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Sweden (P,S) - 11-14 Feb 10

Posted: February 15, 2010 3:33 PM - 9085 Hits

Round 1 - 2010 World Rally Championship
P – Production Championship
S - FIA WRC Cup for S2000 Teams

P-WRC Round up

Posted: February 15, 2010 12:21 PM

S-WRC Round up

Posted: February 15, 2010 12:16 PM

Citroën Junior Team

Posted: February 15, 2010 12:14 PM

M-Sport's Ford Fiesta S2000 on song in Sweden

Posted: February 15, 2010 12:11 PM

Rally Sweden proved to be another highly successful event for M-Sport's new Ford Fiesta S2000 as three finished in the top four places of the S-WRC category and the car scored an overall WRC stage win for the first time.

Four of the new generation rally cars were in action at the opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Bernardo Sousa and Andreas Mikkelsen entered with Fiestas prepared by M-Sport, while Martin Prokop and Janne Tuohino were run by their own private teams.

Sousa, Prokop and Tuohino were all registered to score points in the new S-WRC category for S2000 specification cars, and with the new car having taken victory in its competitive debut in Monte Carlo and Qatar, plus ex-Ford WRC driver Marcus Grönholm having completed 230km of set-up in the Fiesta prior to Sweden, all were confident of putting in a strong performance on the snow-bound stages.

Day one saw the Fiesta S2000s fighting at the front of the S-WRC category. Janne Tuohino was chasing the early leader P-G Andersson from the off, but was trying to measure his driving rather than going flat out and risking a mistake. Andreas Mikkelsen followed closely behind Tuohino and looked strong throughout the day. Reigning Junior World Rally Champion Prokop was around 20seconds further back after a relatively incident-free drive, but Sousa didn't have it all his own way after hitting a snow bank and losing his light pod.

The second day of the event was action-packed. Mikkelsen started to get to grips with the conditions and mounted a charge on the first stage of the day that saw him overhaul Tuohino to go second of the S2000 cars in the overall standings. Prokop continued steadily throughout the day but then put a real marker down as he recorded the fastest time on the short SS16 Hagfors Sprint - beating every other car in the field to take an overall stage win and a create a new first for both the S2000 class and the Ford Fiesta S2000. In another stunning performance Sousa recorded the second-fastest time on the same stage, while Tuohino was fourth and Mikkelsen eighth. That meant four Fiesta S2000s in the top eight overall stage times, a fantastic effort against the more powerful WRC-spec cars.

On the final day of the rally all of the Fiesta S2000 drivers reported themselves happy with the way the car was performing and continued to enjoy a smooth run towards the finish. Andreas Mikkelsen hit a blip when a cable that helps to select reverse gear came loose after SS18 Varmullsasen and he was late leaving service, costing him a ten-second penalty. However, the rest of the Fiesta S2000 crews enjoyed a smooth final loop of stages to bring home a clutch of outstanding results from the supremely tough Rally Sweden.

Andreas Mikkelsen said:
"It has gone very well. We only had a short test before the rally so everything still felt new when we started and we had to learn as we went along. It felt good all the way though, and there was a lot more grip than I expected in these conditions. The tyres did a very good job and we didn't lose many studs. The rally was difficult but everything went fine for us. I think the season ahead will be very good for us in this car."

Janne Tuohino said:
"The stages were hard because the first loop was always nice but the second was very hard on the tyres. The car has been very strong but maybe we need a little more time to learn how to use it better. We lost too much time on Friday so since then it has really been focusing on developing our feeling with the car. In a few more events we will be very fast."

Martin Prokop said:
"This rally has been nearly perfect, we have had no problems at all. The car was really special all the way. We didn't do anything special in terms of our driving so to get the stage win on Saturday was great. It was hard to fight with the others in front because they have a better understanding of these conditions. The rest of the year we will be more confident back on gravel and it is a big opportunity for us to do something really good."

Bernardo Sousa said:
"It's been an unbelievable event for me. I don't have much experience of winter rallies but I have really enjoyed every minute. It's always so different driving in these conditions. The only problem we had was a small thing with the intercom on the last day, everything else was great. The pace of the competition was very high, which is good, but we know we are here to pick up experience and would not really be able to fight to win. On the gravel and tarmac events I think we can go really well this season in this car."

M-Sport Managing Director Malcolm Wilson said:
"I'm delighted with the Fiesta S2000's WRC debut. At some point every Fiesta driver has put in a great performance and to achieve a fastest overall stage time on its debut was just remarkable. All four Ford Fiesta crews have had no major problems and it demonstrates that we found both the performance and reliability with this new car. Andreas drove very well and it was great to see Janne Tuohino top of the registered SWRC crews in his Fiesta."

Stobart Scoops Points at Rally Sweden

Posted: February 15, 2010 12:10 PM

A healthy points haul and a stunning stage win marked a fine start to the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship for the Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team.

Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson finished the opening round of the season in sixth and seventh overall, securing a triple points finish for the Cumbrian squad. Former world champion Marcus Grönholm scored manufacturer points, a stage win and a string of top five stage times for the team despite technical problems and a puncture forcing him out of contention for a top ten spot.

After the rally officially opened with a Super Special stage in Karlstad on Thursday evening, the first full day on Friday saw 55 starting crews take on 126.34km of competitive stage distance in sub-zero temperatures. The three Stobart Ford Focus RS WRCs of Grönholm/Rautiainen, Solberg/Minor and Wilson/Martin started well and ran inside the top ten throughout the morning loop of three stages. However, in the afternoon there was plenty of drama as the stage surfaces deteriorated and much of the snow and ice was scraped away.

Stobart's Grönholm suffered a setback when his Ford Focus RS WRC cut out mid-way through the 21.28km SS6 Viggen stage. He lost ten minutes but did get going again and recovered to go fourth-quickest on the following test. Henning Solberg ran well until a small off on the 19.21km SS7 Torntorp, then a change of gearbox back in service added a lateness penalty of 30seconds before he left for the evening's Super Special. Matthew Wilson also lost time after stalling at a corner on SS6 Viggen and having Petter Solberg hit the rear of his Ford Focus RS WRC. Despite the damage caused by the incident Wilson went on to finish the day in eighth.

On Saturday Marcus Grönholm started the day's 117.76km looking to climb back up the leaderboard to join team-mates Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson in the top-ten. He went second-fastest on the 14.23km SS10 Sagen, his favourite WRC stage, and fourth-quickest on the 18.15km SS11 Fredriksberg. However, his hopes of a comeback were dashed when he suffered a puncture on SS13 Vargasen and lost another five minutes.

Despite difficult road conditions putting real pressure on the special Pirelli SottoZero snow tyre used by all the crews, the Stobart team fared well in later stages. Grönholm took a fantastic stage win on SS14 Sagen and Matthew Wilson went sixth-fastest. Henning Solberg lost time due to opting not to change his tyres prior to the stage but still managed to complete the day sixth overall, while Wilson was just behind him in seventh. Marcus Grönholm's luck ran out again, and after overshooting a junction and hitting a snow bank he lost his light pod and dropped to 29th.

The final day of Rally Sweden on Sunday featured 101.05km of stage distance over five tests. Grönholm started in fine fashion for Stobart by going third-quickest through SS17 Rämmen, while Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson continued to cruise towards good points finishes. Grönholm then went second-fastest on 10.49km SS19 Lesjofors as he revelled in the thick snow-covered surface of the test. Meanwhile, Solberg and Wilson enjoyed clean runs through the final loop to finish inside the top ten, chalk up their first points of 2010 and take a solid result from an extremely tough rally.

Other rally news
An excellent performance by BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team driver Mikko Hirvonen saw him power home to a victory over rival Sebastien Loeb. The Finn drove superlatively on the final leg to win by 42.3seconds and claim first blood in the 2010 WRC title battle. His team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala also climbed onto the podium after securing third with a fine performance. He made a big push on Saturday afternoon to knock Dani Sordo down to fourth and split the Citroen manufacturer team drivers at the end of the rally.

Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Marcus Grönholm said:
"In proper snow conditions we have set some good times; the best stage for me was the second pass through Sagen. It was great to be fastest there ahead of the regular drivers. We were on a good pace when things went well but unfortunately we had too many small problems that dropped us a lot of time. So there was no chance to fight for a podium position, but it was always going to be hard coming here after such a big gap from regular rallying."

Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
"I'm happy with this result as it was always going to be a tough rally for me with little testing before the event and a new co-driver. It was hard on the first day but after we changed the gearbox on Friday night then the feeling became better. But the conditions were tough, especially with the ruts and the gravel coming through and it was easy to make a mistake. Ilka did a good job and I'm happy that we were able to work well together on the first rally. Sixth is fine for me but, honestly, I'm looking forward to Mexico and being back onto gravel."

Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
"This has probably been the hardest snow rally I have done. The conditions were really difficult with grip levels and surfaces changing constantly and that makes it hard to build up confidence. But I've shown that when we had full snow and consistent conditions I was able to set some decent times. Saturday afternoon was the best part of the rally, we had a great feeling with the car and were pushing fairly hard. With such a difficult rally, I'm happy to come home seventh and not have made any mistakes; it's a good position to really build upon for the rest of the championship."

Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Mattias Therman said:
"I've really enjoyed this rally but it has been quite difficult with the conditions on the stages. I've been driving well on the wider roads, everything seems to flow better together and work well and we had some good times on both runs through the Sagen stage. But it's on the narrower roads and slower corners that I found it harder. I think it's just a confidence thing as you need to get your head around the good grip on the ice."

Stobart M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"It's a solid start to the championship for both Henning and Matthew. I was really pleased with some of Matthew's times when he had a good consistent run. It was a shame Marcus had his problems as he was really getting to the grips with the conditions and getting better with every stage. This was always going to be a difficult rally and I'm happy that the Stobart cars finished the event with no major problems."

Hirvonen/Lehtinen begin WRC season with victory for Ford in Sweden

Posted: February 15, 2010 11:54 AM

BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen started the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship in style with victory in Rally Sweden today.
The Finns won the opening round by 42.3sec in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car after three days' competition in the ice-bound Scandinavian forests. The win moved Ford level at the top of the all-time standings with 74 WRC victories.

Team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila finished third in a similar Focus RS WRC, 1min 15.4sec behind their fellow Finns. The double podium gives the BP Ford Abu Dhabi squad a 10-point lead at the top of the manufacturers' standings after the first of 13 rounds.

Rally Sweden is the only true winter rally in the series. Drivers tackled 21 speed tests covering 345.15km in the Värmland region of central Sweden. Temperatures plunged to -22ºC, but clear blue skies provided picture postcard scenery in the wintry forests. Snow covered the tracks in the barren Scandinavian countryside, but beneath lay a softer than expected ice base. Exposed gravel poked through during the second pass over the roads and posed tough challenges for drivers, as they struggled to prevent stones ripping the tungsten-tipped studs from their tyres to leave little grip.

Hirvonen's tyre management played a crucial part in his victory. After making minor set-up changes to his Focus RS WRC, the 29-year-old ended Friday's first leg with a 6.2sec lead. He stretched that to 16.6sec yesterday when his decision to fit new Pirelli Sottozero rubber to the front of his car in the middle of the afternoon enabled him to blitz closest rival Sébastien Loeb by 16sec in two stages. He measured his pace through today's final leg to secure his 12th WRC win.

"After losing the title last year by a point I knew I had to win more, rather than settle for consistent points finishes, so this is the ideal start," said Hirvonen. "It was a big win for us and I want many more this season. It's the first time I've won the opening round of the year. I tried to be more aggressive from the start in all aspects of my performance. It was a brave decision yesterday to change the tyres when I did but it paid off and those kind of decisions make the difference between winning and losing.

"It was such a hard rally for the tyres on the exposed gravel and you can't imagine how nervous I was driving the final stage. I have a year's more experience of a title battle than this time last year and I think that showed here. I need to continue in the same way for the rest of the season," he added.

Latvala, handed the role of supporting Hirvonen, did his job to perfection. The 24-year-old settled into fourth on the opening day but was frustrated at being unable to find the speed of which he knew he was capable. He made minor set-up changes yesterday and pressured third-placed Dani Sordo into two mistakes to climb into a podium position. Latvala took no risks today and, with the pressure removed, he relaxed into his driving and was fastest over the final two tests to take his tally to five stage wins.

"This result is a great boost to my confidence," he said. "I did what I was asked by keeping my consistency and it's a great start for the team. It wasn't an easy rally because I struggled for speed on Friday. I was frustrated because I was thinking too much about driving carefully but I got over that yesterday, started to relax and my times improved."

Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr finished 13th in the team's other Focus RS WRC. "I wanted to learn over the course of this rally, and I feel I have achieved this. I had little experience in these conditions, but as the rally progressed I have grown in confidence. There were some surprises on the stages, some tight corners and good action, but I enjoyed it," said Al Qassimi.

BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson hailed Hirvonen's victory. "His drive on the second leg yesterday was by far his best performance in the way he managed both the day and, particularly, his tyres. He is putting his experience to good use. He has progressed steadily over the years to the point that he is now beating the world's best driver. Jari-Matti played the perfect support role to Mikko and I could not have imagined a better start to the season," he said.

Ford of Europe motorsport chief Gerard Quinn said: "It was important to get out of the starting blocks quickly this year and that's exactly what we achieved with a thoroughly professional performance from the whole team in the most arduous working conditions. We lead both championships and this victory puts Ford within one win of becoming the sport's most successful manufacturer."

News from other Ford teams
Stobart M-Sport Ford's Henning Solberg and Ilka Minor finished sixth in a Focus RS WRC, one place ahead of team-mates Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin. Returning double world champion Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen were 21st after a troubled rally, but nevertheless claimed manufacturers' championship points for the team.

Results

Posted: February 15, 2010 11:41 AM

1.M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen (Ford Focus WRC) 3hr 09min 30.4sec
2.S Loeb/D Elena (Citroen C4 WRC) 3hr 10min 12.7sec
3.J-M Latvala/M Anttila (Ford Focus WRC) 3hr 10min 45.8sec
4.D Sordo/M Marti (Citroen C4 WRC) 3hr 12min 12.0sec
5.S Ogier/J Ingrassia (Citroen C4 WRC) 3hr 13min 45.7sec
6.H Solberg/I Minor (Ford Focus WRC) 3hr 15min 23.8sec
7.M Wilson/S Martin (Ford Focus WRC) 3hr 17min 24.3sec
8.M Østberg/J Andersson (Subaru Impreza WRC) 3hr 18min 52.6sec
9.P Solberg/P Mills (Citroen C4 WRC) 3hr 19min 47.9sec
10 P-G Andersson/A Fredriksson (Skoda Fabia S2000) 3hr 21min 49.3sec

Leaders After:
SS1 Dani SORDO / Marc MARTI (Citroen C4 WRC)
SS2-4 Sébastien LOEB / Daniel ELENA (Citroen C4 WRC)
SS5-21 Mikko HIRVONEN / Jarmo LEHTINEN (Ford Focus WRC)

Stage Winners

SS1 Dani SORDO / Marc MARTI (Citroen C4 WRC)
SS2 Sébastien LOEB / Daniel ELENA (Citroen C4 WRC)
SS3 Sébastien LOEB / Daniel ELENA (Citroen C4 WRC)
SS4 Mikko HIRVONEN / Jarmo LEHTINEN (Ford Focus WRC)
SS5 Mikko HIRVONEN / Jarmo LEHTINEN (Ford Focus WRC)
SS6 Jari-Matti LATVALA / Miikka ANTTILA (Ford Focus WRC)
SS7 Mikko HIRVONEN / Jarmo LEHTINEN (Ford Focus WRC)
SS8 Sébastien LOEB / Daniel ELENA (Citroen C4 WRC)
SS9 Mikko HIRVONEN / Jarmo LEHTINEN (Ford Focus WRC)
SS10 Sébastien LOEB / Daniel ELENA (Citroen C4 WRC)
SS11 Sébastien LOEB / Daniel ELENA (Citroen C4 WRC)
SS12 Sébastien LOEB / Daniel ELENA (Citroen C4 WRC)
SS13 Jari-Matti LATVALA / Miikka ANTTILA (Ford Focus WRC)
SS14 Marcus GRÖNHOLM / Timo RAUTIAINEN (Ford Focus WRC)
SS15 Jari-Matti LATVALA / Miikka ANTTILA (Ford Focus WRC)
SS16 Martin PROKOP / Jan TOMÁNEK (Ford Fiesta S2000)
SS17 Sébastien LOEB / Daniel ELENA (Citroen C4 WRC)
SS18 Mikko HIRVONEN / Jarmo LEHTINEN (Ford Focus WRC)
SS19 Mikko HIRVONEN / Jarmo LEHTINEN (Ford Focus WRC)
SS20 Jari-Matti LATVALA / Miikka ANTTILA (Ford Focus WRC)
SS21 Jari-Matti LATVALA / Miikka ANTTILA (Ford Focus WRC)

Eamonn BOLAND/M.J. MORRISSEY finihsed in 40th.

Boland out after SS5 today, Gearbox, planning to SuperRally tomorrow

Posted: February 12, 2010 3:59 PM

Boland out after SS5 today, Gearbox, planning to SuperRally tomorrow

Stobart Seek to Shake Things Up in Sweden

Posted: February 8, 2010 2:32 PM

The Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team will aim to open the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship season in style when it travels to Sweden next week with a former world champion in its ranks.

Regular drivers Matthew Wilson and Henning Solberg will be joined by double WRC title-winners Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen, who won the event in 2006 and 2007 when driving a Ford Focus RS WRC for the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team. Mattias Therman will also enter under the Stobart banner. The quartet of crews will all enter using a Ford Focus RS WRC prepared by M-Sport.

Grönholm and Solberg will be the nominated points scorers for the team and given the success Stobart has enjoyed in Sweden in previous years – including a third-place podium spot courtesy of Gigi Galli in 2008 and a fourth-place from Solberg in 2007 – the squad will be determined to shine on the snowy Scandinavian stages once again.

However, many of the stages will be new to the drivers with Rally Sweden returning to the WRC calendar for the first time since 2008. Since the last event the route has been changed to include stages further north in the country in a bid to ensure there is as much snow on them as possible and make it a true ‘winter rally’.

Starting and finishing in Karlstad, with the main service park in Hagfors, the rally will take in 345 kilometres of competitive stage distance. After kicking off with the opening Super Special stage in Karlstad on the Thursday evening, crews will face a tough test on Friday as they tackle six stages of 122.54 kilometres, before returning to Karlstad again for a re-run of the Super Special. Apart from the Super Specials virtually all of the stage routes are new to the rally – meaning drivers will have to be on top form in order not to fall victim to what are expected to be extremely tough conditions on the roads.

Day two will see crews face a further eight stages, including the longest and shortest on the rally – the 24.63km Vargåsen and 1.87km Hagfors Sprint respectively. Once again the majority of the distance is new for 2010 and is likely to provide a tough testof the competitors’ abilities.

More familiar territory awaits crews who have tackled the event in the past on day three, with all five of the remaining stages incorporating routes used in 2008.

With temperatures expected to be among the coldest in 20 years and drop as low as -20C, with plenty of snow and ice on the roads, the Stobart crews will look to make the most of Pirelli’s SottoZero control snow tyre. The specially-developed compound features nearly 400 tungsten-tipped metal studs to give crews maximum traction in the sub-zero conditions.

The team’s Scandinavian contingent will be especially confident of using their experience to master the winter weather and give Stobart M-Sport Ford a blistering start to the 2010 season.

Other Stobart M-Sport Ford team news:
Stobart M-Sport Ford crew Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin attended the official launch of the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship in Paris.

The Cumbrian duo lined up in front of a global media audience alongside the other stars of the WRC such as Mikko Hirvonen, Jari-Matti Latvala, Sébastien Loeb, Dani Sordo, Petter Solberg and the championship’s latest big-name additions – Kimi Raikkonen and Ken Block.

Henning Solberg will line up in Sweden for the Stobart M-Sport Ford team with a new co-driver. Having previously worked with navigator Cato Menkerud for nine years, the Norwegian has made a change for 2010 with the addition of Austrian co-pilot Ilka Minor.

Minor is a seasoned competitor who has tackled almost 70 WRC rallies, has previously worked with Solberg on his safety notes and was a former team-mate at Peugeot.

Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Marcus Grönholm said:
“I’m really happy to be driving the Ford Focus again; it still feels really good to drive. All the stages on this rally will be quite difficult but I hear that there has been a lot of snow so there should be some big snow banks which will make the conditions good. Realistically my aim is for a podium, yes it would be fantastic to be challenging for the win but that is going to be difficult after having such a long break from the WRC; I will just need to wait and see how my speed is.”

Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
“I’m excited about this rally in Sweden. Snow is my favourite surface and we set some good times last year in Norway. But with Rally Norway not in the WRC this year, Sweden will feel like my home event so I want to put on a good show for the Norwegian fans that will come to watch and for my sponsors Expert. It’s great to be back in the Ford Focus and hopefully with my new co-driver Ilka, we will be able to get a good start to the season.”

Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
“The recce will be very important as we weren’t in Sweden last year and some stages are from 2007; but the conditions should be great. We are starting the championship on one of the quickest rallies of the year so the challenge will be to get up to speed straight away on the first day. We’ve experienced some arctic conditions in the UK over the last few months but to drive flat out on snow stages with studs is an amazing experience and totally different to any other event in the WRC calendar.”

Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Mattias Therman said:
“I’m really looking forward to the rally next week. My last event in the Ford Focus RS WRC in Finland last year was a fantastic experience and if Sweden is half the amount of fun I had in Finland then I will be happy. I haven’t competed in Rally Sweden before so it will be difficult for me but I have the perfect team-mate in Marcus Grönholm to give me some advice. I’m not expecting to be fast; I really want to complete the rally. If I’m in the top-15 at the finish I will be pleased.”

Stobart M-Sport Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“It’s fantastic to see Stobart Group continuing for its fifth season in the World Rally Championship and continuing to support Matthew again; his target this year is to achieve some podium finishes. The Stobart team have an impressive history in Sweden, Gigi Galli scored a podium there last time out, and with Marcus and Henning heading up the team, there’s no reason why another podium couldn’t be achieved. It’s great to see Marcus back behind the wheel of a Ford Focus again.”

Citroen Previews

Posted: February 8, 2010 2:31 PM

M-Sport's Ford Fiesta S2000 Set for WRC Debut in Sweden

Posted: February 8, 2010 2:29 PM

M-Sport's new Ford Fiesta S2000 will make its first appearance in the FIA World Rally Championship at Rally Sweden next weekend.

The latest rally car developed by M-Sport, in conjunction with Ford, made a hugely successful competitive debut when it recently took wins in other championships at Monte Carlo and Qatar in the hands of Ford's WRC driver Mikko Hirvonen and former Middle East Rally Champion Nasser Al-Attiyah respectively.

Four Fiesta S2000s will now fly the flag for M-Sport in the World Rally Championship when Rally Sweden begins next Thursday.

Bernardo Sousa and Andreas Mikkelsen will enter the opening round of the 2010 season with Fiestas prepared by M-Sport, while Martin Prokop and Janne Tuohino will be run by their own private teams. Sousa, Prokop and Tuohino will be registered to score points in the new S-WRC category for S2000 specification cars.

All four drivers chances of mounting a strong challenge in Sweden will be boosted thanks to help from former double-world champion and ex-Ford WRC driver Marcus Grönholm.

The Finn completed 230km of testing and set-up work in the Fiesta S2000 in Kall, Sweden, to help M-Sport find the optimum settings for the car in the extreme winter conditions expected at Rally Sweden.

M-Sport will make the knowledge gleaned from the test available to its drivers in order to give them the best possible opportunity to produce a good result on the snow-bound Swedish stages. The quartet of Fiesta drivers will have the chance to further fine-tune their preparations when they take part in their own pre-event tests.

The new S-WRC category has already proven popular among competitors, with a mix of experienced crews and exciting new talent signing up to take part in the series for 2010.

M-Sport will look to build on the momentum taken from the wins in Monte Carlo and Qatar and see the new Fiesta S2000 prove to be an equally formidable package in the S-WRC.

M-Sport Managing Director Malcolm Wilson said:
“After two incredible victories in Monte Carlo and Qatar, we are now going to another extreme of conditions at Rally Sweden. We are confident that the car can maintain its performance and we’ve been boosted by the fact that Marcus Grönholm has been helping out with the testing; he’s come up with a really good base setting for Sweden. The M-Sport drivers will all have access to the information and it’s all part of the service to try and give our customers the best possible support. We’ve had a great season launch in Paris this week and the S-WRC has certainly got the potential to be a very exciting championship; there’s lots of young drivers signed up and it will really spice things up.”

Former Ford WRC driver Marcus Grönholm said:
“The Ford Fiesta was very nice to drive and I was impressed by the road-holding, it was really perfect. The engine felt very strong and you really get the feeling that this is a proper rally car to drive. It brings back the excitement as you have to be aggressive and drive at the correct revs. I was impressed at how the rear holds nicely on the road and overall the whole package is very good indeed.”

Ford Fiesta S2000 driver Bernardo Sousa said:
“Although I competed in this rally in 2008, I don’t have a lot of experience of snowy conditions. This will be a challenging rally, it’s the start of a brand new championship for everyone and I will need to see what the pace is like. This year I have, I believe, the best car and the best team so now I need to be clever and just takes things step by step. I’m really looking forward to this year, the championship will be very exciting and there will be lots of competition; any one of five drivers could easily win the rally in Sweden.”

Ford Fiesta S2000 driver Andreas Mikkelsen said:
“It’s a great opportunity for me to drive the new Ford Fiesta S2000 in Rally Sweden. This is a rally I really like, and I have good memories from Sweden back in 2008 when I was fifth overall in a Ford Focus RS WRC. The conditions are very similar to what we have in Norway, and we have done four winter rallies in Norway before we go to Sweden; I think myself and my co-driver Ola Floene are well prepared. With the good performance Mikko Hirvonen showed with the Fiesta S2000 in Rally Monte Carlo and with the M-Sport team behind me, my goal is to fight for the win in the S2000 class in Sweden. It would be great for me to give Ford and M-Sport a win in the world rally debut for the new Fiesta S2000.”

Focus rally car begins final fling as Ford launches 2010 title bid

Posted: February 8, 2010 11:51 AM

Ford's record-breaking Focus RS World Rally Car begins a remarkable 12th season as the company's challenger in the FIA World Rally Championship in Sweden next week. The car, which won back-to-back manufacturers' world titles in 2006 and 2007 and secured Ford's longest winning run in the WRC with five successive victories last season, will carry the title hopes of the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team for a final time as the 2010 season blasts into action at Rally Sweden (11 - 14 February).

New regulations for 2011 will see the Focus RS WRC replaced by a new car based on the highly successful Ford Fiesta road car. Before then drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen and team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila will bid to add to the Focus RS WRC's tally of 41 wins and an unbroken points-scoring record of 119 consecutive rallies, which dates back to the start of the 2002 season.

Hirvonen, runner-up in the 2009 drivers' standings, and Latvala are big fans of Rally Sweden, the only pure winter rally in the 13-round series and one of the most specialised of the year. Organisers predict the coldest event for 20 years, with temperatures forecast to plunge below -25ºC. That should ensure perfect conditions in the barren countryside of the Värmland region of central Sweden for Ford's Finns to display their winter driving talents.

The cold places huge demands on man and machine. Keeping the Focus RS WRCs at peak performance level in such unrelenting cold requires huge resolve and determination from mechanics forced to work outside in the snow. But for the drivers, a winter wonderland where skinny studded tyres, anti-snow glare glasses and heated driving boots are 'de rigueur', it could not be better.

Tungsten-tipped steel studs protruding from Pirelli's narrow winter tyres bite into the icy surface to provide amazing grip and, paradoxically, this is one of the fastest rounds of the year. Drivers are also able to 'lean' their cars against the solid snow banks that line the forest tracks to guide them around corners and extract the extra speed that can make all the difference between winning and losing.

Twenty-nine-year-old Hirvonen is a Sweden veteran. This is his seventh start, with his best result coming in the rally's last appearance in the championship in 2008 when he was second. He is confident the experience gained from last year's epic drivers' title battle will help in the new campaign.

"On occasions I wasn't brave enough to make the decisions I needed to with my car set-up or to drive more aggressively," he said. "I've learned from that and this year there will be no second thoughts. The difference between myself and the title winner last year was a single point. That translates to tiny decisions on the stages but it's those small things that make the difference between winning and coming second, and when you're brave enough to take the chances, you can feel the difference.

"Sweden is a great rally for me to start the year. A driver can be more free in the snow because there is no need to be quite so precise with driving lines as on gravel or asphalt. You can carry more speed into the corners and use the snow banks to guide the car round. The grip is incredible. If the ice is slightly soft then the studded tyres bite really well and it's a crazy feeling to drive so fast in such slippery conditions, knowing there is as much grip as on a gravel road," he added.

Latvala claimed his maiden WRC win in Sweden in 2008 and the 24-year-old is refreshed and raring to go after more than three months since the end of the 2009 season. "I love driving in the snow and I would like to think a top three result is a realistic target. But my priority throughout this year will be to finish each rally in a strong points-scoring position to ensure the team scores well on each event and to help Mikko with his challenge for the drivers' title," he said.

"Sweden is one of my favourite rounds and one of the most spectacular in the championship. If you think about snow, the expectation is that it will be slippery, but the studs provide grip that can be better than on gravel roads. However, it's easy to become carried away and push too hard, and then the car can end up buried in a snow bank. The banks also provide a safety net. If you enter a corner too fast, you can 'lean' the car onto them to guide it around, so it can be a forgiving rally," he added.

Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr will drive a third Focus RS WRC for the team. "The first WRC rally of the year is always a really exciting time and I can't wait to get started. These are exciting times for Abu Dhabi's rally programme and I hope we can kick it all off with a strong performance in the snow next week and start as we mean to go on," said 37-year-old Al Qassimi.

Team News
* Tyre partner Pirelli will provide its Sottozero winter tyre, which will be available with 7mm studs to penetrate the snow and bite into the ice beneath. The tyre was designed in a wider format than is usual for a winter pattern to enable teams to use it with the standard 15-inch wheel rims used on all other loose surface rounds of the championship. The tread blocks are spread slightly wider as a result. Teams are not allowed to hand-carve additional cuts into the rubber in the event of heavy snow and each car can carry two spares.

* The team will complete a four-day pre-event test on roads near Kall in northern Sweden on Sunday. Hirvonen will finish his two-day session today (Friday) before a private ski-ing and training session over the weekend. Latvala will take over for Saturday and Sunday.

* More than 31 per cent of the 57 competitors are at the wheel of Ford cars. Twelve Focus RS WRCs are listed, including three Stobart M-Sport Ford cars for Marcus Grönholm / Timo Rautiainen, Henning Solberg / Ilka Minor and Matthew Wilson / Scott Martin. Four Fiesta S2000 crews will start, including three competing in the new S-WRC, and there is also a Fiesta R2 and a Fiesta S2 entered

Super-strong Focus rally car returns to action in Sweden

Posted: February 2, 2010 1:47 PM

The Ford Focus RS World Rally Car that saved Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila from serious injury during a violent crash in Portugal last season will return to competition in the opening round of the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship in Sweden next week. Such is the car's strength that, despite plunging almost 200 metres down a hillside when it rolled 12 times, it has been rebuilt by the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally team for Rally Sweden - with Latvala and Anttila again behind the wheel.

Latvala's accident in Rally de Portugal on his 24th birthday was one of the most dramatic in the sport's history. The Focus RS WRC rolled down the hillside for almost 20 seconds but both Finns walked away from the wreckage with just cuts and bruises. Television footage of the crash has been watched more than 765,000 times on the YouTube video sharing website.

A report prepared by M-Sport, the company which builds the Focus RS WRCs for Ford's world rally programme, revealed the car's cutting edge safety features protected the Finnish crew. Although the car appeared badly damaged from the outside, the cockpit remained virtually intact thanks to the strength of the car's internal roll cage.

After the crash the car was returned to M-Sport's Dovenby Hall headquarters in England from where it was stripped to a bare shell and rebuilt.

"The accident looked horrific but structurally, the shell stood up to the pounding remarkably well. It underwent rigorous checks to ensure there were no weaknesses and the decision was taken to rebuild the car for future use. Crew safety is our prime concern in the build of any rally car and our increased efforts in this area are reflected in the fact that Jari-Matti's car lives on," said BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson at today's championship launch in Paris.

Ford of Europe motorsport chief Gerard Quinn said:
"The strength of the Focus RS WRC was clear for all to see in the aftermath of Jari-Matti's crash. This quality is reflected across the Ford family. The WRC is an arduous proving ground for safety technology, but the feedback from incidents like this is invaluable when developing future generations of Ford road vehicles for our customers.

"There is also a strong environmental aspect. In the past a car that suffered such a heavy accident would likely have been scrapped. In this case, the basic shell has been recycled and key components such as the engine and gearbox have been used again in other rebuilds," added Quinn.

Latvala gained his maiden WRC victory in Sweden in 2008 and has no concerns about driving the car again.
"When I saw the car being rebuilt, I could see some places where the welding was new. That made me think back to the crash, but I really have no problems about climbing into the car again. The team has done an amazing job to rebuild it and I can't wait to be back out competing again in Sweden," he said.

Seeded Entry List

Posted: January 21, 2010 10:36 PM

Unseeded Entry List available

Posted: January 15, 2010 11:11 AM

Eamonn Boland among the first entries for Rally Sweden 2010

Posted: January 8, 2010 12:13 PM

Grönholm back in Ford Focus WRC for Rally Sweden

Posted: December 14, 2009 4:21 PM

Details on Event Website and Marcus Grönholm Rallying

Event Website

Posted: December 7, 2009 4:49 PM

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