Ford’s pair of Rapid Fit Puma Super 1600 rally cars battled their way through heavy rain and strong winds to finish strongly and claim second and third places in the top class on the Welsh Rally yesterday (Sunday). The double podium finish keeps Ford ace Martin Rowe at the top of the drivers’ points table and Ford continues to lead the manufacturers’ championship after the third round of Britain’s all-new Formula Rally series.

After Saturday’s pre-event ‘Rally Show’ in Swansea, Sunday’s action was scheduled to be held over the classic stages of the military ranges at Epynt, but last minute concerns about Foot & Mouth forced a switch the MoD training establishment at Caerwent, near Chepstow. Twelve stages totalling 76 miles presented a tough but fair challenge as none of the drivers had previous experience of this venue.

French Puma pilot Patrick Magaud seized the initiative early on with two fastest stages times after adapting his Ford to the monsoon conditions by raising the suspension and disconnecting the anti-rolls bars for ‘softer‘ handling. Ford team mate and championship leader Rowe suffered from being first through the stages, and a series of setbacks which eventually convinced him it was just not going to be his day. The 29-year old Brit had trouble with severe window-misting, narrowly missed a photographer on the course and was later delayed by a crashing junior competitor, before ultimately matching Magaud’s pace.

“On the very first stage I half-spun while trying to wipe the side window clear,” commented Rowe. “That, together with an over-cautious approach meant we lost time which we tried hard all day to win back. You had to be wary of the high kerbs and this was one of those rallies it is so easy to lose. We switched our Puma suspension set-up to match Patrick’s and that was a big improvement. The car ran perfectly all day but the weather was foul and I just wanted to get through to the finish and claim as many points as possible.”

Poor Magaud’s reward for setting fastest time of stage 5 and climbing into 2nd place, was a broken gear selector in stage 6 which forced him to drive four miles in first gear, losing several minutes and dropping out of the top 10. The selector was replaced at the next scheduled service and the Puma ran faultlessly to finish third in Super 1600 and seventh overall.

Philip Dunabin, Engineering Manager at Ford Racing, was pleased that Ford retained the lead in both drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships. “Under these difficult circumstances I’m happy to have both drivers on the Super 1600 winner’s podium. Martin consolidated his points lead and Ford still heads series. Two Pumas in the top-three cars home reflects our team’s professional approach despite the trying conditions.”

The Formula Rally series is open to cars with a maximum engine size of 1.6-litres (1600cc) and the new-for-2001 Ford Puma Super 1600 is a close derivative of the Puma Kit Car, campaigned with success by both Rowe and Magaud last year - when they were both class-winners on international rallies.

Published : 25/03/05 Author : Melanie Carter

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