Markko Martin notched up his first WRC win in emphatic fashion by dominating the Acropolis Rally at the weekend. The Estonian’s Ford Focus RS WRC 03 sped to victory in only its third outing.
Markko Martin notched up his first WRC win in emphatic fashion by dominating the Acropolis Rally at the weekend. The Estonian’s Ford Focus RS 03 sped to victory in only its third outing.
Martin and co-driver Michael Park held the lead at the end of each of the last two days of the event, with a 55,8-second lead over Spanish veteran Carlos Sainz in a Citroën Xsara.
"This is a big result for everybody in the team," Martin said on the victory podium. "We managed to minimise the time loss and here we are, winners at the finish."
The only real problem the team experienced was when Martin’s bonnet flew up and blocked his view on the first day's stage five. The Ford Focus driver went into the final day of the 50th Acropolis Rally with a plan to not push too hard but to run up front, and to avoid errors and mechanical problems in the recently-launched RS WRC 03.
In the Argentinean Rally, Martin and Park were leading going into the final day when they had an engine problem. After the disappointment of losing in Argentina, Martin and Park badly wanted to win in Greece.
"I've dreamt of this day for years," said Park. "There are a lot of people who I'll be thanking at home in Britain for getting me to this stage. Markko has driven a great rally, showing he can even do it when he can't really see where he's going!"
An engine problem also took the duo out of the New Zealand Rally while running a strong second overall in the début of the new Focus. Sunday’s win was even sweeter after Martin had a puncture while leading the event last year.
Martin and Park were placed just well enough on each stage to notch the victory: second in 17, fifth in 18, sixth in 19, seventh in 20, third in 21, and fourth on the final stage.
With six rallies now completed for the 2003 season, Martin has laid down the gauntlet that he and the Ford team are contenders for the Drivers' and Manufacturers' Championships.
The battle for second was between Citroën and Subaru. Subaru Impreza driver Petter Solberg started the day in third just over 20 seconds behind Sainz, and both wanted to chase Martin and chip away at his comfortable lead.
On the first stage of the day, Solberg was 10 seconds faster than Martin, placing him just under five seconds behind second-placed Sainz. Solberg went on to win the 18th stage and, after setting the fastest time on Stage 20, he took the second overall spot from the Spaniard.
However, Sainz set the pace on Stage 21 and regained second overall position. Solberg helped Sainz’s cause by spinning twice in the penultimate stage and finishing the stage a distant seventh.
"The car was just perfect so we came back into the fight and could hold our position," said Sainz. "Our second place secures our rankings in both championships and that's simply great."
Solberg made a comeback in the final stage and claimed his fourth stage victory. Solberg just missed second by 6,7 seconds as Sainz set the third fastest time in the 22nd stage.
"I tried my best and did end up taking some risks today, but I've had to settle for third place," said Solberg. "I suppose that I'm happy with third, but disappointed at the same time. Still, I have a good feeling in the car and I'm looking forward to Cyprus."
Colin McRae started Sunday fourth on the leaderboard - the Citroën driver had a 31 second lead over Subaru's Tommi Makinen and Peugeot's Richard Burns. The battle for fourth developed early in the day.
McRae looked set to beat team-mate Sainz when he took third place on the first stage of the day. But McRae’s Citroën lost power and he finished 22nd on Stage 11. At the end of the event, McRae had to settle for eighth place overall - and only one championship point.
Makinen and Burns fought it out for the overall fourth slot. Burns lost second gear in the Peugeot, but the championship leader finished fourth overall by going second fastest on the final stage. Makinen set the pace on Stage 19, but finished fifth for the day - 5,7 seconds behind Burns.
Burns was happy to maintain his lead in the championship. "Looking on the positive side, my aim on this event was always to come away still in the championship lead and I've been able to achieve that," he said.