Ford Focus Displays Potential on Rally Debut The Ford Focus World Rally Car of Colin McRae and Nicky Grist delivered a clear indication of its pace by crushing the opposition to win the final two special stages by an enormous margin on today's...
Ford Focus Displays Potential on Rally Debut
The Ford Focus World Rally Car of Colin McRae and Nicky Grist delivered a clear indication of its pace by crushing the opposition to win the final two special stages by an enormous margin on today's second leg of the Monte Carlo Rally. The Ford Martini World Rally Team pairing were unmatched over the twisty asphalt mountain roads to claim top honours on the event's fourth and fifth speed tests during the first competitive day of the Focus' competition career in the FIA World Rally Championship.
McRae set fastest time on the penultimate stage by 27.4sec, repeating his success on the final test, a remarkable 44.5sec faster than his closest rival after only 20.35km. He ended the leg in sixth, 2min 24sec behind leader Gilles Panizzi after reducing the gap from more than four minutes in just two stages.
"It's been a great day - I especially enjoyed those last two stages when the car and Michelin's tyres for the wet roads were perfect," said McRae. "I'm still building my confidence with the Focus but what's good about today is that there's more to come from the car and we're already setting fastest times. Tomorrow we'll continue to learn and work on the set-up and if we need to make modifications to improve the package, we will."
McRae's late afternoon charge came after early teething troubles with the new Focus cost time on the opening two stages. A faulty spark plug, a broken driveshaft and power steering troubles cost several minutes but once those difficulties were solved, the 30-year-old Scot wasted little time in proving the car's pace.
Ford team-mates Simon Jean-Joseph and co-driver Fred Gallagher ended the leg in 16th after setting top six times on the final two stages. The 29-year-old Martinique driver, competing on only his second World Championship event, climbed back up the field from 50th position after the opening stage. He dropped over nine minutes after sliding off the road and suffering power steering problems during the 48km test.
"It's been a good day for me, the team and everyone involved. I've made some mistakes by spinning off the road a few times but I'm understanding the Ford Focus and also the World Rally Championship a little better now. I'm happy to have been on the pace of the top drivers and that gives my personal confidence a big boost," he said
McRae's pace proved a delight for team director Malcolm Wilson. "Our main aim was to prove that the Focus was competitive and those last two stages have shown that to everybody. The whole team has worked so hard to get us here and a look at everyone's faces tonight shows just how happy they are."
Road conditions in the French Alps have been mixed, creating furrowed brows from Ford and Michelin tyre engineers as they strove to select the best rubber. Black ice, dry and wet asphalt, packed snow and slush have all featured during today's 161km of stages, the varied conditions all too typical of the Monte Carlo Rally.
News from our Rivals
A dramatic opening stage spelt the end of victory hopes for four drivers. Carlos Sainz crashed twice in the opening 8km and retired his Toyota Corolla while team-mate Didier Auriol left the road and dropped four minutes. Subaru's Richard Burns also crashed twice, losing nearly five minutes, and Freddy Loix retired his Mitsubishi with a broken radiator after hitting a bridge. Tommi Makinen led for the opening three stages before a broken front brake disc dropped him to second behind surprise package Gilles Panizzi, driving a privately-entered Subaru. Makinen regained the lead on the final stage after the Frenchman slid off the road only for Panizzi to be re-instated at the top after a 30 second penalty was removed.
It's a long day for the drivers with almost 14 hours behind the wheel as they make the long journey back to Monte Carlo from Gap. After leaving Gap at 07.15, they face five more demanding asphalt stages, four of which are longer than 30km, before arriving in the Principality for the final overnight halt at 21.00. Almost 155km of stages lie in wait in a total route of over 572km.
Tomorrow's Key Stage
Nicky Grist: "The crucial stage will be the 36km Sisteron - Thoard stage. There's sure to be lots of snow on top of the hill so tyre choice will be vital. You must not let your choice be compromised by the snow because you need to be fast on the way up and back down again on the wet asphalt."
Leaderboard after Leg 1 1. G Panizzi/H Panizzi F Subaru Impreza 1hr 51min 05.9sec 2. T Makinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 1hr 51min 11.8sec 3. J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Subaru Impreza 1hr 52min 25.5sec 4. P Liatti/C Cassina I Seat WRC 1hr 52min 25.9sec 5. B Thiry/S Prevot B Subaru Impreza 1hr 52min 56.8sec 6. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus 1hr 53min 05.8sec 7. F Delecour/D Savignoni F Ford Escort 1hr 53min 32.2sec 8. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Toyota Corolla 1hr 55min 00.5sec 9. H Rovanpera/R Pietilainen FIN Seat WRC 1hr 55min 02.7sec 10 R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 1hr 55min 33.8sec