WRC

Rally Argentina: Ford final review

Points hat-trick for Ford on Rally Argentina Ford Rallye Sport drivers Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya finished second on the Rally Argentina today as all three team cars claimed top five points-scoring positions. The similar Ford Focus RS World...

Points hat-trick for Ford on Rally Argentina

Ford Rallye Sport drivers Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya finished second on the Rally Argentina today as all three team cars claimed top five points-scoring positions. The similar Ford Focus RS World Rally Car of Colin McRae and Nicky Grist was fourth and Markko Märtin and Michael Park completed a display of excellent reliability by the team by finishing fifth in another Focus RS.

Sainz and Moya, lying fifth overnight, won their personal battle with Petter Solberg after moving ahead of the Norwegian on the day's opening stage. They climbed another two places following the retirement of Tommi Mäkinen and the controversial exclusion of provisional winner Marcus Grönholm to secure their eighth podium finish in Argentina from 12 starts.

Team points for Sainz and McRae enabled Ford to take second in their own right in the manufacturers' series while Märtin's points were his first since joining the squad at the start of the season. Ford were one of only two manufacturers to bring all their cars to the finish.

The three-day rally, sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship and covering 1460km, ended with four more speed tests high in the rocky and arid Sierras Grandes mountains, south-west of Cordoba. The final leg, once again held under overcast skies and cool temperatures, included two of the toughest and most famous speed tests in the sport and the El Condor stage marked the high point of the series outside of Kenya's Safari Rally.

Sainz saw off a determined fightback by Solberg through the last 20.65km stage from El Mirador to San Lorenzo to finish 4.0sec ahead. "The roads were very fast and slippery," he said. "We knew we had a reasonable gap over Petter so we pushed, but not too hard. I'm really pleased with second because we've had to work very hard for it and it's a great result for the team to have three cars in the top five positions," said the 40-year-old Madrid driver.

McRae, who claimed two fastest times in yesterday's second leg, had no real chance of catching anyone ahead and settled for a steady pace through the final day, climbing from his overnight sixth following Mäkinen's retirement and Grönholm's exclusion.

"This wasn't the result I'd really hoped for after being so fast on the last round in Cyprus but that's a totally different rally from this one," said 33-year-old McRae. "Although the roads here were quite rutted yesterday, they weren't as bad as we thought and our slow start on the first day cost us any chance of a podium place."

Märtin excelled on his debut in Argentina. "The plan was to come here and learn but we've achieved more than that by finishing in the points," he said. "The rally wasn't so difficult and I really enjoyed the faster stages. I wasn't comfortable in the fog and dust on the opening day but we decided not to take risks, drive sensibly and it paid off."

Ford Rallye Sport team director Malcolm Wilson was happy the team recovered from a disappointing opening day. "I'm pleased we managed to take some solid points away from this weekend considering the first day was so poor for us. It's not as good as we expected in terms of total points but I'm delighted that all three drivers finished in the top five. The cars have been extremely reliable here and reliability will be so crucial on the rough roads during the next round in Greece," he said.

News from our Rivals

Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) looked to have claimed his third win of the season and his team their fifth maximum points haul from six rallies on a dramatic final day. The Finn, second overnight by just 0.5sec, overhauled fellow countryman Tommi Mäkinen (Subaru) on the opening stage and increased his lead on the next to 5.5sec. However, Mäkinen rolled heavily on the final bend of the penultimate stage. He and co-driver Kaj Lindstrom walked away with bruising but no serious injuries. But having led home team-mate Richard Burns by 1min 17.1sec, Grönholm was excluded following a rule infringement at the restart this morning. His car refused to fire up and after pushing it away from the time control, team engineers gave instructions on the spot on how to start the engine, breaching regulations which prohibit personnel from approaching a vehicle outside a service park. The decision, which Peugeot will not appeal, handed Burns his first victory for the team. Petter Solberg (Subaru) overshot a junction on the opening stage, losing 20 seconds and a possible second place. Toni Gardemeister and Kenneth Eriksson (both Skoda) secured their team's first points of the season by finishing sixth and seventh respectively.

Next round

The championship reaches its midpoint in the heat of Greece. The Acropolis Rally, regarded as the toughest European round of the season, is based in Itea on 14 - 16 June. <pre> Final positions 1. R Burns/R Reid GB Peugeot 206 4hr 07min 06.8sec 2. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus RS 4hr 08min 09.1sec 3. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 4hr 08min 13.1sec 4. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus RS 4hr 10min 28.2sec 5. M Märtin/M Park EE Ford Focus RS 4hr 11min 01.5sec 6. T Gardemeister/P Lukander FIN Skoda Octavia 4hr 13min 27.9sec 7. K Eriksson/T Thörner S Skoda Octavia 4hr 14min 25.7sec 8. J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Hyundai Accent 4hr 16min 12.4sec 9 A McRae/D Senior GB Mitsubishi Lancer 4hr 16min 58.7sec 10 G Pozzo/D Stillo RA Skoda Octavia 4hr 22min 08.0sec

FIA World Rally Championship (after round 6 of 14) Drivers 1. M Grönholm 31pts 2. R Burns 29pts 3. G Panizzi 20pts 4. C Sainz 15pts 5. T Mäkinen 14pts 6. P Solberg 11pts 7= C McRae 9pts 11 M Märtin 2pts

Manufacturers 1. Peugeot 78pts 2. Ford 36pts 3. Subaru 31pts 4. Mitsubishi 6pts 5. Skoda 3pts 6. Hyundai 2pts

-frs-

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Series WRC
Drivers Tommi Makinen , Colin McRae , Carlos Sainz , Richard Burns , Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , Kenneth Eriksson , Luis Moya , Nicky Grist , Michael Park , Toni Gardemeister , Malcolm Wilson , Markko Martin , Kaj Lindstrom