WRC

Cyprus: Ford Rallye Sport final report

McRae preserves Ford's record on Cyprus Rally. Ford Rallye Sport maintained its record of scoring points on every round of this season's FIA World Rally Championship in Cyprus today. Colin McRae and Nicky Grist finished sixth in a Ford Focus RS...

McRae preserves Ford's record on Cyprus Rally.

Ford Rallye Sport maintained its record of scoring points on every round of this season's FIA World Rally Championship in Cyprus today. Colin McRae and Nicky Grist finished sixth in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car on the gruelling Cyprus Rally, round five of the 14-event series, to keep the team in second place in the standings.

McRae overcame two separate accidents on the rock-strewn gravel tracks during today's dramatic final leg of the three-day rally to lead a pack of four Focus RS cars in the top 12 positions. Markko Märtin and Michael Park also fought back from an accident to take eighth with team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya in 11th and private entrants Janne Tuohino and Petri Vihavainen in 12th.

Ford Rallye Sport claimed six stage victories during the rally, with all four drivers posting fastest times. McRae and Sainz scored two each, and Märtin and Francois Duval one each as the Focus RS again emphasised its speed in rugged conditions.

After yesterday's torrential thunderstorms, the final leg began under glorious sunshine but once again the weather in the mountains proved fickle and heavy rain fell during the afternoon speed tests to provide an additional hazard for weary drivers.

McRae, Märtin and Duval all led the rally during the first day but it was McRae who started today's six special stages, covering 81.88km, at the head of the field. However, an accident on the second stage this morning ruined the 33-year-old Scot's hopes of victory.

"We were pushing hard 2km from the finish when I clipped the bank on the inside of a second-gear bend," said McRae. "The car rolled over and back onto its wheels but the accident split the steering rack." The crash cost only 20sec but he had to drive another test with no power steering before repairs could be made and lost a further 45sec.

Mechanics worked furiously to replace the steering rack and power steering belt and pump in the 20-minute service park to prevent further time penalties and keep McRae in second. But he rolled again on the following stage and after re-starting, had to stop briefly to clear his mud-spattered windscreen as only one wiper was working. He lost two minutes in total and slipped to seventh. Despite severe panel damage, the Focus RS was mechanically strong and McRae sped through the final two tests to overhaul Armin Schwarz and claim points in both the drivers' and manufacturers' series.

"It was raining heavily and we slid in the mud on a fifth gear right bend, hit a bank and rolled twice," said McRae. "I was driving quite tidily but just got caught out. We've had two good days out here and one bad one but at least we scored points. After all we've been through that's the least we deserved!"

Märtin was involved in a thrilling battle for sixth when he rolled on the second stage at the same place as McRae. "We had reasonable speed on the first test but near the end of the next one we cut a corner too much. I was trying to find a tighter line but we hit something in the bushes on the inside, maybe a rock, and the car tipped," he said.

"I'm very disappointed but we'll learn from our mistakes and take the good aspects from this event to the next rally in Argentina. Conditions throughout the last two days have been so unpredictable, dry one moment and then pouring with rain the next. It's been a very hard rally," he added.

Sainz, whose time-consuming problems on the opening leg ended his hopes, spent much of the last two days testing different specifications on his Focus RS. "We've tried new shock absorbers today and learned a lot so that's all helpful data for future rallies. We've proved that the Focus RS is competitive in tough conditions but Ford has been unlucky here," said the 40-year-old Madrid-based driver.

News from our Rivals

It was a dramatic final day. Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) benefited from McRae's problems to win by 56.8sec and team-mate Richard Burns edged out Tommi Mäkinen (Subaru) in a thrilling final stage battle to climb from third to second. It was Peugeot's fourth consecutive maximum points haul. Petter Solberg (Subaru) was another driver to roll, the Norwegian overturning on the final corner of the day's third stage. Damage was minimal and he lost only 30 seconds, recovering to finish fifth. Armin Schwarz (Hyundai) took the final manufacturers' point. Kenneth Eriksson's (Skoda) hopes of points disappeared when a right rear suspension arm broke, pulling the driveshaft out and shearing a brake pipe. He recovered to finish ninth.

Next round

The championship moves outside Europe for the first time next month when Villa Carlos Paz hosts the all-gravel Rally Argentina on 17 - 19 May. <pre> Final positions 1. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 4hr 21min 25.7sec 2. R Burns/R Reid GB Peugeot 206 4hr 22min 22.5sec 3. T Mäkinen/K Lindström FIN Subaru Impreza 4hr 22min 24.7sec 4. H Rovanperä/R Pietilainen FIN Peugeot 206 4hr 22min 44.4sec 5. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 4hr 23min 43.6sec 6. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus RS 4hr 24min 11.2sec 7. A Schwarz/M Hiemer D Hyundai Accent 4hr 24min 13.1sec 8. M Märtin/M Park EE Ford Focus RS 4hr 25min 48.3sec 9. K Eriksson/T Thörner S Skoda Octavia 4hr 28min 43.4sec 10 G Panizzi/H Panizzi F Peugeot 206 4hr 29min 37.9sec 11 C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus RS 4hr 30min 19.7sec 12 J Tuohino/P Vihavainen FIN Ford Focus RS 4hr 32min 46.7sec

FIA World Rally Championship (after round 5 of 14) Drivers 1. M Grönholm 31pts 2. G Panizzi 20pts 3. R Burns 19pts 4. T Mäkinen 14pts 5= C Sainz 9pts 5= H Rovanperä 9pts 9= C McRae 6pts

Manufacturers 1. Peugeot 68pts 2= Ford 27pts 2= Subaru 27pts 4. Mitsubishi 6pts 5. Hyundai 2pts

-frs-

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