Ford Rallye Sport leg one report - Rally of Great Britain

Crash brings disappointment for leader McRae The promise of a thrilling head-to-head duel between Britons Colin McRae and Richard Burns for the FIA World Rally Championship crown ended this morning when McRae and co-driver Nicky Grist crashed ...

Crash brings disappointment for leader McRae

The promise of a thrilling head-to-head duel between Britons Colin McRae and Richard Burns for the FIA World Rally Championship crown ended this morning when McRae and co-driver Nicky Grist crashed their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car out of the lead of the Rally of Great Britain.

Their Focus RS withstood the impact of the 150kph crash remarkably well, both McRae and Grist uninjured despite the car rolling end over end four times. Ford Martini team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya ended a dramatic opening leg in fifth in their Focus RS with debutants Mark Higgins and Bryan Thomas a superb seventh.

Championship leader McRae, who led overnight, was still in front after the first two forest stages of the rally in south Wales when he crashed just after the halfway point of the 26.47km Rhondda test. He was taken to Swansea's Morrisston Hospital for a precautionary check-up but was not detained. Grist suffered a bruised left elbow.

"It's the biggest disappointment of my career," said 33-year-old McRae, one of four drivers who started this 14th and final round of the championship harbouring title hopes. "I feel fine but I'm probably going to be a bit stiff tomorrow. When the car came to rest the vision in my left eye was a little blurred so I took the advice of the organisers' medical staff and went to hospital to have it checked out.

"The accident happened at the end of a very fast fifth and sixth gear section where the road went into a right and then a left bend. We had a cut marked in our pace notes for the left corner but I misheard the note and started to line up the car for a cut on the right. I realised the mistake and had enough time to rectify it. But the line didn't look as though it was going to be that bad so I stayed with it and was probably no more than 15 centimetres off the line I would normally have chosen.

"But on the inside of the bend there was a big hole and it caught the inside front wheel and flipped the car over. I could see what was going to happen as soon as we hit the hole but there was nothing I could do about it," added McRae.

With arch-rival Burns lying second, McRae's title hopes rest on Burns hitting trouble. A finish anywhere inside the top four will secure a maiden crown for the Englishman.

Sainz and Moya, the outsiders of the title-chasing quartet, recovered well from a puncture on the opening stage today which damaged a brake pipe. A 40sec penalty as the Spaniards tried to make repairs on the liaison section dropped them to 21st. However, 39-year-old Sainz battled back to fifth, despite sliding off the road in thick fog on the final stage and losing almost a minute before regaining the track.

"We regained our rhythm after our puncture and were pushing quite hard when we slid off on a fast bend," said Sainz. "The car was only about a metre below the level of the road but I had to climb out of the car to find a way back on to the track."

Higgins has been impressive on his first rally in a Focus RS. The 30-year-old Isle of Man-born driver quickly claimed sixth to delight the thousands of British fans lining the tracks as the demanding forest stages claimed victim after victim. He ignored his rivals' performance, concentrating on finding a pace at which he was comfortable.

"The car has run perfectly throughout and our biggest problem was the fog tonight," said Higgins. "On the last stage it was horrendous and we almost had to stop at one point. The opening stage tomorrow morning is long but has always been good for us in the past so I'm looking forward to that. A points finish is now our aim."

News from our Rivals
The Welsh forests have taken a fearsome toll. Apart from McRae, six other manufacturer entered cars fell by the wayside, the day's opening 13.67km St Gwynno accounting for three. Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi) saw his title hopes disappear when he lost his left front wheel after hitting a rock and breaking the suspension. Petter Solberg (Subaru) stopped when his car ran out of fuel following a fault with the refuelling system and Piero Liatti (Hyundai) stopped with a broken clutch. Gilles Panizzi (Peugeot) was withdrawn after co-driver brother Herve was struck by a rock while the duo tried to solve an engine problem in stage six. He was taken to hospital but later released. Markko Martin (Subaru) went out when his car's engine stopped, possibly the legacy of an accident on the previous test, and Roman Kresta (Skoda) rolled on the final stage. Outgoing world champion Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) dominated the day setting five fastest times to lead Richard Burns (Subaru) by 36.6sec. Harri Rovanperä (Peugeot) put his team in a strong position for the manufacturers' title by holding third ahead of team-mate Didier Auriol, who lost a minute on the final stage with a spin.

FIA Super 1600 Championship
Norway's Martin Stenshorne led the Ford Puma contingent in fourth position in the junior world championship category with Paraguay's Alejandro Galanti seventh and Frenchman Benoit Rousselot eighth. Belgian youngster François Duval rolled out on stage four and Frenchman Patrick Magaud stopped with electrical problems after the same test.

Tomorrow's Route
Drivers restart at 07.00 and tackle four more forest stages before a repeat of last night's spectacular super special stage in Cardiff. The opening stage at Resolfen is the longest and most challenging of the rally at 46.45km. They return to the Welsh capital at 20.10 after 132.89km of competition. Two of the forest tests are repeats of stages used today.

<pre> Leaderboard after Leg 1 1. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 1hr 20min 15.0sec 2. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 1hr 20min 51.6sec 3. H Rovanperä/R Pietilainen FIN Peugeot 206 1hr 21min 07.4sec 4. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Peugeot 206 1hr 22min 25.0sec 5. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus RS 1hr 22min 41.9sec 6. A McRae/D Senior GB Hyundai Accent 1hr 22min 52.6sec 7. M Higgins/B Thomas GB Ford Focus RS 1hr 23min 56.9sec 8. A Schwarz/M Hiemer D Skoda Octavia 1hr 24min 06.9sec 9. K Eriksson/S Parmander S Hyundai Accent 1hr 24min 07.4sec 10 F Loix/S Smeets B Mitsubishi Lancer 1hr 24min 32.5sec

</pre> -FWRC-

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Tommi Makinen , Colin McRae , Carlos Sainz , Mark Higgins , Richard Burns , Harri Rovanpera , Gilles Panizzi , Didier Auriol , Petter Solberg , Luis Moya , Nicky Grist , Alejandro Galanti , Piero Liatti , Benoit Rousselot , Markko Martin