Rally d’ Italia 2007 report - Castrol Ultimate
The Castrol-Ford World Rally Team scored a fantastic first and second place in this weekend’s Rallye d’Italia taking the team to the top of both world championships while arch rival Sebastien crashed out in dramatic fashion on the final day.
The WRC contenders returned to Europe to take up arms on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia where the temperatures on the narrow and rough gravel stages hit 32 degrees. As frontrunners the Castrol-Ford pairing suffered from clearing the loose sand away from the surface, but completed the opening day in strong positions.
Ford’s ‘B-team’ driver Jari-Matti Latvala, who had benefited from a later start slot, initially held the lead only to hit a rock on the second stage. Meanwhile Grönholm had has own problems with a faulty damper, allowing Loeb into the top spot. Grönhom said: “I lost the damper fluid and couldn’t make repairs so had to drive carefully on the final stage of the day.”
Hirvonen set a pair of top three times to move into third behind his team-mate. “I’ve really enjoyed myself today,” he said after day one. “This afternoon everything was good and my times were closer to Marcus and Seb than they were in Argentina so I’m back on track.”
Grönholm’s hopes of regaining the lead were hit by a bizarre incident on day two. At the end of the second stage he needed to change a damaged tyre but the retaining strap on the spare wheel had broken and the wheel was missing from its location under the car.
Under new rules that demand cars have all four wheels attached, Grönholm had no choice but to drive carefully on the third stage. “If I’d lost the damaged wheel completely I would have had to retire,” he said. “It was tough watching the time slip away but eight points are better than none.”
Hirvonen drove solidly to ensure that Ford ended the second leg with both cars on the podium as usual. “We did a bit of testing for next month’s Acropolis Rally,” he admitted, “but my aim today was to stay on the podium.”
Fate finally dealt Grönholm a winning hand on Sunday morning. Both he and the rally leader Loeb spun, but while the Finn continued, Loeb remained stuck in the ditch. “It’s nice to see that Seb has bad luck as well as me,” joked Grönholm as he was left to cruise home to victory. “It wasn’t an easy win but it’s a great feeling to be back in the lead.”
With John Fleming (Ford of Europe President and CEO) watching, Castrol-Ford team manager Malcolm Wilson said: “This was a superb team performance and one that was richly deserved. Marcus was unlucky but never gave up and got the result we wanted while Mikko’s consistency brought us our second 1-2 of the season.”
Castrol-Ford team boss Malcolm Wilson has criticised plans by Rally GB to run night stages on this year’s WRC finale in December. The current format of events in the championship has been determined by the desire to maximise exposure for the manufacturers and sponsors,” said Wilson. “Are you really going to have good TV and photographs in the dark?” He also reminded everyone that bad weather had caused chaos in Argentina and warned: “This could happen again and we must also consider the increased safety risk by running at night.”
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