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GP Week : Issue 15
T his is one they will remember. It will be so for Ford, because of the ingenious way in which they secured their 1-2 victory over Citroen. And for Citroen, for the shock at the success of Ford’s bold, but legal, manipulation of the running order. Ford had a second reason to smile, this being its 100th successive rally in which the works teams scored world championship points. This time, Mikko Hirvonen headed Jari-Matti Latvala, while previous championship leader Sebastien Loeb struggled on the stages, running first car on the road for most of the event and finishing a courageous third, in front of his Citroen team-mate Dani Sordo. “I just hope this car is as reliable as they say it should be”, joked Jarmo Lehtinen, Hirvonen’s co-driver. “We have been going so hard over the rough roads that anything could break.” Once again roughness was the special challenge in Turkey, and only the ability to miss the rocks piled up beside the roads, which often rolled into the stages themselves, could reduce the risks. But in the interests of speed, diversions from the road were not the plan. Tyres were once again subjected to incredible stresses. If the rocks didn’t cause damage, the never-ending wheelspin, especially at the rear, wrecked the tyres. More drivers arrived at service parks with tyres worn down to the construction than for a long time, despite Pirelli’s new hard compound and stiff construction designs. The scene was set for another titanic Ford vs. Citroen battle. Ford were still smarting at their defeat two weeks ago on the gravel Acropolis Rally in Greece. With the heavy emphasis on asphalt rallies later in the season, the Greek defeat cost them an important chance to store up useful points in their race against Citroen. There was little different about the Citroens, but Ford flew out specially strengthened suspension parts to Turkey, after its failures in Greece. Subaru came encouraged after the debut appearance of their new car in Greece, with few changes this time. Suzuki made its final appearance with the original specification SX4, before important design changes are to be seen on the next World Rally in Finland next month. Because his championship standings meant he had to run first car on the road on the first day, Loeb must have regretted his win in Greece. Ford’s drivers headed the results on the first day, and then played a ‘go-slow’ tactical game to trick Loeb into running first car on the road again on the second. The ploy worked well, so that the Frenchman lost more time on Day 2 and eventually had to start the shorter final day over a half minute behind, in third place Could Loeb, running third car on the road, pull back his quarter minute deficit to Latvala and even his half minute deficit to Ford’s leader Hirvonen in the remaining 64 kilometres of stages? No, it wasn’t going to happen, although Sordo got in front of Henning Solberg’s Stobart entry. Solberg’s teammate Gigi Galli had to withdraw when the intense heat weakened him, but both Munchi’s cars, driven by Federico Villagra and Barry Clark, finished in the Manufacturers’ points. Subaru had mixed fortunes. Petter Solberg twice had suspension failures, while Chris Atkinson stopped on the first day with damper problems, which wrecked the shock absorber mounting points. Then, on Day 2, Atkinson firstly had an electrical failure at service, then a hydraulic problem. For the second rally running, Solberg upheld Subaru honour, finishing the only non-Citroen or Ford in the top 10. Both Suzukis had to give up on Day 2. Toni Gardemeister had a broken radiator that caused the engine to overheat, while PG Andersson stopped with electrical troubles, which had caused the fire extinguishers to involuntarily operate inside the car. It takes precision, courage and determination quite beyond the call of duty to get the upper hand in World Championship rallying. So when Ford’s competition managers not only planned, but pulled off the most stunning precise tactical manoeuvres in rallying, it was breathtaking. But this is a world in which the one who laughs last laughs longest. Sebastien Loeb’s co-driver Daniel Elena noted with glee that it will be Mikko Hirvonen who starts first on the road in Finland. Will the smile then be on other people’s faces? ... WRC turkey >> 41