WRC

Ford Racing Rally Finland final positions

Ford leads world standings after McRae podium Ford Martini moved back to the head of the FIA World Rally Championship after both Colin McRae and Nicky Grist and team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya netted points-scoring finishes in the Rally ...

Ford leads world standings after McRae podium

Ford Martini moved back to the head of the FIA World Rally Championship after both Colin McRae and Nicky Grist and team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya netted points-scoring finishes in the Rally Finland today. McRae's blistering charge over the final speed test earned him third while the ever-consistent Sainz was sixth, both driving Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars.

Their points haul leaves the Ford squad tied at the top of the manufacturers' standings with five of the 14 rounds remaining. McRae's second consecutive Finnish podium enabled him to close the gap on leader Tommi Mäkinen to just six points in the drivers' title race. Sainz remains third.

The fastest rally in the world championship had a dramatic ending. After three days and more than 400km of spectacular flat-out driving on hard, wide and super-fast roads, the positions were turned on their head in the final kilometres. The classic Ouninpohja special stage, one of the most famous in the sport and long regarded as the most decisive test on the rally, lived up to its reputation again.

McRae and Grist had settled for fourth and a healthy points tally before the start of the 25.20km test. But second placed Harri Rovanperä (Peugeot) had to drive the entire stage with a broken front left shock absorber, which failed shortly before the end of the penultimate test. The 33-year-old Scottish driver powered his way to second fastest time on the stage and edged out the Finn for third by just 1.6sec.

"I didn't know I'd taken third until a television interviewer told me at the finish," said McRae. "We'd have been happy with fourth but third is perfect. If we were going to struggle anywhere it was here because the event is so specialised but we decided before the start how we were going to drive. Our aim was the podium, we had our tactics and stuck with them. After Mäkinen's retirement we had to drive for as many points as possible. The Focus is strong on gravel events from now until the end of the year and our championship prospects still look good. We just have to keep going."

Sainz had an untroubled drive on today's final three stages, covering 96.34km to the south-west of Jyväskylä. Unable to catch Markko Martin (Subaru) for fifth, the 39-year-old Spaniard settled for sixth and his first point for three rallies. "I would have preferred to have been a bit higher but it's not a bad result," said Sainz. "Ford has scored well and after not scoring in either Greece or Kenya it was important for me to score also. I've not felt 100 per cent confident all rally with the car's set-up but we'll have it sorted out before the next round in New Zealand."

François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup's rally ended on the day's first liaison section. Their Focus RS stopped 3km from service and Delecour reported a loss of fuel pressure, although the car's instruments showed there was sufficient fuel in the tank. "The engine began to misfire and then stopped," said Delecour. "It was disappointing because I had set my sights on catching Freddy Loix and he eventually finished 10th."

Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted with his team's points. "These are crucial because after our problems with road position on the first leg we didn't think we'd score well. This is a specialised event and as a team we'll be stronger next year."

News from our Rivals

Reigning world champion Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) ended his personal nightmare with his first points since Portugal in March and his first win since Australia last November. His winning margin over Richard Burns (Subaru) was 25.0sec. With Grönholm and Harri Rovanperä holding first and second, Peugeot adopted team orders to ensure both drivers maintained their overnight positions. Rovanperä held off an early morning charge from Burns, the Briton reducing the gap to less than seven seconds after the day's first stage, and was assured of second until his final stage misery. Markko Martin (Subaru) matched his best world rally finish in fifth but there was last stage disappointment too for Toni Gardemeister (Mitsubishi) who crashed out near the start.

FIA Super 1600 Cup

François Duval's hopes of victory in the junior world championship category ended just 2km into this morning's opening stage when his Ford Puma retired from second with a broken alternator belt. Benoit Rousselot went out after breaking the steering and suspension on the same test but Paraguay's Alejando Galanti scored a point in sixth place in his Puma. Just eight of the 22 starters finished.

Next round Teams face the longest journey of the season for round 10 of the championship. Auckland hosts the Rally New Zealand on 20 - 23 September.

<pre> Final positions 1. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 3hr 23min 12.8sec 2. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 3hr 23min 37.8sec 3. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus RS 3hr 23min 45.1sec 4. H Rovanperä/R Pietilainen FIN Peugeot 206 3hr 23min 46.7sec 5. M Martin/M Park EE Subaru Impreza 3hr 24min 30.7sec 6. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus RS 3hr 24min 53.3sec 7. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 3hr 25min 52.4sec 8. S Lindholm/T Hantunen FIN Peugeot 206 3hr 25min 57.4sec 9. P Hagström/T Gardemeister FIN Toyota Corolla 3hr 28min 14.0sec 10. F Loix/S Smeets B Mitsubishi Carisma 3hr 28min 18.2sec

FIA World Rally Championship (after round 9 of 14) Drivers 1. T Mäkinen 40pts 2. C McRae 34pts 3. C Sainz 27pts 4. H Rovanperä 23pts 5. R Burns 21pts 6. F Delecour 14pts 6. M Grönholm 14pts

Manufacturers 1. Ford 66pts 1. Mitsubishi 66pts 3. Peugeot 39pts 4. Subaru 35pts 5. Skoda 15pts 6. Hyundai 10pts

-Ford Racing-

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