Xavier Pons returns with a fine fourth place in Baja Spain Aragon
Spaniard Xavier Pons stormed back into the rallying limelight with an impressive performance at the wheel of a DMAS South Racing-run Ford Ranger in Baja Spain Aragón, round five of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies.
Absent from the cross-country scene since steering his Air Europa-backed Ford Ranger to the finish of his first ever Dakar Rally in January, Pons teamed up with new Uruguayan co-driver Sergio Lafuente for the first time in the baking heat and dust of a Spanish summer and the bonded well from the outset.
Pons set several impressive stage times to eventually reach the finish of the three-day event in Teruel in fourth overall behind Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, Carlos Sainz and Mikko Hirvonen – three of the fastest WRC drivers in the world.
Spaniard Fernando Alvarez and Argentinean Pablo Monasterolo were also in good form in their Conarpesa-backed South Racing Toyota Hilux and finished in eighth position.
The Czech pairing of Tomas Ourednicek and Pavel Vaculik drove a third Ford Ranger with support from South Racing. They reached Teruel in 11th.
“Once again it was a good race for South Racing and for Xavier in particular with fourth place,” said South Racing’s managing director Scott Abraham. “He had a slight roll yesterday and also a puncture that cost him some time, but the plan today was to push on and try and catch Orlando Terranova and either sit in the dust or try and get passed. Then Orly got a puncture and ‘Xevi’ was able to get passed and take fourth place.
“It was a solid rally for Fernando. He got stuck behind another car on both stages on Saturday, but his experience of racing in Argentina has been very positive and he set some good times with no problems to finish eighth. It was the first time in the car for Tomas. He also got stuck in the dust for a time, but he had a good pace, especially as this was the first time for him in the car.
“I say a big thanks to all my team and everyone at Neil Woolridge Motorsport in South Africa for supplying this car and for all their work. It is clear to see that the ongoing development work is clearly paying off.”
“We now have around a week to regroup after the hard work everyone has put in over the recent weeks and then we have three rallies in Hungary, Poland and Atacama in August.”
Xavier Pons was delighted with his result: “We are very happy. This was a great step and to finish fourth was the best we could have hoped for. We have set some very good times and matched the very best drivers on these difficult stages. I want to thank Raul Antonio, my sponsors and all the people at DMAS South Racing and Ford for supporting me in achieving this result.”
Pons made a superb start on his return to the South Racing line-up by clocking the second fastest time behind Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah in the opening 9.2km super special stage, near Teruel, on Friday evening. The DMAS South Racing Ford Ranger driver recorded a time of 6min 03.1sec. Alvarez was 20th fastest in his Toyota Hilux with a time of 7min 01.7sec and Ourednicek was 23rd.
Two selection sections of 162km and 184.80km were on the agenda for Saturday, winding their way along remote tracks and through farmland in the Jiloca and Comarca de Teruel regions.
Carlos Sainz recorded the quickest time to snatch the lead, but Pons was also in superb form with the Ford Ranger and netted the fifth fastest time to hold a top five position heading back to the midday service in Teruel. Alvarez and Ourednicek finished the special in 12th and 24th overall.
Pons continued his impressive pace through the second Alfambra stage and the fifth quickest time ensured that he reached Teruel and the overnight halt in a similar position in the overall standings. Alvarez climbed to an impressive ninth and Ourednicek moved up to 12th overall.
The Alfambra stage was repeated on Sunday morning and Sainz posted the target time of 2hr 23min 55sec. Pons pressed hard over the closing kilometres and his persistence was rewarded with the fourth quickest time behind eventual winner Al-Attiyah Sainz and Hirvonen. His reward was fourth place after the Argentinean Orlando Terranova was handed an additional seven minutes of time penalties at the finish.
Alvarez gained a place at the expense of former Dakar winner Jutta Kleinschmidt to finish eighth overall and Ourednicek reached Teruel in 11th overall after carding the 11th quickest time in the final stage.
South Racing was founded in 2013. Based near Frankfurt in Germany, the young, customer-driven team also has workshops in Portugal and has extensive experience of the Dakar Rally and rallying in South America.