Ford Martini drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist escaped serious injury after a high-speed accident during today's second leg of the Telstra Rally Australia. Only the strength of their Ford Focus World Rally Car allowed the duo to walk away from a 160kph head-on crash into a tree near the end of the morning's opening special stage on this 13th and penultimate round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
McRae and Grist, who re-started in third place this morning, were about 4km from the finish of the 18.5km Murray Pines test when the accident occurred. Although their Focus WRC suffered heavy damage, it stood up to the impact well. McRae and Grist were badly shaken by the crash but medical tests showed neither suffered any injuries other than stiffness, aches and bruises.
"It was a very fast section and we were flat out in sixth gear for about 30 seconds before a jump which I really don't recall from last year," said McRae. "We landed awkwardly and very heavily, the car got away from me and we went head on into a tree by the edge of the road. The front of the car on Nicky's side took most of the impact. It was the kind of accident you want to forget about pretty quickly, certainly one of the biggest and most frightening I've had. We were very fortunate."
"The data shows we went from about 185kph to zero in 1.3sec so that gives some idea of the impact and forces involved," said Grist. "As soon as the car landed it started to go sideways and all I could see was the trees. Afterwards I just kept thanking the Ford Martini team for building the car so strongly otherwise it could have been a very different outcome."
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson watched television footage of the accident before saying: "It was obviously a very big crash. It is a testament to the strength of the Ford Focus that despite such an impact there were no serious injuries. It was unfortunate for Colin because he was consistently among the leading times yesterday and was firmly on course for a podium finish.
Team-mates Thomas Rådström and Fred Gallagher drove well to improve their overnight eighth to a potential points-scoring fifth in the second Ford Focus. They face a tough battle tomorrow with just 9.5sec splitting them, Marcus Grönholm and Harri Rovanperä. Rådström, competing in Australia for the first time, enjoyed today's 160km of stages south of the host city of Perth far more than those of the opening leg.
"They've been what I would describe as real rally stages, the sort with which I'm more familiar. The trees aren't as close to the edge of the road as they were yesterday and that allowed me to attack a little more," said 33-year-old Rådström. /more
"Because we were running second car on the road, the conditions were against us as there was plenty of loose gravel still covering the tracks. It was impossible to follow the cleaner line created by Marcus who was first on the road because his Peugeot has a shorter wheelbase than the Focus. While our front wheels can follow his line, the rear wheels are on the slippery gravel," added Rådström.
News from our Rivals
The leg has been dominated by a thrilling battle for the lead between Richard Burns (Subaru) and Carlos Sainz (Toyota), who on Thursday announced his decision to sign for Ford next season. Split by only 6.3sec overnight, Burns took the lead on this morning's opening stage and maintained it throughout the day, although the pair were never separated by more than a handful of seconds. The Briton recorded four fastest times, the Spaniard three and they shared one each. Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi) kept his sights firmly on a fourth world title, content to keep a watching brief in third in the knowledge that it would be enough to clinch the crown. Toni Gardemeister (SEAT) endured a disappointing day, the young Finn dropping about 16 minutes with transmission problems on the 45km Wellington Dam stage, sportingly stopping twice to allow Burns and Sainz to pass him and enjoy dust-free runs.
The final leg is based entirely in the Bunnings Forest complex. Drivers leave Perth at 05.45 and although they face only four stages, they total 100km. After three long tests, the final stage is a mere 2.73km and will be televised live around Australia. The rally finishes at the forest at 13.44.
Fred Gallagher: "It's hard to pick out any particular stage that's more important than the others. The Bunnings complex is essentially one long stage because a lot of the roads are used twice. Everyone knows about the famous jumps and watersplash used near the end of both stages 21 and 23 and I'm sure they'll be as spectacular as ever."
Leaderboard after Leg 2 1. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 2hr 50min 16.1sec 2. C Sainz/L Moya E Toyota Corolla 2hr 50min 20.5sec 3. T Mäkinen/R Mannisenmäki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 2hr 52min 56.6sec 4. F Loix/S Smeets B Mitsubishi Carisma 2hr 55min 36.2sec 5. T Rådström/ F Gallagher S Ford Focus 2hr 56min 58.6sec 6. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 2hr 56min 59.9sec 7. H Rovanperä/R Pietilainen FIN Seat WRC 2hr 57min 08.1sec 8. U Nittel/T Harryman D Mitsubishi Lancer 3hr 05min 28.0sec 9. K Eriksson/S Parmander S Hyundai Coupe 3hr 05min 56.6sec 10 T Arai/R Freeman J Subaru Impreza 3hr 06min 22.2sec