Ketomaa dominates Portuguese S-WRC for second rally in a row
Finnish pairing Jari Ketomaa and Mika Stenberg took their second win in a row in their Ford Fiesta in the fifth round of the 2010 FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship at Vodafone Rally de Portugal this weekend. After an early stage win on SS2, Ketomaa was forced into second place when he couldn’t catch the new Ford of twice P-WRC Champion Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT). However, the six-time Middle East Rally Champion lost his power steering on SS7 and electrical problems forced him to retire from Day Two on SS9, leaving Ketomaa unchallenged for the lead. Without this battle to boost his adrenalin, the flying Finn was worried about losing his motivation, but after a respectable seven stage wins, he won the S-WRC by over three and a half minutes.

Meanwhile, Championship leader Xevi Pons (ESP) took second place, proving as consistent as ever. He drove cautiously after his Fiesta got a flat tyre on SS2, because he didn’t have any more spares, and finished Day One in fourth place. However a series of strong stage times over the next two days saw him steadily climb up the leaderboard to reach second by SS11, assisted en route by the retirements of Al-Attiyah and championship rival P-G Andersson on Day Two . Pons was unable to catch Ketomaa however, and focused on finishing the rally to take home 18 S-WRC points. He increased his lead in the S-WRC standings to 28 points over second placed Ketomaa, but has driven one more round than his Finnish challenger.

The final spot on the S-WRC podium went to Polish driver Michal Kosciuszko, last year’s J-WRC runner-up. In 2009, Kosciuszko won the J-WRC in Portugal by over six minutes. However, this year he had to contend with switching to a Škoda after his Ford was written off in an accident in Jordan which left him temporarily blinded. As he pushed harder on Day Two, he unfortunately caught up problem-ridden cars ahead and was also held up in the aftermath of Al-Attiyah’s retirement, together costing him nearly two minutes. This left him in fourth and unable to catch the series leaders, but with the Day Two retirement of Andersson, Kosciuszko seized third and didn’t give it up.

Portuguese driver Bernardo Sousa took fourth place on his home rally, picking up 12 S-WRC points. He didn’t have any major problems during the event, but drove cautiously to ensure completing the three days and getting maximum points in the Portuguese Championship this weekend. Guest driver Vitor Pascoal, who finished fourth in his home championship, also came sixth in the S-WRC.

Sandwiched between these two local drivers came P-G Andersson. Despite a strong first day, Andersson was unable to catch then leaders Al-Attiyah and Ketomaa. Nonetheless, consistently quick times left him in an unchallenged second after Al-Attiyah’s Day Two retirement, until disaster struck for the Swedish two-time JWRC Champion on SS11 when his rear right wheel fell off and he had to stop. He superallied and returned on Day Three to finish in fifth place, collecting 10 S-WRC points which leave him third in the Championship standings, just two points adrift of second-placed Ketomaa and only two points ahead of Martin Prokop.

Nasser Al-Attiyah, Janne Tuohino (FIN), Eyvind Brynildsen (NOR) the youngest driver in this year’s S-WRC, and Albert Llovera (AND) all completed the rally, but over 20 minutes behind winner Ketomaa due to a series of unfortunate events. Al-Attiyah claimed eight stage wins across the event and took an early lead, but was stopped on SS9, early on Day Two, by electrical gremlins. He restarted on Day Three, but finished in seventh, unable to compete with the leaders, despite consistently strong form, underlined by the fact he topped the SWRC sprinter standings for the event.

Tuohino’s power steering broke on Day One costing him over 10 minutes and then on Day Two he caught two WRC cars losing the same amount of time again. After a good morning on Day Three, his steering went once again on SS16, but he managed to hold Brynildsen off and to finish 16 seconds ahead of the Norwegian mechanic in eighth position. Having stormed around the SS1 super special, Brynildsen retired on the opening stage of Day One due to an engine problem which removed all fuel pressure. He was too far behind to regain position when he returned on Day Two and finished in ninth, despite strong stage times and another stage win on SS13.

However, it was Llovera that everyone was watching. Early on SS12 at the end of Day Two the power steering broke on his Punto. Difficult enough for any driver, the next 40km Llovera drove in his hand-controlled car took unparalleled grit and determination. Unfortunately, only 2km before he reached service, his battery died and he was forced to retire from Day Two. Never to be defeated, he returned on Day Three to finish in tenth place and take home one S-WRC point.

1st – JARI KETOMAA (FIN): “It’s great to win. The FCACA [team] did a great job managing to keep the car alive in such a rough rally. We had a few small problems but the team was able to fix them. It’s another good result for us.”

2nd – XEVI PONS (ESP): “We are really happy. We prepared for the rally aiming for third or fourth place, because we didn’t know the event. But we came second so it’s perfect for us and for the Championship. Now we move onto tarmac for the other events and we can really push hard.”

3rd – MICHAL KOSCIUSZKO (POL): “I’m really happy with third place. My aim for this rally was to be on the podium. After my accident in Jordan I am driving a Škoda which is a new car for me and had to get the feeling back, so it’s a very good result.”

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