Ketomaa closes gap on Pons in Portugal
Finnish Jari Ketomaa won his second consecutive Super 2000 World Rally Championship (S-WRC) round in the Algarve this weekend and is steadily closing the gap on the current series leader, Spanish Xevi Pons.

The Vodafone Rally de Portugal kicked off in the Algarve Stadium on Thursday evening with an exciting tarmac Super Special Stage. The stadium, built for the 2004 European Championships, attracted thousands of rally fans to watch the six Ford Fiesta crews go head to head round the spectacular flood-lit 2.03km speed test.

Mild weather in Portugal meant stages were very dry with fast, hard-packed surfaces and Ketomaa reported problems with grip on the 22.72km opening stage on Friday’s opening loop. Despite these problems, Ketomaa still managed a solid start producing the fastest stage time in SS2, giving him an early 23.2 second lead in the S-WRC class.

Dennis Kuipers had an unfortunate opening day as he suffered from a broken alternator belt during SS6 and was forced to retire for the day. Current S-WRC leader, Xevi Pons hit a bridge during SS3 which caused a puncture and cost the young Spaniard over 30 seconds in time. Despite this, Pons remained steady in the afternoon and finished day one in fourth position.

Bernardo Sousa encountered no problems during the first five stages but suffered from a puncture during SS6. Despite losing time as a result of the puncture, the young Portugese driver remained in fourth position in the S-WRC class at the end of day one. Janne Tuohino experienced problems with a broken drive shaft and also some steering problems which cost the Finn to drop back into fifth position by the end of SS7

Saturday’s stages were the longest of the event and saw Kuipers return to the S-WRC class under SupeRally regulations. The second full day of action comprised of six gravel tests covering 135.10km based north of the service park. Stages were very narrow, with several blind crests and included a repeat loop of the rally’s longest stage, 26.20km Almodovar (SS8 and SS11), which kicked off the morning and afternoon loop.

Tuohino reported steering problems during the morning’s opening stage and the Finn lost a significant amount of time during SS8 and SS9. This problem was rectified in the midday service but the Finn dropped back to seventh position. Sousa reported problems with his back rear diff in the morning and this was changed during the midday service.

French Julien Maurin had to retire on Saturday’s morning loop after his alternator belt snapped. At the end of day one, Ketomaa led the S-WRC class by over three minutes and was placed 12th overall. Xevi Pons was second in the S-WRC class and was placed 13th overall.

Sunday's final day of Vodafone Rally de Portugal was the shortest of the event, with the action centred round four gravel stages in the Serra do Caldeirăo hills, north of Faro and a second visit to the Super Special Stage in the Algarve Stadium. The final 2.03km stage comprised of four laps of a tight and twisty circuit inside the stadium and a faster section through the car park outside.

The final five stages did not pose any major problems for the Ford Fiesta S2000 crews but Tuohino reported further steering problems in the morning’s opening loop.

The Fiesta S2000 has now won the opening four rounds of the S-WRC category and despite Ketomaa winning the last two S-WRC rounds, Pons continues to lead the championship overall.

Xevi Pons said:
“This was the first time I had been in Rally de Portugal and the stages were a lot harder than I was expecting. I am pleased to have finished second in the class overall because I was a lot further down the class a couple of days ago. There were no problems with the car apart from on the first day when I got a puncture and lost about 30 seconds. It was important that I got a good result though and I am happy with my end result.”

Bernardo Sousa said:
“This was a hard round because I will be competing in the Portugese National Rally too – every day you get a score, so I cannot take any risks which could result in a retirement so had to remain steady. I had no major problems throughout the weekend apart from a noisy rear diff yesterday which was changed. It was worrying when I got back from SS17 as there was hardly any fuel in the car which meant I may not be able to do the Super Special but I am pleased to have got to the end of a difficult rally.”

Janne Tuohino said:
“I was last here for Rally Portugal in 2006 and ended up finishing second overall so it was a good rally for me. Yesterday morning I had problems with my steering but it got better by the afternoon after the midday service. The same problems happened to my steering again this morning but they were sorted again for this afternoon. I also had problems with my drive shaft on the opening day but I’m pleased to have made it to the end.”

Jari Ketomaa said:
“Portugal is a new rally for me and Friday started off perfectly for me. I was confident with the set up of the car throughout the rally and I didn’t have to take any risks at all which was good for me – it meant that I could just drive and enjoy the rally. They were very tough stages but it was enjoyable for the drivers. The service team did a very good job throughout the weekend and I am delighted to have got another win in the S-WRC class.”

Dennis Kuipers said:
“This is my second time in Portugal and the stages here have been very difficult. It’s been a good event and apart from having to retire early on Friday afternoon I had no other problems. I didn’t make any mistakes on Saturday or Sunday’s stages and was able to get a good rhythm going. As the event progressed, I found that I was getting more and more confident with the car and I’m really pleased with my performance this weekend.”

M-Sport Managing Director Malcolm Wilson said:
“The Vodafone Rally de Portugal has been a fantastic turn out in the S-WRC category this season. Ketomaa displayed some fantastic driving over the weekend and thoroughly deserves his second win in this category. We were delighted with the Ford Fiesta S2000 clean sweep podium finish in New Zealand last month and I am delighted that Ketomaa and Pons have secured more podium finishes for the Fiesta crews.”

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