Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot matched their career-best result by finishing third on the Rallye de France - Tour de Corse today.

Their podium finish at the wheel of a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car was their second of the season and came after a tense final leg on the asphalt mountain roads of the Mediterranean island of Corsica, where the weather conditions again played a crucial role in the outcome.

Finns Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen finished an impressive tenth on the three-day rally, round 12 of the FIA World Rally Championship, in a 2002-specification Focus RS despite having never set foot on the island before. That was good enough to claim the final manufacturers' point and guarantee Ford a double points haul. It was the 26th consecutive rally in which Ford has scored points, a record dating back to the opening round of the 2002 season. Ford BP drivers Markko Martin and Michael Park retired their Castrol-backed Focus RS on the penultimate speed test after a heavy accident. They were shaken but unhurt.

Just two loops of two special stages, covering 112.10km, comprised today's final leg. The weather was again unpredictable high in the mountains and tyre selection was difficult as heavy rain showers were frequent but also extremely localised.

Duval and Prevot started the day in second position, but just 4.5sec ahead of former team-mate Carlos Sainz. In contrast to the double world champion's vast experience of the roads, Duval had never before driven today's speed tests competitively. The margin between the duo fluctuated during the first two tests and 22-year-old Duval arrived back at service in Ajaccio leading the Spaniard by just 0.1sec.

Tyre selection for the final two tests was likely to prove crucial and while Duval selected Michelin's mixed weather intermediate rubber, Sainz opted for dry weather slick tyres. Duval capitalised on the first of the two stages by stretching his advantage to 10.6sec but Sainz fought back and snatched second position in the final few kilometres by only 5.1sec.

"We gained time on the penultimate stage but lost out on the last one," said Duval. "We didn't make a bad choice but the final 20km of the last stage were dry and that suited Carlos better than me. But I've driven a good rally. I've had no problems with the car and made no mistakes. It was really difficult for me because everyone seems to have more experience of the roads and knowledge like that plays such an important part on rallies like this. Tyre selection has been tricky all weekend because the conditions have been so unpredictable and it's hard to concentrate when the weather keeps changing. But we kept our cool and made no mistakes and I'm really happy with the result."

Ford BP team-mate Martin had to switch to the back-up manual gearchange system for the opening two stages after a problem with the automatic version. He dropped time after stalling twice at the start of the second stage and once at a hairpin 10km from the end. With no chance of climbing the order, he planned to test development tyres from Michelin during the final two stages but crashed heavily near the start of the penultimate stage.

"We came to a fast fourth gear corner that turned into a slower one and I lost control under braking and took a wide line," said Martin. "I think we were lucky because we went off the road backwards and into the trees. It was a fairly heavy impact and I hit my head hard. We were fortunate not to have gone into the trees frontwards otherwise it could have been quite nasty."

Hirvonen survived a few near misses after hitting a bank this morning and then doing the same twice this afternoon, as well as spinning after the finish of the final stage. But the 22-year-old, who has little experience of asphalt rallies, was delighted with his result.

"We've had a great weekend. I made my own goal before the rally which was to finish in the top 10. I've achieved that and scored points for Ford as well. Yesterday was perfect for us. We set some excellent stage times in the rain. It seems I'm much faster in the wet than the dry and I think I now need more experience of dry conditions," he said.

Ford BP team director Malcolm Wilson was full of praise for Duval. "We were disappointed to lose Markko but Francois drove a great rally. He coped well under pressure, especially in yesterday's rain. He will gain in confidence from being on the podium and has shown his natural ability," he said.



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