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BP-Ford claims world rally title with 1-2 finish

BP-Ford claims world rally title with 1-2 finish in New Zealand*

BP-Ford World Rally Team today secured the FIA World Rally Championship manufacturers' title after powering to a 1-2 finish in Rally New Zealand. Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen took their sixth victory of the season in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, finishing 56.0sec ahead of team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen in a similar car. The maximum points haul means that with one round still remaining BP-Ford has built an unassailable 25-point lead.

It is Ford's first manufacturers' title since 1979 and the squad's seventh victory of the season. Grönholm had already secured second in the drivers' series while Hirvonen's result means he is now assured of third. This was also Ford's 75th consecutive points scoring finish in the WRC, a record unrivalled in the sport's history and dating back to the opening round of the 2002 championship.

Round 15 of the 16-event championship was based in Hamilton, 130km south of Auckland. Drivers tackled three days of smooth, flowing gravel speed tests on North Island's west coast, many hugging the spectacular Tasman Sea shoreline. They covered 17 special stages in all, covering 358.48km, while early spring in New Zealand guaranteed a mix of weather conditions, ranging from sunshine to torrential rain.

Grönholm and Rautiainen led from Friday's opening kilometre. With no pressure from behind, the 38-year-old Finnish driver eased through today's final leg, comprising six stages and 95.48km near the coastal town of Raglan, to secure victory. He set a clean sweep of fastest times on the opening day by winning all five speed tests and increased his rally total to 13 with five more wins today.

"It's a great feeling to win the rally and secure the world title for Ford on the same day," said Grönholm. "When I joined the team I expected a high performance level from the Focus RS WRC because it was a new car and to experience the fantastic level of reliability that we have enjoyed during the season was a big bonus. This wasn't such a hard rally as the Focus RS has been absolutely perfect."

Hirvonen, too, was under no pressure from behind today and took no risks on the slippery stages. He finished 1min 43.3sec ahead of his nearest challenger. "I'm thrilled to be part of a world title-winning team," said the 26-year-old Finn. "The whole season has been fantastic and I have secured third place in the drivers' series. But that stays in the background because to win the manufacturers' title is a huge achievement for me. I started my career in world rallying with Ford. Malcolm Wilson gave me the chance to prove myself at the beginning of my career and again this year, so it is even better to be here helping Ford to the title."

Ford TeamRS director Jost Capito led the celebrations and said: "It's thrilling and rewarding to see Ford as world champions again, especially in the first year of competition for the new Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. This title was only possible due to an outstanding effort from every single member of the team."

BP-Ford World Rally team director Malcolm Wilson said: "This title brings great personal satisfaction. Ford has been so close to winning the manufacturers' title on many occasions but it is many years since we achieved this honour and I'm proud to be able to deliver it now. It has been a huge effort by everyone, not only all the employees at M-Sport, but also our partners at BFGoodrich and all the other suppliers and partners who have supported the team. It is the culmination of many years of building a world class team, infrastructure and resource capable of beating the best."

News from our Rivals

Manfred Stohl (Peugeot) claimed his second consecutive podium in third ahead of a fierce battle between team-mates Dani Sordo and Xevi Pons (both Citroen). Sordo began the day in fourth but a charging Pons, despite a spin on the first pass through the classic Whaanga Coast test, set two fastest times and overhauled Sordo on the penultimate stage. Petter Solberg (Subaru) rounded off the top six, despite incurring a 60sec penalty when his car would not start before the first stage this morning. Luis Perez Companc (Ford) claimed his first drivers' points for his team in seventh.

Next round

The final round of the 2006 championship is the Wales-based Rally GB, which is based in Cardiff on 30 November - 3 December.

Final positions
1. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS 4hr 02min 30.7sec
2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 4hr 03min 26.7sec
3. M Stohl/I Minor A Peugeot 307 4hr 05min 10.0sec
4. X Pons/C Del Barrio E Citroen Xsara 4hr 05min 26.8sec
5. D Sordo/M Marti E Citroen Xsara 4hr 05min 51.4sec
6. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 4hr 07min 27.8sec
7. L Perez Companc/J-M Volta ARG Ford Focus RS 4hr 13min 22.3sec
8. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Subaru Impreza 4hr 18min 53.1sec
9. J Hanninen/M Sallinen FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 4hr 20min 00.9sec
10 R Mason/S Randall NZ Subaru Impreza 4hr 22min 50.7sec

FIA World Rally Championship (after round 15 of 16)
Drivers Manufacturers
1. S Loeb 112pts 1. BP-Ford 185pts
2. M Grönholm 101pts 2. Kronos Citroen 160pts
3. M Hirvonen 65pts 3. Subaru 97pts
4. D Sordo 47pts 4. OMV - Peugeot Norway 80pts
5. M Stohl 46pts 5. Stobart VK M-Sport Ford 39pts
6. P Solberg 34pts 6. Red-Bull Skoda 23pts

*Subject to the official publication of the results by the FIA

NOTE: Audio one-to-one interviews with Jost Capito and Malcolm Wilson are available today, November 19, at 9.30am – 10.30am CET. Please call + 64 211 454312 or + 44 7770 756214.

Stage Times

Stage 12: 1. Grönholm 3min 40.6sec; 2. Hirvonen + 0.3; 3. P Solberg + 2.3; 4. Sordo + 3.0; 5. Pons + 3.1; 6. Stohl + 4.8.

Overall: 1. Grönholm 2hr 59min 57.8sec; 2. Hirvonen + 50.6; 3. Stohl + 2:11.0; 4. Sordo + 2:26.1; 5. Pons + 2:41.5; 6. P Solberg + 4:27.4.

Stage 13: 1. Grönholm 7min 56.2sec; 2. Pons + 1.8; 3. Hirvonen + 3.1; 3. P Solberg + 5.3; 5. Wilson + 8.1; 6. Stohl + 10.1.

Overall: 1. Grönholm 3hr 07min 54.0sec; 2. Hirvonen + 53.7; 3. Stohl + 2:21.1; 4. Sordo + 2:37.3; 5. Pons + 2:43.3; 6. P Solberg + 4:32.7.

Stage 14: 1. Grönholm 21min 38.1sec; 2. Hirvonen + 1.8; 3. Stohl + 7.8; 4. P Solberg + 14.6; 5. Sordo + 21.4; 6. Pons + 24.8.

Overall: 1. Grönholm 3hr 29min 32.1sec; 2. Hirvonen + 55.5; 3. Stohl + 2:28.9; 4. Sordo + 2:58.7; 5. Pons + 3:08.1; 6. P Solberg + 4:47.3.

Stage 15: 1. Grönholm 3min 37.5sec; 2. Hirvonen + 0.1; 3. P Solberg + 0.8; 4. Pons + 1.7; 5. Sordo + 5.3; 6. Stohl + 5.7.

Overall: 1. Grönholm 3hr 33min 09.6sec; 2. Hirvonen + 55.6; 3. Stohl + 2:34.6; 4. Sordo + 3:04.0; 5. Pons + 3:09.8; 6. P Solberg + 4:48.1.

Stage 16: 1= Grönholm, Pons7min 57.7sec; 3. Hirvonen + 1.4; 4. P Solberg + 5.4; 5. Stohl + 6.6; 6. Wilson + 7.8.
Overall: 1. Grönholm 3hr 41min 07.3sec; 2. Hirvonen + 57.0; 3. Stohl + 2:41.2; 4. Pons + 3:09.8; 5. Sordo + 3:14.0; 6. P Solberg + 4:53.5.

Stage 17: 1. Pons 21min 09.7sec; 2. Stohl + 11.8; 3. Hirvonen + 12.7; 4. Grönholm + 13.7; 5. P Solberg + 17.3; 6. Stohl + 20.4.

Overall: 1. Grönholm 4hr 02min 30.7sec; 2. Hirvonen + 56.0; 3. Stohl + 2:39.3; 4. Pons + 2:56.1; 5. Sordo + 3:20.7; 6. P Solberg + 4:57.1.


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