Colin McRae and Nicky Grist and Ford Martini team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya stayed firmly in control of the Acropolis Rally during today's second leg of this seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Their Ford Focus World Rally...
Colin McRae and Nicky Grist and Ford Martini team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya stayed firmly in control of the Acropolis Rally during today's second leg of this seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Their Ford Focus World Rally Cars remained in first and second, extending the advantage over their pursuers, after another gruelling day's driving over rough gravel mountain roads.
As more rivals fell by the wayside after failing to come to terms with the rock-strewn tracks and searing temperatures, both McRae and Sainz suffered no serious problems during the day's seven speed tests in the Greek mountains north of Itea. McRae returned to the coastal town 48.1 seconds clear of Sainz, who was 2min 12.0 seconds ahead of Richard Burns, with one day remaining.
Although temperatures were just as hot as yesterday, conditions were made easier by a decision that competitors need not wear flameproof race overalls. T-shirts made in-car temperatures of more than 55°C slightly more bearable.
Both Ford drivers feared the disadvantage of running first cars through the stages today would cost time, as they unwittingly cleaned the roads by sweeping away the loose surface gravel. On the contrary the Ford duo made light of the difficulty, McRae winning two stages and Sainz one.
"It's all gone really well again," said the 31-year-old Scot. "We've a three minute gap over Richard and now is the time to ease off the pace a little, assuming Carlos agrees of course! It's a nice lead and the Focus has been exceptional today. I'm again surprised by the carnage elsewhere. You would expect one or two drivers to have problems each day but not as many as this. But on these rough roads you only need to hit a rock at just the wrong angle, damage the suspension and that can be your rally over so we can't afford to be complacent."
Sainz endured only minor difficulties, including a broken rear roll bar on stage 10, Elatos, and a rear brake pipe pulling away on the final test, which left the 38-year-old Madrid driver without brakes for part of the 28km stage.
"They were only small problems which didn't cost a huge amount of time and it's nothing when you compare it with the problems other drivers have been facing," he said. "Tomorrow is another long day so it's too early to start talking about a 1-2 for Ford Martini. The stages aren't as rough and it's not such a big disadvantage for Colin and myself to run first and second on the road."
Petter Solberg and Phil Mills were quick out of the blocks again this morning in the third Ford-entered Focus, third and fourth fastest on the opening two stages. However, a broken rear control arm at the wheel hub cost almost 10 minutes when he had to struggle through three stages with no opportunity to make repairs, ending his hopes of fighting back into the top 10.
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson refused to become over-confident. "Both Colin and Carlos have driven remarkably well again today but it's important everyone in the team maintains full concentration and doesn't become complacent. We must remember there's almost 150km of competition remaining. We're carrying out a lot of preventative maintenance on the cars at each service park because double usage of the stages is taking its toll on all the cars," he said.
The stunning performance of amateur pairing Stephen Finlay and Rory Kennedy, who were sixth in their privately-entered Focus World Rally Car last night, ended in disappointment when they retired after today's opening stage with broken steering.
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The cruel attrition rate which marked yesterday's opening leg was every bit as fierce today. Three more manufacturer drivers were forced into retirement by the gruelling conditions. First to go were team-mates Didier Auriol and Toni Gardemeister (Seat). Auriol lost the front left wheel after hitting a rock on the opening stage while his Finnish colleague stopped after stage nine with a broken steering arm. Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) went out during the same test when first his car's suspension broke and then, while trying to limp to the finish, the engine failed. Richard Burns and Juha Kankkunen (both Subaru) lost time on several occasions as their cars' shock absorbers succumbed to the heat, the Finn also tearing a front wheel off on the opening stage. Francois Delecour dropped six minutes in a similar incident to Kankkunen's on the same test and lost 10 minutes on the final stage after a broken sump guard caused a fire and the Frenchman dragged off another wheel.
The final day takes competitors back to the Parnassos and Kallidromo mountain region for seven more stages. Three are repeat runs of tests used today while the opening two in the morning are used again as the final two stages. Drivers leave Itea at 07.30 returning to the town for the finish at 18.00 after 141.89km. <pre> Leaderboard after Leg 2 1. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus 3hr 01min 09.0sec 2. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus 3hr 01min 57.1sec 3. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 3hr 04min 09.1sec 4. T Arai/R Freeman J Subaru Impreza 3hr 08min 56.9sec 5. J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Subaru Impreza 3hr 09min 00.8sec 6. A Schwarz/M Hiemer D Skoda Octavia 3hr 09min 40.6sec 7. A Bakhashab/B Willis SA Toyota Corolla 3hr 13min 19.8sec 8. J P Richelmi/T Barjou MC Subaru Impreza 3hr 14min 09.2sec 9. F Dor/D Breton F Subaru Impreza 3hr 14min 19.9sec 10 J Papadimitriou/N Petropoulos GR Subaru Impreza 3hr 15min 02.0sec