Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen's Rallye Monte Carlo victory today was a hugely emotional success for everyone within the BP-Ford World Rally Team. Their triumph on the world's most famous rally provided a perfect beginning to Ford's new era in the FIA World Rally Championship, with the new Focus RS World Rally Car and the double world champion driver pairing.
The 2006-specification Focus RS WRC, based on the successful Focus ST road car, was conceived, designed and built in a staggeringly short space of time. On its first full competitive appearance, with Grönholm and Rautiainen behind the wheel for the first time, it triumphed over the treacherously icy and snowy roads of the French Alps to beat the world's best by 61.8sec.
It was a stunning performance by 37-year-old Grönholm. The Finn is known as a loose surface specialist, but on the most demanding asphalt event in the 16-round championship he overcame Rallye Monte Carlo master Sebastien Loeb, who has won here for the past three years. It was Grönholm's first asphalt victory and the 19th win of his career. His previous best result on this rally, which he freely admits is not his favourite, was fourth in 2004.
Ford TeamRS director Jost Capito watched with delight as Grönholm and Rautiainen celebrated on the finish podium at Monaco's Palace. "This result is more than we dared hoped for," he said. "We knew the new Focus RS WRC would be good but we couldn't forecast that we would conquer one of the toughest rallies in the championship on our first full competitive event with a new car and driver line-up."
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson was equally overjoyed. "This is the team's reward for so many extremely late nights and so much hard work in the development of the new Focus RS WRC. I believe this is just the start for us and we all look forward to more results of this kind as the season progresses."
And the winning driver? Grönholm admitted that a debut victory was beyond his wildest dreams. "I didn't think a victory was possible here before the rally. My dream was a podium. But this is the best feeling. Victory is always special, but under the circumstances, this is more than special. It is a fantastic day for everyone in the team and one that I will always remember," he said.