Martin wins the Tour de Corse, Loeb takes title
17 October 2004
Ford number one driver, Markko Martin has won the Rallye de France-Tour de Corse today [Sunday], taking victory by over 2 minutes, while Sebastien Loeb finished second to seal the drivers' title on home ground.
Loeb's Citroen team-mate Carlos Sainz completed the podium, on a day when the French squad also clinched the manufacturer's crown for the second year running.
Loeb, who has won five rounds this season, retiring only once in 14 events [in Mexico], becomes the first Frenchman to win the drivers' title since Didier Auriol in 1994. The Frenchman was both ecstatic and relieved at the finish.
"Until the last two stages I was fine, I was concentrated and everything was going well. In the last stage, around five km from the end of stage, it became more and more difficult to stay concentrated," admitted Loeb.
"At this time, you begin to hear a lot of problems with the car, you begin to think what will happen after the race, if you will be Champion, so it was a lot more difficult to stay concentrated.
"I was driving very carefully. It is very nice for me and all the team to win the two titles here, in Corsica, in France. This was the nicest thing we could hope for this year."
At Ford meanwhile, Martin was delighted to secure his second win of the season, and his very first on asphalt. The Estonian, who initially lead Friday, before his team-mate, Francois Duval took over, regained the lead early Saturday and after that was never really troubled again, despite a fire scare at the end of the second leg.
"It's a great moment for me to win on asphalt for the first time," said Martin.
"Corsica is the classic asphalt event and the ultimate one to win. It has been a brilliant weekend and we've had a really impressive run. Today was enjoyable but Friday and Saturday were really hard work. It was satisfying to be able to enjoy today after having put in the hard effort for the previous two days."
Ford boss, Malcolm Wilson, was pleased with both of his drivers, although Duval was unfortunate to become the second works retirement today, when he stopped on SS9, with engine problems.
"This weekend we have seen outstanding performances from Markko, Francois and the Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. We always knew that the Focus RS was outstanding on asphalt and these last three days have proved that. Ten fastest times from 12 stages, and five one-twos during the first two days, shows just how dominant we have been," stated Wilson.
Marcus Gronholm took fourth for Peugeot, the Finn declaring that it has been a 'long and tough three days'. His team-mate, Freddy Loix took seventh.
Outgoing WRC champion Petter Solberg was fifth, as he struggled to reproduce the kind of form he showed in Japan, GB and Sardinia. The Norwegian's Pirelli tyres' quite simply weren't up to the job, and neither too was the Subaru Impreza.
'Hollywood' though was quick to congratulate new champion Loeb. "Sebastien's a good champion and I'm pleased for him," he said. "His team has done a good job and it's well deserved. We've had some good battles this year and, fair do's, he's the real champ this time."
Private entrant Stephane Sarrazin took an excellent sixth while Armin Schwarz scored his first point of the season in eighth, just ahead of his Skoda team-mate, Toni Gardemeister.
"Overall this hasn't been a bad performance but we could have finished higher if I hadn't had my hydraulic problem on the second stage yesterday," said Schwarz. "The format of the event and the changing weather conditions meant that tyre choice was a complete gamble and I have to say that we didn't really get it right this weekend."
Finn Mikko Hirvonen completed the top ten, and in the process claimed the final manufacturers' points for Subaru.
In the Production Car category Xavier Pons lead from start to finish, eventually taking the honours by just under 1 minute, after taking it easy through the final leg.
"I knew we could do well after winning in Germany," stated Pons, "but the roads here are very different and the weather has made it very difficult. The car has been fantastic and I think we have proved what we can do."
Brits Niall McShea and Alister McRae completed the PCWRC podium, with Mark Higgins fourth and Fumio Nutahara fifth.
The WRC now moves to Spain, for the Rallye Catalunya, the second of two consecutive Mediterranean asphalt rallies, which starts on Friday 29 October.
The penultimate round of the 2004 World Rally Championship is based in the coastal resort of Lloret de Mar, and features high-speed, smooth asphalt stages. The longest test is the Viladrau stage at 35.18km, while the shortest will be the La Roca stage at 5.05km. The event will conclude when the winning car crosses the finish ramp in Lloret de Mar at 1526hrs on Sunday.