Cruel fortune robs Ford Martini team of points
The Ford Martini World Rally team suffered a cruel blow this afternoon when Colin McRae and co-driver Nicky Grist were forced to retire just 15 seconds from the end of Rally Finland when the final world championship point seemed within their grasp. The engine in their Ford Focus expired on an uphill section of the final special stage, just 500 metres from the finishing line.
McRae had started the final day of the 10th round in the 1999 FIA World Rally Championship, holding a promising fourth place after gaining confidence and pace throughout Leg 2 of this uniquely challenging event. He consolidated that position during Sunday, only to suffer a sudden loss of power in the penultimate stage, losing 90 seconds to the front runners and dropping to sixth place overall.
"The car was unwell but running at the start of the final 'live-tv' stage and we were going quickly enough to stay ahead of Gardemeister and claim sixth place," explained McRae. "Then, just metres from the finish, the engine died and we couldn't even coast to the end as the stage was uphill at that point. We had to try for that last world championship point and at least Nicky and I have now done the whole rally at speed. You could see yesterday that as I became more accustomed to the Finnish roads my times got faster and faster. That's got to be a good omen for the future."
Ford Martini team mates Thomas Radstrom and Fred Gallagher were withdrawn from the rally mid-afternoon - for tactical reasons. At that time they were outside any points scoring place but permitted to rejoin the rally for the final test in a more favourable position on the road. They posted fourth fastest time over the televised stage, where additional championship points are available and missed a point by just 0.2 seconds.
The third Ford Focus, driven by Petter Solberg and Philip Mills finished a fine 12th on an outing both team and crew regarded as an educational visit.
Team Director Malcolm Wilson was philosophical about the result: "It is the first serious engine problem we have suffered this season when a piston failed. This is one of the world's fastest rallies and engines spend a lot of time running at high revs.
"Despite our disappointment, there are several positives from Rally Finland. We scored five fastest stage times and have acquired a vast bank of knowledge for next year's event with the Focus. Colin has now driven all the stages at competitive speeds, which he had not previously achieved. That is an important step in the Ford Martini team's quest for championship titles next season. World Rallying has become so closely fought that a driver cannot afford to have a single 'weak' event in his armoury. I know we are heading in the right direction with the car's set-up and performance and now we must banish any remaining gremlins.
"Judging by the performance of the Focus - which is not in doubt - Colin goes to China as a big favourite. We must improve our reliability to turn potential into victory."
News from our Rivals
The Subaru pair of Juha Kankkunen and Richard Burns produced seven fastest stage times between them and were invariably among the top-three runners on the way to notching up the marque's third win of 1999. After driving brilliantly on Saturday to set four fastest stage times for Toyota, Carlos Sainz was less comfortable on today's narrower roads and slipped back to third place. Didier Auriol rejoined for the final stage and set the fastest time to claim 3 championship points. After retiring on the tough SS14, championship leader Tommi Makinen returned to fling his Mitsubishi through the 'tv' stage to snatch two valuable points and retain his title hunt lead. Loix brought his Carisma up into the top-10. Peugeot was pleased to score its first points of the season and claim two top-10 places. Seat's new Cordoba made a promising debut taking a fastest stage time, with both cars finishing in the points. Skoda lost one car on the very first stage, but the other came home in 14th place as Czech driver Emil Triner gained experience of this unique event.
Round 11 of the championship takes drivers to the China Rally for the first time on 17-19 September. McRae, has won the rally twice when it was a non-championship event, and is the only world championship front-runner with knowledge of the stages.
Neste Rally Finland - Final positions 1. J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Subaru Impreza 3h 08min 54.5sec 2. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 3h 09min 04.2sec 3. C Sainz/L Moya E Toyota Corolla 3h 09min 12.5sec 4. M Gronholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 3h 10min 26.7sec 5. H Rovanpera/R Pietilainen FIN Seat Cordoba 3h 11min 04.6sec 6. T Gardemeister/P Lukander FIN Seat Cordoba 3h 12min 04.0sec 7. S Lindholm/J Aho FIN Ford Escort 3h 12min 59.2sec 8. J Tuohino/M Anttila FIN Ford Escort 3h 17min 59.5sec 9. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Peugeot 206 3h 18min 48.9sec 10. F Loix/S Smeets B Mitsubishi Carisma 3h 19min 43.5sec --------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------- 12. P Solberg/P Mills S Ford Focus 3h 21min 06.4sec
1999 FIA World Rally Championship (after round 10 of 14) Drivers Manufacturers 1. T Makinen 48pts 1. Toyota 85pts 2. D Auriol 38pts 2. Subaru 68pts 3= C Sainz 34pts 3. Mitsubishi 61pts 3= J Kankkunen 34pts 4. Ford 35pts 5. Richard Burns 29 pts 5. Seat 16pts 6. C McRae 23pts 6= Skoda 3pts 7. P Bugalski 20pts 6= Peugeot 3pts