drag stones and dirt onto the surface.

The roads will become especially slippery for the second pass of stages in the afternoon after the whole entry has already tackled the morning speed tests. It places huge importance on the work of drivers' safety crews, who pass through the stages ahead of competitors. They note sections of road where conditions have changed and relay the information to co-drivers who modify their pace notes accordingly before starting the tests.

Hirvonen claimed his first WRC podium in Spain in 2005 in a privately-entered Focus RS WRC, a result that 'started things moving in my career'. "The rally seems to be faster and faster each year. The stages are smooth and the organisers seem to improve the roads every time we come. It's like driving on a race track and it's crucial to find the correct braking point and the right line through bends. We're second in both the manufacturers' and drivers' points so I need to try to beat Sébastien Loeb. That's going to be very difficult and there's no room for mistakes, everything has to be perfect," he said.

"This is the first time here with Pirelli's new asphalt tyres so I will try to be very precise with my pace notes during the recce. I need to make sure that if I note a corner that can be cut, there is nothing on the verge that can break the tyre. Last year organisers placed barrels and bales on the inside of some corners to prevent drivers taking so many big cuts," added 27-year-old Hirvonen, who has finished each of his five starts in Spain.

Team News

* As part of the sport's new regulations, BP Ford Abu Dhabi will have just one tyre pattern from Pirelli. The PZero asphalt tyre will be available in both hard and soft compound but there will be no other option for specific dry or wet weather rubber. Teams are not allowed to hand-carve additional cuts into the rubber in the event of heavy rain and each car can carry two spares.

* Seven other Focus RS cars will start. Jari-Matti Latvala / Miikka Anttila and Matthew Wilson / Scott Martin are nominated by the Stobart VK M-Sport squad while Federico Villagra / Jorge Perez Companc and Henning Solberg / Cato Menkerud will drive for the Munchi's Ford team. Other privately-entered cars will be driven by Andreas Mikkelsen / Ola Floene, Peter Van Merksteijn / Erwin Berkhof and Peter Van Merksteijn Jr / Eddy Chevaillier. Six Fiesta ST cars are also entered for what is the penultimate round of the Fiesta SportingTrophy International.

* The team has completed two asphalt tests in the last week in preparation for the two asphalt events in Spain and Corsica. A three-day test in Corsica ended on Monday, each driver spending one-and-a-half days behind the wheel to concentrate on tyre work and car set-up. Duval, who tested first, covered more than 300km. This was followed by another three-day test which ends in Spain today. Duval again took the wheel first, with Hirvonen taking over for the final day-and-a-half.

Rally Route

The structure is broadly the same as in 2007, although organisers have introduced two new stages and changed several more. The rally is again based at Salou's PortAventura theme park and all but one of the stages are in the Tarragona region, an hour's drive from Barcelona. Each day comprises two passes over a different loop of three stages. After Thursday evening's start ceremony on the seafront, Friday's opening leg is the longest of the rally with 131.76km of competition. Saturday's second day north-west of Salou includes two new tests and the monster 38.27km El Priorat - La Ribera d'Ebre, the longest of the event. The final leg west of the town uses three stages unchanged from last year before the finish in Salou at 15.07. The 18 stages cover 353.62km in a route of 1313.99km.

Bron: M-Sport

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