Ford Rallye Sport drivers Markko Märtin and Michael Park claimed their sixth consecutive points finish in the FIA World Rally Championship today. They finished fifth in a Focus RS World Rally Car on Italy’s demanding Rallye Sanremo and eighth place for Colin McRae and Nicky Grist ensured a double points haul for Ford to consolidate second position in the manufacturers’ standings.
The 26-year-old Estonian driver began his run back in May in Argentina and remains the only driver in the championship with a 100% finishing record after 11 of the 14 rounds. McRae now lies third in the drivers’ series.
Today’s short final leg, comprising four speed tests covering 88.02km in the mountains behind Sanremo and Imperia, produced glorious sunshine. The twisty asphalt roads were virtually bone dry, only the odd damp patch under the trees serving as a warning to drivers.
Märtin started the day in fifth, just 6.0sec behind world champion Richard Burns. However, the Briton extended his advantage during the opening loop of two special stages and Märtin settled for fifth, his first finish in Sanremo after four consecutive retirements here.
“I’ve finally made it to the finish here!” he joked. “The car has felt great all weekend, the set-up has been perfect and apart from a few small mistakes, I’ve driven well. The team has made good progress on asphalt. We saw a huge improvement in performance here compared with the asphalt events at the start of the year and I think we can achieve much more on this kind of surface next season. We tried hard to move ahead of Richard Burns this morning but this afternoon the fight was over and I just concentrated on making no mistakes and enjoying myself.”
McRae, eighth overnight, faced no pressure from behind and had no chance to move up the leaderboard unless his rivals hit problems. Accordingly, he took no risks and was content to bring his Focus RS home to the finish in the points.
“It’s been a difficult rally for me,” said the 34-year-old Scot. “I’ve not been on the pace all rally. I had a few problems on the first day and I made some mistakes and we lost too much time. It’s been hard to close the gap although at least we scored points for the team. It’s much harder to recover time on an asphalt rally than it is on a gravel event. Markko drove very well and he fully deserved his result.
“My championship chances aren’t looking so good now. We go to New Zealand next and I like the roads there. A win would be nice. Realistically, there’s no real pressure in championship terms so our aim is to win the last three rallies and I think that’s possible,” he added.
Ford Rallye Sport team director Malcolm Wilson was full of praise for Märtin. “Markko is still young in rally terms. But he’s driven with the maturity of a much more experienced driver here, especially considering it’s an event he’s never finished before. When Carlos Sainz retired it was important that Markko and Colin kept cool and brought both cars home in the points. They did exactly that and it shows just how crucial it is to have a three car team. With three cars in the squad, there’s always a back-up if one retires. With only two, there is none,” he said.
Luis Moya, co-driver to Sainz who retired his Focus RS on Friday, donned his athletics kit to run in a half-marathon in his home city of Barcelona today. He finished 673rd from a field of more than 3,000 runners, despite injuring his knee after 18km. “Not bad for an old man of 42!” he joked.Published 22 September 2002