Ford claimed its 150th consecutive points finish in the FIA World Rally Championship as veteran Petter Solberg claimed sixth place on Rally Argentina.
Ford is the first manufacturer to reach the milestone figure in the championship's 39-year history, starting its run on the opening round of the 2002 series in Monte Carlo. At least one of the team's nominated drivers has finished in a points-scoring position in every round since then, allowing the Blue Oval and rally partner M-Sport to celebrate their achievement at the finish in Carlos Paz on Sunday afternoon.
Ford Racing senior manager Gerard Quinn and Ford World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson joined Solberg and co-driver Chris Patterson in front of their Fiesta RS World Rally Car as they took the applause of the huge crowds who had welcomed event winner Sebastien Loeb's Citroen across the ramp earlier in the celebrations.
“This record is the product of a remarkable blend of speed and reliability,” Quinn noted, “We've shown over a decade of WRC rallies that we can score consistently. Celebrating 150 consecutive points finishes here today gives us the confidence to go on to mount a challenge for the manufacturers' title during the remaining eight rounds of the season.”
While there was also disappointment for the team when stand-in Dani Sordo was forced to retire his Fiesta from third place with a suspected alternator problem just 4km from the end of the 502km rally, Wilson was delighted to have reached the team's landmark on one of the season's toughest events.
“Petter produced a great recovery which culminated in him winning the Power Stage,” he reflected, “After everything that happened, to leave Argentina with Petter still second in the championship is good.”
Rally Argentina was the longest WRC round for almost a decade, and heavy rain before the start made the gravel roads in Cordoba province, 700km north-west of Buenos Aires, extremely slippery. With the rules allowing only a limited allocation of Michelin's wet weather soft compound tyres, drivers were forced to complete much of the event using compromise hard compound rubber or worn soft tyres.
Solberg took the lead on Thursday night's opening speed test and extended his advantage to more than 20 seconds on Friday morning. However, the 37-year old Norwegian suffered heartbreak when his car's sump guard hit some bedrock and bent the left steering arm. When the arm later broke, his car was pitched off the road into a rock and retirement.
He restarted down in eleventh place with a 15-minute time penalty, but a determined drive subsequently propelled him to sixth, as he won nine of the last ten special stages and claimed all six on Sunday's final leg, as well as the final Power Stage, which provided the three bonus points that allowed him to retain second spot in the drivers' championship.
“After what happened on Friday, I have to be happy with sixth,” Solberg admitted, “To win all six tests and the Power Stage today was perfect. I'm proud of what we achieved yesterday and today, but Friday was the toughest day I've had for a long time. However, the result shows why you should never give up, no matter what the situation.
“The stages were enjoyable and the car felt good, so I was able to push hard today. The disappointing thing is that I could have won. This could have been my first victory for a long time, but we'll continue to work hard and I know it will come soon.”