Concrete slab sidelines Ford from China Rally
Amid treacherous conditions, Ford Martini drivers Colin McRae and Thomas Rådström suffered a double dose of misfortune and retired after hitting the same concrete culvert with their Ford Focus World Rally Cars during today's first leg of the China Rally. The impact brought both cars to a halt and ended Ford's hopes on this 11th round of the FIA World Rally Championship - the series' first visit to China.
More than 24 hours of intense rain, the legacy of a typhoon in Hong Kong, forced organisers to cancel last night's ceremonial start and to scrap the rally's two longest special stages today even before the cars left the rally base in Huai Rou this morning. The remaining six stages on today's leg, covering 85km, were slippery and rough.
McRae and co-driver Nicky Grist were the first to strike trouble, clipping the concrete on the inside of a right-hand bend about 2km after the start of the opening 9km stage and stopping with damaged suspension. Unbelievably, just minutes later, Rådström and co-driver Fred Gallagher struck the same culvert, pulling up alongside their Ford Martini colleagues with similar damage. Both were unable to continue.
Early indications suggest the impact caused the bracket joining the track control arm to the cross member to shear on both cars.
"We ran over the concrete which we had noted during the race, without regarding it as a major hazard, but unfortunately it damaged the suspension too badly to continue," said the 31-year-old Scot. "Approaching the bend we could see tyre marks where the earlier cars had driven over it. I think the rain had washed away the earth around the culvert and it was sticking up more than in the race.
"It's obviously disappointing but it doesn't change things for the rest of the season. Our main aim is still to get the car 100 per cent for the first round next year in Monte Carlo. It's just a small area of reliability that we need to look at," he added.
Rådström said: "It was just Unbelievable - with a capital U! As I approached the bend I could see Colin stopped 200 metres ahead and knew something was wrong. It was a slow corner and we were in second gear because there was a tight left hand bend just afterwards, so we had to slow down. We just drove over the concrete and that was it. This is hard for Colin, hard for me and hard for the team."
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson reflected on the team's China Rally debut. "Of course it's frustrating. To lose both cars on the opening day is disappointing, to lose them on the first stage is even more so. Until we're able to examine the cars fully we will not know exactly why the suspension was damaged in the way it was.
"Although our rally was short we've gained valuable information from this event. This is the first time it's been included in the world championship so the mileage we've covered out here during testing has given us data to use in our continuing development of the car. It's equally frustrating that we completed, and won, the Safari Rally, the toughest event in the championship, without problems but that just proves how difficult it is to develop a new car - that's what this year is all about," said Wilson.
The team will take immediate action to address the problem. Engineers and technicians have this afternoon reinforced the suspension and Rådström will test a Focus tomorrow over the same stage on which he and McRae retired. "Having strengthened that area of the car, we want to see what happens now and there's nowhere better for comparison purposes than the same piece of road," said Wilson.
News from our Rivals
It has been a day of attrition on the China Rally with four leading drivers on the retirement list. In addition to the Ford Focus of Colin McRae and Thomas Rådström, leading drivers out of the rally include Mitsubishi driver Freddy Loix, who crashed out on Stage 7, and SEAT's Piero Liatti who suffered engine failure after driving through a deep river crossing on Stage 8, the last of the day. The early rally leader was current world champion Tommi Mäkinen but he lost time on Stage 5 after clipping a tree and damaging a rear door panel. He incurred an additional 10 second penalty as mechanics made repairs. After Makinen's time loss, Richard Burns inherited the lead in the Subaru and finished day one 19.8 seconds ahead of Toyota's Didier Auriol, whose only problem was hitting a pothole on Stage 7, suffering handling problems.
Leg 2 is the longest of the rally, with drivers facing more than 148km of competitive action over eight stages based around Nian Zi, slightly further west than today's leg. Two are longer than 25km, with the four tests in the morning repeated in the afternoon.
Leaderboard after Leg 1 1. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 1hr 07min 02.5sec 2. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Toyota Corolla 1hr 07min 22.3sec 3. T Mäkinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 1hr 07min 34.9sec 4. J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Subaru Impreza 1hr 07min 41.7sec 5. C Sainz/L Moya E Toyota Corolla 1hr 07min 42.2sec 6. H Rovanperä/R Pietilainen FIN Seat WRC 1hr 09min 14.2sec 7. V Isik/E Bodur TR Toyota Corolla 1hr 11min 50.6sec 8. T Arai/R Freeman J Subaru Impreza 1hr 12min 00.1sec 9. A Bakhashab/M Park SA Toyota Corolla 1hr 12min 04.7sec 10 H Al Wahaibi/T Sircombe OM Mitsubishi Lancer 1hr 13min 25.4sec