Ford won the Acropolis Rally
Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen won the Acropolis Rally of Greece to secure Ford's 70th world rally victory. The Finns won this seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the toughest encounter in the 12-event series, by 1min 12.9sec in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car.BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team colleagues Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila were third in another Focus RS WRC to secure maximum points in the manufacturers' series for the Blue Oval.
Between them Hirvonen and Latvala led from start to finish of the three-day event to secure Ford's seventh win in 10 seasons in Greece. It was also the 40th world rally win for M-Sport, Ford's partner in the WRC and the British-based preparation company which runs the programme. It completed a perfect weekend for team director Malcolm Wilson, who received an OBE in The Queen's Birthday Honours list yesterday.
The result, the team's second consecutive victory following Latvala's success in Italy last month, rejuvenated its challenge in both championships. Ford is now just 15 points from the lead in the manufacturers' standings and second-placed Hirvonen has closed the gap in the drivers' series to just seven points.
Rock-strewn and abrasive gravel roads west of Athens and blistering temperatures, which topped 36ºC, ensured this year's event lived up to its gruelling reputation. It was a rally of attrition and a long string of frontrunners fell by the wayside during the 15 speed tests covering 341.01km (two tests were cancelled). However, neither Focus RS WRC missed a beat and both drivers looked after their cars and Pirelli's Scorpion tyres superbly, mixing pace with caution in the tough conditions.
Latvala led from the start before falling to 11th when he slid into a ditch on the last special stage of the opening day. Hirvonen was promoted into top spot but was fearful of running first in the start order yesterday, sweeping the gravel from the road surface to offer cleaner and faster conditions to his pursuers. However, as others struggled, Hirvonen stretched his lead and Latvala charged back to third. Both drove at a measured pace on today's short final leg to seal a memorable weekend.
"I drove a clever rally and my plan worked perfectly, with no mistakes and no punctures," said 28-year-old Hirvonen. "I knew that if we finished the rally without problems then we would be high in the order and that was the case. The key to success was to stay on the road and be cautious rather than drive flat out all the way. The car was amazing all weekend, especially the last stage which was so rough. I was fortunate to have such a large lead that I was able to drive steadily.
"We're back in the championship fight and the final five rallies of the year will be exciting. The next two events, in Poland and Finland, are on fast gravel roads which should suit me," he added.
Latvala wwwitted he was relieved to climb back onto the podium. "I thought I had lost everything on Friday evening. A place on the podium was never in my dreams but others made mistakes and their cars broke and that's exactly what I achieved. My strategy yesterday was to save the tyres, save the car and drive round the rocks and it paid off. This rally required respect and the result is so important for me and the team from the championship perspective," said the 24-year-old Finn.
Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr finished sixth in the team's third Focus RS WRC, a career best result for the 37-year-old Emirati driver.
BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson said: "It was a masterful drive from Mikko. Although he led after the first day, we were worried about the effect his start position would have on Saturday, but he knew exactly what to do and did it to perfection. Jari-Matti did a great job after his error and capitalised on the mistakes of others. It's the first time a Focus RS WRC has won a world rally with an engine built entirely at M-Sport, and that's a proud achievement. Our championship hopes were written off before Sardinia but we didn't give up and we're back in the fight."
John Fleming, Chairman and CEO of Ford of Europe received the manufacturers' trophy on the podium before saying: "Rallies don't come any tougher than the Acropolis and to win the most demanding round of the WRC for the seventh time in 10 years is a fantastic achievement. To take two podium places and position four of our Focus RS WRCs in the top six is further testament to its strength, reliability and speed."
News from other Ford teams
Munchi's drivers Federico Villagra and José Diaz matched their career-best result with fourth in a Focus RS WRC. Stobart drivers Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin and Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud both claimed manufacturer points after finishing under SupeRally rules, following first and second day retirements. Wilson was 14th, after winning the penultimate stage, and Solberg was 15th.
Rally Poland (25 - 28 June) returns to the championship for the first time since 1973 as round eight of the series. The fast gravel event is based in Mikolajki
1. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 4hr 09min 42.5sec
2. S Ogier/J Ingrassia FRA Citroen C4 4hr 10min 55.4sec 3. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Ford Focus RS 4hr 11min 27.5sec
4. F Villagra/J Perez Companc ARG Ford Focus RS 4hr 13min 30.8sec
5. C Rautenbach/D Barritt ZIM Citroen C4 4hr 13min 42.3sec
6. K Al Qassimi/M Orr UAE Ford Focus RS 4hr 16min 46.8sec
7. M Østberg/J Andersson NOR Subaru Impreza 4hr 22min 07.4sec
8. L Athanassoulas/N Zakheos GRC Skoda Fabia 4hr 22min 30.1sec
9. N Al-Attiyah/G Bernacchini QAT Subaru Impreza 4hr 22min 52.4sec
10 A Araujo/M Ramalho POR Mitsubishi Lancer 4hr 24min 47.0sec
1. S Loeb 55pts 2. M Hirvonen 48pts
3. D Sordo 31pts 4. J-M Latvala 25pts
5. H Solberg 21pts
6. P Solberg 20pts
1. Citroen Total 94pts
2. BP Ford Abu Dhabi 79pts
3. Stobart VK M-Sport Ford 49pts
4. Citroen Junior 24pts
5. Munchi's Ford 18pts