McRae slithers out of promising fourth place
Darkness and an extra slippery corner on tonight's final forest stage ended the Ford Martini World Rally team's hopes of a top three finish in the Rally of Great Britain when lead drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist slithered off stage 15 and into a previously abandoned car. The impact ripped two wheels off the Ford Focus and brought three-times event winner McRae's rally to a premature finish. For unrelated reasons, the stage was cancelled after ten cars had gone through.
McRae had climbed from an overnight eighth to a promising fourth place overall after setting second fastest stage time in Myherin 1, just 3.4 seconds adrift of runaway rally leader Richard Burns. "I was trying really hard on those last two stages to make up time on Marcus Gronholm, aiming for a podium finish tomorrow and after various adjustments and the correct choice of tyres, my Focus was going really well.
"Unfortunately, the conditions were incredibly variable on that last stage and caught me out. I miss heard a pace note from Nicky and turned the wrong way over a blind crest. We were just so unlucky that another car had gone off at exactly the same spot earlier this evening and we couldn't miss it. We went over it and down a bank."
Team Director Malcolm Wilson was in philosophical mood. "After having had the big accident in Australia, this was not really the best rally for Colin to tackle so soon," he explained. "It would have been kinder to go to an event with consistent levels of grip. What we've had on this rally were treacherously slippery conditions and no consistency. It's very difficult for a driver to rebuild confidence on this type of surface. Now we are all looking forward to making a fresh start next season."
McRae's Martini team mates Thomas Rådström and Gunnar Barth posted the eighth quickest time on the troublesome Myherin 2 stage to finish the day in the top 10 despite a one minute penalty incurred on Leg 1. "This morning we went off in sixth gear and fortunately didn't hit anything, but it knocked my confidence and then I was braking too hard and too early," commented the 33-year old Swede. "These British stages are very difficult for a newcomer. If you feel right in your head - confident - then you drive well. I felt confident going into those last two stages and I'm delighted to be in the top 10."
Junior team member Petter Solberg with Phil Mills are happy to be in the top 20 after minor problems with broken wipers - in the Sweet Lamb watersplash - and misting windows in this morning's chill conditions.
As late tonight, stewards were still considering rescheduling the event for Leg 3, the results shown overleaf are provisional and subject to change.
News from our Rivals
England's Richard Burns (Subaru) dominated the second day, by seizing the lead from team mate Juha Kankkunen on the opening stage with a stunning start and setting six fastest times en route to an end of leg advantage of 29sec over Kankkunen. Burns' car survived an under bonnet fire but appears to have suffered no permanent damage.
Peugeot's flying Finn Marcus Gronholm enjoyed another good day setting fastest time on stage 11 en route to third place overnight. Team mate Francois Delecour got stuck in gear on stage 11 and dropped a disastrous three minutes.
Toyota pair Didier Auriol and Carlos Sainz suffered mixed fortunes as the Frenchman lost time with a spin and stall early in the day and the Spaniard lost four minutes while spectators man-handled his car back onto the course in Sweet Lamb 1. They ended the day sixth and tenth respectively.
World champion Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi) damaged his rear suspension on a concrete drain in stage 9 and had to drive two more stages before repairs could be made. He recovered later to place fifth, while team mate Freddy Loix is ninth.
Local hero Welshman Gwyndaf Evans (Seat) scrambled his way to a fine fourth fastest time on stage 11 as the Spanish team showed good pace despite Gardemeister's retirement. Skoda continued its Leg 1 resurgence with Belgian ace Bruno Thiry leading Armin Schwarz.
The third and final leg takes surviving crews into the forests of south Wales to face the challenge of the event's longest stage, the 46.5km Resolfen at 12.30. Once again crews will leave Cheltenham at 05.15 to tackle seven stages covering 197km - the most stage kms in any day - before returning to the finishing ramp in the rally's host town at 19.15 after almost 650km of driving.
Leaderboard after Leg 2 [ subject to confirmation by event stewards ] 1. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 2hr 01min 41.0sec 2. J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Subaru Impreza 2hr 02min 10.0sec 3. M Gronholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 2hr 02min 25.2sec 4. H Rovanperä/R Pietilainen FIN Seat WRC 2hr 04min 43.8sec 5. T Makinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi 2hr 05min 07.7sec 6. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Toyota Corolla 2hr 05min 42.8sec 7. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Peugeot 206 2hr 06min 18.1sec 8. T Rådström/ G Barth S Ford Focus 2hr 06min 19.6sec 9. F Loix/S Smeets B Mitsubishi 2hr 07min 23.9sec 10. C Sainz/L Moya E Toyota Corolla 2hr 08min 18.2sec 15. P Solberg/P Mills N Ford Focus time to be confirmed