Acropolis win brings treble for Ford and McRae Ford Martini drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist today won the Acropolis Rally after a day of incredible drama in the mountains of central Greece. It was a third consecutive victory for the...
Acropolis win brings treble for Ford and McRae
Ford Martini drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist today won the Acropolis Rally after a day of incredible drama in the mountains of central Greece. It was a third consecutive victory for the British pair and their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, and not only moved them into the lead of the FIA World Rally Championship but also stretched Ford's advantage at the head of the teams' standings.
Their winning margin was a comfortable 49.0sec but the gap hides a dramatic day which ended in disappointment for Ford Martini team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya. Their Focus began the final 38.69km speed test just 5.9sec behind McRae after gradually edging closer during the afternoon. With no team orders in place there was everything to play for but, agonisingly for Sainz, his car stopped early in the final stage with engine problems.
The Ford Focus RS again dominated the event. McRae, Sainz and team-mate François Delecour posted fastest time on 11 of the 20 speed tests. The rough gravel mountain roads and temperatures touching 35°C ensured the three-day rally, round seven of 14, lived up to its reputation as the toughest in Europe.
This was McRae's fourth Acropolis win, a record, and his 23rd world rally success, moving him level with Sainz and Juha Kankkunen at the top of the all-time victory list. But it was far from easy today for the Scot as Sainz and Richard Burns piled on the pressure before Burns went off the road and later retired with mechanical problems.
"It was tighter than we hoped but I always thought we could win from the front," said McRae, who led from the middle of the first leg. "It's unfortunate for Carlos but when we saw our team's pit boards telling us Carlos had stopped, it took the pressure away and I could ease off. It would have been tight but we can never say how close now.
"It's nice to join Carlos and Juha at the top of the rally wins rankings but it would be even nicer to move ahead. There's a long way to go in the championship, we're only at the halfway point, but it's looking good for us now. The car is strong and another win in Kenya is more than a possibility," added 32-year-old McRae.
There was just heartache for Sainz. The 39-year-old Madrid-based driver had maintained the pressure on McRae to set up a thrilling final stage battle, only to see his hopes end in disappointment. "I was feeling very confident of catching Colin but the car just slowed early in the stage and went on to three cylinders and we eventually had to stop after about 8km," explained Sainz. "This sport is very cruel on me sometimes and this is hard to take. It's a pity but I thought I'd run a really good rally."
Delecour and Daniel Grataloup finished fifth in their Focus RS, a remarkable feat considering Delecour badly sprained his wrist in a mountain bike accident on the eve of the rally. They set four fastest times during the second leg and two drivers' points were just reward from an event spent in considerable pain.
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson described the result as 'bitter sweet'. "We felt comfortable so team orders weren't applied. The margin between our drivers and Petter Solberg wasn't big and it was fairest for the drivers to let them fight it out. I'm delighted for Colin, it was an incredible performance and I hope we've repaid him with reliability because the car's speed has never been in doubt. No driver has won more than three rallies on the trot so that's the next aim. It's sad for Carlos but to have two cars in the points and stretch Ford's lead in the championship represents a good rally," he added.
News from our Rivals Richard Burns' (Subaru) hopes of victory ended 26km into the second stage when the Briton dropped his car's rear wheels off the side of the track and could not regain the road without spectator help. Almost three minutes were lost. His hopes of points ended on the penultimate stage when he retired half a kilometre after the start with a broken propshaft. Second for team-mate Petter Solberg was his best result at world level while Swedish Rally winner Harri Rovanperä (Peugeot) completed the podium places. Freddy Loix (Mitsubishi) dropped almost three minutes on stage 18 after breaking a wheel rim and gashing the tyre but his perseverance paid off with two manufacturers' points while Skoda's reliability earned them points through Armin Schwarz and Bruno Thiry.
FIA Super 1600 Cup Martin Stenshorne headed the Ford Puma drivers in the junior world championship category, the young Norwegian finishing third as the conditions took a huge toll on the two-wheel drive machinery. Fellow Puma drivers Patrick Magaud and Saladin Mazlan were fifth and eighth respectively as virtually two-thirds of the entry was sidelined.
Next round The run of hot and rough rallies continues when the championship moves to Africa for Kenya's Safari Rally, the toughest of the series. It is based in Nairobi on 20 - 22 July. <pre> Final positions 1. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus RS 4hr 19min 01.9sec 2. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 4hr 19min 50.9sec 3. H Rovanperä/R Pietilainen FIN Peugeot 206 4hr 20min 37.6sec 4. T Mäkinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 4hr 21min 17.2sec 5. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Ford Focus RS 4hr 21min 37.3sec 6. P Bugalski/J-P Chiaroni F Citroen Xsara 4hr 23min 02.1sec 7. A Schwarz/M Hiemer D Skoda Octavia 4hr 24min 58.6sec 8. S Jean-Joseph/J Boyere F Peugeot 206 4hr 26min 29.0sec 9. F Loix/S Smeets B Mitsubishi Carisma 4hr 27min 02.8sec 10 B Thiry/S Prévot B Skoda Octavia 4hr 27min 37.6sec
FIA World Rally Championship (after round 7 of 14) Drivers 1. C McRae 30pts 2. T Mäkinen 30pts 3. C Sainz 26pts 4. R Burns 15pts 5. H Rovanperä 14pts 6. F Delecour 11pts
Manufacturers 1. Ford 60pts 2. Mitsubishi 53pts 3. Subaru 28pts 4. Peugeot 20pts 5. Skoda 11pts 6. Hyundai 10pts