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GP Week : Issue 15
The ability to calculate the times when three of its team drivers should each cross the finishing line of the final stage on the Friday, and therefore establish their total time for the rally up to that point, was the basis of Ford’s tactical manipulation. The aim was for the overnight rally classification (as at the end of stage nine) to show Loeb as the leader, with the Ford drivers as close behind in total time but as many placings behind the leaders as possible. They wanted their favoured driver (Hirvonen) as far behind as possible. In this way, they could force Citroen’s Sebastien Loeb, already running first car on the road on Friday due to his championship leading status, to continue to face less satisfactory stage surfaces throughout Saturday. And if that succeeded, Ford would continue to be able to control the course of the competition 24 hours later, should the need arise. Ford’s rally managers did a brilliant job of calculating the ideal times at which their drivers had to cross the flying finish at the end of stage 9, sending electronic messages to the cars as soon as those calculations were made. The calculations could only start to be made when the time taken by Loeb on SS9, therefore his aggregate total time, was known. The precision of Ford’s operation, not only by the team managers but also the crews involved, was astounding. Miikka Anttila, Latvala’s codriver, reckoned they arrived at the end of SS9 one second away from the time they intended. Jarmo Lehtinen, Hirvonen’s co-driver, reckoned their accuracy was two seconds. And neither of them, nor the co-driver of the third driver involved, Gigi Galli, who was to score a time so as to finish the day also ahead of Hirvonen, claimed previous experience of regularity rallying … In the end it all worked a treat for Ford. The tactics led to very long faces at Citroen, but it was to the huge credit of Loeb that he accepted all this with good grace, and certainly went in to the stages on Saturday with even more determination than normal. Whoever was going to win this event was going to be a unclear for the final part of the rally – but Ford’s little game certainly kept everyone in suspense right up to the end. WRC turkey >> 43