Gronholm scores debut win for Ford in Monte Carlo
Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen claimed a masterful victory on their debut in the new Ford Focus RS World Rally Car on the Rallye Monte Carlo today
The BP-Ford World Rally Team duo triumphed on the legendary Monaco-based event, the opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship, after three-days of demanding competition in treacherous ice and snow in the French Alps.
Their success, on the first fully competitive appearance for the 2006-specification Focus RS, was their 19th world rally victory, but their first on asphalt. It was Ford's first Rallye Monte Carlo success since 1994. BP-Ford team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen finished seventh in another Focus RS as Ford powered into the lead of the manufacturers' standings after the first of the 16 rounds.
The world's most famous rally is also one of the toughest as the unpredictable weather not only makes driving conditions difficult, but makes accurate tyre selection agonisingly hard. This year's event was a classic Monte as ice and snow littered the winding asphalt roads in the mountains above the Principality. BFGoodrich's winter and dry asphalt tyres performed superbly in the frequently changing conditions to give Grönholm the confidence to build and maintain his lead.
The 37-year-old Finn won the second speed test on the opening morning and ended the day with a comfortable 1min 23sec advantage. He extended that to 2min 05sec during yesterday's second leg. With little chance of being caught today, he paced himself carefully to minimise the risk of being trapped by the wintry weather, which was especially hazardous at the top of the legendary Col de Turini. His eventual winning margin after 16 special stages covering 324.82km was 61.8sec.
A jubilant Grönholm said: "This is the best feeling. I had a good lead and didn't need to get involved in a massive fight. It is my first win on asphalt, although it wasn't pure asphalt because there was so much ice and snow. It is fantastic to score so well on the first rally and I'm really looking forward to driving on the snow in Sweden on the next round.
Today was again difficult. The first stage was really hard because there was a lot of ice and sometimes the car was skating. There were many tricky corners and so I drove with great care. My right knee hurts because the position of the throttle pedal was not quite right, but that was my only problem this weekend, so that's not too bad!" he added.
Hirvonen and Lehtinen began the final leg in ninth. The 25-year-old Finnish driver attacked hard on the icy opening stage to climb to seventh. He was able to pull away from those around him and made no mistakes to score his first Rallye Monte Carlo finish in three attempts.
"The first stage this morning was great fun because there was a lot of snow and ice - but then I really hated the dry sections!" said Hirvonen. "I pushed hard in that stage because I had good confidence in those conditions, and not quite so hard in the other two. Once I moved into seventh, then I knew I could hold that position. It was a hard weekend and a good one, but it could have been better for me. Without problems and mistakes, I think fifth could have been possible, but considering all that and the weather, this is a really good result and a great start to the season."
Ford TeamRS director Jost Capito watched with delight as Grönholm and Rautiainen celebrated on the finish podium. "This result is more than we dared hoped for," he said. "We knew the new Focus RS WRC would be good but we couldn't forecast that we would conquer one of the toughest rallies in the championship on our first full competitive event with a new car and driver line-up."
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson described the result as 'one of the best wins of my career.' "It's an incredible feeling. It is out of character for Marcus to drive the way he has done to preserve the lead. It has been difficult for him because he had to be so careful. This result is for the team that has designed and developed the Focus RS and I hope this win is the first of many. The whole package was great and the passion and confidence from Marcus in the team is amazing," he said.