Colin McRae kick-started his bid for the FIA World Rally Championship by winning the fifth round of this year's series, the Rally Argentina, which finished in Cordoba this afternoon. The Scot and navigator Nicky Grist had led from the start, and...
Colin McRae kick-started his bid for the FIA World Rally Championship by winning the fifth round of this year's series, the Rally Argentina, which finished in Cordoba this afternoon. The Scot and navigator Nicky Grist had led from the start, and they paced themselves today to keep chief rival Richard Burns at bay without taking excessive risks. Burns claimed second, ahead of McRae's team-mate Carlos Sainz. The Spaniard fought through a painful back injury to bag the final podium position and close the gap to current series leader Tommi Mäkinen (who finished fourth in Argentina) to five points.
Today's stages, held in the mountains near El Condor, were among the toughest in the entire event and several of the sport's top stars hit trouble. Reigning world champion Marcus Grönholm retired with clutch difficulties after an accident, while Kenneth Eriksson and Didier Auriol both retired with mechanical problems.
Technical: The leading two Focus WRC01s - driven by Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz - have suffered no major mechanical problems today, but François Delecour had to work on his example during this morning's first pair of tests. A turbo pipe clip broke before the opening stage, allowing the pipe to come loose and the Focus to lose turbo boost. Although the Frenchman made temporary repairs before the stage, the pipe came loose after just four kilometres. But Delecour and navigator Daniel Grataloup effected more substantial repairs before the second test. Then on the second loop of stages, Delecour's car suffered a problem in its fly-by-wire throttle system. His problems prevented him from scoring a point.
Sporting: Colin McRae started today with a useful lead and he was content to match Richard Burns's pace on some tests and take no risks in the more tricky sections. He still had nearly half a minute in hand at the finish to score his first win since the Acropolis Rally last June. Carlos Sainz felt slightly more comfortable with his back problems than yesterday. The Spaniard was unable to close the gap to the cars in front but equally, he came under no pressure from behind as he netted yet another podium finish. Francois Delecour's hopes of maintaining his run of points scores ended with mechanical problems this morning, but the Frenchman still finished seventh.
Colin McRae said: “I'm glad that's over! You feel more pressure when you haven't won for so long. To grab the rally lead at the start and control the event like we did today is great. It just shows what we can do when we have a reliable package - the car's always competitive. The next two rallies in Cyprus and Greece tend to suit the Focus so hopefully this can be the start of a good run.”
Carlos Sainz said: “The hardest part of the rally for me was yesterday morning, when I woke up early and couldn't get back to sleep because of the pain. At that point, I even thought that finishing might be impossible, so to come out of this with a third place is a good result for me.”
Team boss Malcolm Wilson said: “I think this is one of Colin's best drives yet, right up there with Portugal 1999. It was a similar style of win, because he grabbed the initiative in the first day and just controlled the rally from the front. Of course he's got a chance of the championship now - the car looks competitive on almost every surface, and the next two rallies in Cyprus and Greece were good for us last year. We're also working already on improved asphalt performance for Sanremo and Corsica later in the season. I must also pay tribute to Carlos's drive, too - he struggled to get up yesterday with his back pain, but he still scored a podium finish.”
Technical: The Impreza WRC2001s of Richard Burns and Petter Solberg have been generally reliable today, but Toshihiro Arai's example hit power steering problems on the second loop of stages.
Sporting: Richard Burns continued to press Colin McRae this morning but, ultimately, the Englishman had to settle for second overall. His team-mate Petter Solberg was determined not to get drawn into a battle with fifth-placed Tommi Mäkinen and as the Norwegian maintained his cautious approach, he ceded fourth to the Mitsubishi driver. The third Impreza of Toshihiro Arai benefited from late retirements to claim eighth overall.
Richard Burns said: ”After my mistake with a spin and some other problems on the first day, it was difficult to get that much time back from Colin. But at least we made a fight of it. We came here needing to score a top result to stand any chance in the championship and we've done that. After the first day I don't think we could realistically have expected much more than this unless Colin hit a problem, and he didn't. It's a good result for the team, because it shows we're making progress, but also Pirelli, which has scored a one-two-three here. They have to take some of the credit.”
Petter Solberg said: “I wasn't ready to fight Tommi today - after all, we're talking about a four-times world champion. He's got much more experience than me and a good record here, so I expected to be passed. I just want to build on this finish and experience for the next rallies.”
Toshihiro Arai said: “I took it carefully on some of the stages today - perhaps I was too cautious, but the speeds involved here are just unbelievable. The roads are so quick and even a slight mistake could mean retirement, and I badly wanted the experience. I'm glad to get a top ten finish.”
Technical: Tommi Mäkinen had to effect running repairs on his Mitsubishi Lancer after this morning's first stage, when the Finn discovered his radiator was leaking water. He topped up the radiator and re-sealed it, and it gave him no further problems. Freddy Loix, meanwhile, felt that his Lancer's front differential was too tight for this morning's sandy stages after a gearbox change yesterday evening. A change of computer mapping left him happier with the car's set-up.
Sporting: Tommi Mäkinen started today's stages hoping to ease ahead of Petter Solberg into fourth, and despite a high-speed spin in SS17, he eased ahead by lunchtime. His result minimised championship rival Carlos Sainz's gain here to just a single point. Mäkinen's team-mate Freddy Loix wasn't satisfied with his car's handling on the first two stages today but once his team had changed differential settings the Belgian enjoyed a steady run. He bagged sixth since when Marcus Grönholm retired.
Tommi Mäkinen said: “Yesterday was our worst day - we lost so much time with problems and wrong tyre choices, and with the grouping of stages it really punished you for that. It's not the best result we could have had here.”
Freddy Loix said: “I'm really glad to be in the points. I'm getting more confident with the car on every event these days and some of our times here have been encouraging. Cyprus is next and I was quick there last year - I'm optimistic I'll be able to build on this form and get a good result for myself and the team there.”
Technical: Kenneth Eriksson's Accent WRC2 was reliable for much of today, but on the penultimate stage the car sheered bolts from one of its hubs and the Swede had to retire. Alister McRae damaged an oil cooler after a heavy landing on a jump on today's opening stage. The Scot and navigator David Senior fixed the problem before the second stage, though.
Sporting: Both Alister McRae and Kenneth Eriksson continued to set strong times today, with the Scot sixth fastest overall in SS17. Eriksson was concerned about the numbers of spectators on some stages, but he consolidated his overnight tenth position until the penultimate stage, when he was forced to retire with wheel hub problems. McRae started the day in a lonely 12th, but he moved into the top ten thanks to the problems that befell his team-mate, Marcus Grönholm and Didier Auriol. The Scot eventually finished ninth.
Alister McRae said: “It was frustrating to lose time yesterday because our pace shows we'd a good chance of scoring a point or two. The handling of the car's been good all event and I've made it better still by playing with the differential settings. We've never been as close to the front-runners as we have been here.”
Kenneth Eriksson said: “The left-front corner must have been damaged because the wheel just came off. It's a pity because the car has felt good throughout the rally.”
Technical: Marcus Grönholm lost turbo boost on this morning's opening stage after the Finn scooped sand into the car's air filter in a heavy landing. He later retired with clutch failure caused by struggling back onto the road after an accident. Didier Auriol suffered no mechanical problems until the penultimate stage, when he slid off the road and damaged his right-front wheel beyond repair.
Sporting: Marcus Grönholm came under pressure from Freddy Loix when he lost time with low turbo boost this morning, but after fixing the problem the reigning FIA World Rally Champion set fastest time on the very next stage to make sixth place his own. However, he slid off the road at the first corner of the next stage, and although he was able to rejoin the road his clutch had been damaged in the process. He retired before the end of the test. Grönholm's team-mate Didier Auriol had little to fight for today, and he looked set to bag eighth after the Finn retired. But on the penultimate stage, he damaged a wheel and although he reached the end of the test, he was unable to continue.
Didier Auriol said: “It was a rut on a right-hand corner but inside the rut was a big stone. Because we were in the rut I'd no way of avoiding it and it damaged the wheel. By the time we'd got to the end of the stage we'd done four kilometres on three wheels and there was no way we could continue. I just hope that we have better reliability for Cyprus and Greece - perhaps the next evolution of the car (expected in Cyprus) will give us a boost.”
Sporting: Neither Skoda was present on the stages today after the bizarre road accident that forced both to retire yesterday afternoon. The firm's Engineering Director with Responsibility for Motorsport, Dr Jens Pohlmann, who was hit by the fire truck that then damaged the two Octavias, remains in a serious but stable condition in intensive care in hospital in Cordoba. He has five broken ribs, a broken pelvis and a broken shoulderbone, as well as internal trauma, but he is conscious.
Gabriel Pozzo continued his run to success in the Group N category for more standard machinery today. The local driver's Mitsubishi Lancer finished more than two minutes clear of the similar car of multiple class champion Gustavo Trelles. Marcos Ligato had inched ahead of Trelles earlier today, but he retired this afternoon in the last stage, with gear selection difficulties. Roberto Sanchez was thus able to bring his Subaru Impreza through to third in the class.