Sainz scoops second for Ford in Monte Carlo

Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya finished a superb second on their debut drive in the Ford Focus World Rally Car on the world famous Monte Carlo Rally which ended in Monaco this evening. The double world champions mastered three days of demanding driving over hostile ice-covered roads in the French Alps to give the Ford Martini team a strong start to the FIA World Rally Championship.

It was a start that looked certain to be even better. With just one stage remaining, team-mates Colin McRae and Nicky Grist held a comfortable third and looked sure to give the Focus its first ever double podium finish. However, McRae's hopes were dashed when his car stopped during the final stage with engine troubles.

For Sainz and Moya it was an almost perfect return to the team for whom they last drove in 1997. Having only driven the Focus in testing, the Spanish pairing spent the first leg acclimatising to the car before climbing to second early on the second day and maintaining their position to the finish. Such was Sainz's confidence with the car by the final leg that he posted fastest time on each of the last two special stages.

An overjoyed Sainz said: "This is more than I could have hoped for on my first rally with the Focus and I can confirm that what everyone told me about the potential of the Focus as a rally car is true. Even though we've not had as much snow and ice as usual in the mountains, it has still been a tough rally and we can look forward to the rest of the season with confidence. My only disappointment is for Colin. I know personally how difficult retirement is to take when you are so close to the finish and in such a good position."

McRae, lying fourth overnight, quickly reeled in third placed Toni Gardemeister after claiming his second stage victory on this morning's opening test. He narrowed the gap to Sainz but had settled for third spot when it all went wrong.

"The engine started to misfire about 14km after the start and then the oil pressure warning light came on," said McRae. "When I saw that, I realised it was all over and there was nothing else we could do but park the car. There had been no indication of any problem earlier. I'm just absolutely gutted. Third place would have been an excellent start to the year but it wasn't to be. I'd hoped that a new year would bring a change of luck after last season but here we are again. I don't think that me and good luck are meant to go together."

Martin Whitaker, European director of Ford Racing, was delighted with Sainz's successful return to the Ford Martini team. "He drove superbly throughout and deserves full credit for climbing into what is a new car for him and performing so well. It's our best result since the Rally of Portugal last year," he said.

Whitaker said it was too early to know the exact cause of the problem with McRae's car. "We won't know until Cosworth Racing gets the engine back to Northampton to examine it. Nevertheless Carlos' result is a great boost for us all but we're still aware that there's a lot more development work to do," added Whitaker.

News from our Rivals

World champion Tommi Makinen (Mitsubishi) had an untroubled run today to set the early championship pace. After taking the lead on the fourth stage during Leg 1, the Finn was never headed. Behind Sainz, the wily Juha Kankkunen (Subaru) climbed to third after Toni Gardemeister (Seat) went off during the climb of the Col de Fontbelle on the Sisteron - Thoard stage and then spun on the descent. Seat team-mate Didier Auriol retired from eighth position on the penultimate stage with oil pressure problems. Private entrant Bruno Thiry scored two points in the drivers' series while Freddy Loix (Mitsubishi) took the last point. Both Skoda Octavias finished in the top 10, Armin Schwarz recovering from first day problems to finish seventh and take the final manufacturers' point, while turbo and brake problems kept Luis Climent down to 10th.

Next round

The FIA World Rally Championship contenders tackle the only true winter rally of the season when they head to Scandinavia next month for the Swedish International Rally. It is based in Karlstad from 10-13 February.

Final positions 1. T Makinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 4hr 23min 35.8sec 2. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus 4hr 25min 00.7sec 3. J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Subaru Impreza 4hr 26min 57.2sec 4. T Gardemeister/P Lukander FIN Seat Cordoba 4hr 27min 20.9sec 5. B Thiry/S Prevot B Toyota Corolla 4hr 28min 24.2sec 6. F Loix/S Smeets B Mitsubishi Carisma 4hr 30min 39.9sec 7. A Schwarz/M Hiemer D Skoda Octavia 4hr 33min 24.1sec 8. O Burri/C Hofmann CH Toyota Corolla 4hr 34min 17.2sec 9. M Stohl/P Muller A Mitsubishi Lancer 4hr 44min 17.6sec 10 L Climent/A Romani E Skoda Octavia 4hr 44min 25.3sec

2000 FIA World Rally Championship (after round 1 of 14) Drivers Manufacturers 1. T Makinen 10pts 1. Mitsubishi 12pts 2. C Sainz 6pts 2. Ford 6pts 3. J Kankkunen 4pts 3. Subaru 4pts 4. T Gardemiester 3pts 4. Seat 3pts 5. B Thiry 2pts 5. Skoda 1pt 6. F Loix 1pt