McRae and MÃ¤rtin on the mark for Ford in Spain Ford Rallye Sport maintained its record of scoring points on each round of the FIA World Rally Championship after battling performances by Colin McRae and Nicky Grist and team-mates Markko Martin...
McRae and Märtin on the mark for Ford in Spain
Ford Rallye Sport maintained its record of scoring points on each round of the FIA World Rally Championship after battling performances by Colin McRae and Nicky Grist and team-mates Markko Martin and Michael Park on Spain's Catalunya Rally. McRae and Martin finished sixth and eighth respectively in Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars to ensure Ford's fourth points haul from the four events to date.
McRae, driving with bruised ribs and heavily strapped fingers on his left hand after his accident in Corsica two weeks ago, and Martin, competing with an ear infection after suffering from 'flu, cruised through the six speed tests on today's final leg near the town of Vic. Their results keep Ford in second in the manufacturers' championship while McRae also secured a point in the drivers' series.
Temperatures again topped 23°C and happily there was none of the crowd congestion which marred yesterday's leg. Even so, fans were reported to be parking their cars and walking up to 8km to view the action at the famous hairpin on the final test where thousands gathered on the bridge high above the stage to watch the cars.
McRae started the day in seventh but climbed to sixth following the retirement of Sebastian Loeb (Citroen), a result which delighted the 33-year-old Scot on the team's weakest surface. "It's a good result for myself and Ford. We've made improvements to the Focus on asphalt but obviously need to make more. A points finish made all the effort and pain from the injuries worthwhile and in the circumstances one drivers' point here feels like 10.
"I didn't know what to expect from the finger until after the shakedown test and my hand kept reminding me it was there, even when I tried to forget about it. I guess the injury cost a little time but I can't tell how much. It'll take a long time to get full movement back in my finger and it may even give me more trouble in Cyprus when there's less protection on it," he said.
Märtin had minor brake problems this morning but he too concentrated on securing manufacturers' points and was unconcerned when the non-scoring Harri Rovanperä (Peugeot) moved ahead on the final stage. The 26-year-old Estonian emphasised the improvement to the Focus on dry asphalt by sharing quickest time on the penultimate test with Gilles Panizzi, his first ever fastest time on asphalt.
"We've set some unexpected times here but took it reasonably steady on the long final stage because our tyres were starting to lose their edge," said Märtin. "We've scored two points for Ford which is fantastic and if we hadn't had the brake troubles this morning we may have been able to stay ahead of Rovanperä. I've had a good clean run all rally and I'm really pleased that I was able to match the pace of Colin and Carlos (Sainz) all the way through."
Armin Kremer and Dieter Schneppenheim finished 15th in their Focus RS, despite losing a minute when they understeered into a barrier after hitting a patch of gravel. "The car was perfect all rally and while I can't be completely happy with 15th, I've reduced the time gap between myself and the leaders and gained more experience. Now I'm looking forward to driving the car for the first time on gravel in Greece in June," said Kramer.
Ford Rallye Sport team director Malcolm Wilson was full of praise for his drivers. "This result just shows the true character of Colin," he said. "Markko also drove very well and we're really looking forward to the next few rallies on gravel. I believe we have an excellent package for those events," he said.
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Peugeot completed their third successive 1-2 finish when Gilles Panizzi led home Richard Burns by 37.3sec. It was Panizzi's second consecutive win, the Frenchman even having time for a spin under the famous bridge on the Viladrau stage. Philippe Bugalski (Citroen) was third but team-mate Sebastien Loeb retired from fourth when he rolled on the third stage and broke his car's suspension. Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) inherited fourth, the only driver to score on all four rounds this year, while Petter Solberg (Subaru) and McRae claimed the final drivers' points. An intriguing three-car fight between Francois Delecour (Mitsubishi), Freddy Loix (Hyundai) and Toni Gardemeister (Skoda) for the final team point was resolved on the last stage when Delecour edged out Loix by 2.0sec.
The championship switches to gravel for the first time this season when the Cyprus Rally is based in Limassol on 19 - 21 April. The first of five loose surface events, the rally was won by Ford drivers for the past two years, Sainz victorious in 2001 and McRae last season.
<pre> Final positions 1. G Panizzi/H Panizzi F Peugeot 206 3hr 34min 09.0sec 2. R Burns/R Reid GB Peugeot 206 3hr 34min 46.3sec 3. P Bugalski/J-P Chiaroni F Citroen Xsara 3hr 35min 22.5sec 4. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 3hr 35min 51.7sec 5. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 3hr 36min 10.6sec 6. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus RS 3hr 37min 36.3sec 7. H Rovanperä/R Pietilainen FIN Peugeot 206 3hr 37min 49.1sec 8. M Märtin/M Park EE Ford Focus RS 3hr 37min 52.9sec 9. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Mitsubishi Lancer 3hr 39min 37.6sec 10 F Loix/S Smeets B Hyundai Accent 3hr 39min 39.6sec
FIA World Rally Championship (after round 4 of 14) Drivers 1. M Grönholm 21pts 2. G Panizzi 20pts 3. R Burns 13pts 4. T Mäkinen 10pts 5. C Sainz 9pts 6. P Bugalski 7pts
Manufacturers 1. Peugeot 52pts 2. Ford 25pts 3. Subaru 20pts 4. Mitsubishi 6pts 5. Hyundai 1pt