Ford Focus World Rally Cars took three of the top four positions on the Rally New Zealand after a dramatic finale to this eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship today. Ford Martini drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist finished second on...
Ford Focus World Rally Cars took three of the top four positions on the Rally New Zealand after a dramatic finale to this eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship today. Ford Martini drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist finished second on the demanding three-day rally with team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya third and Petter Solberg and Phil Mills in fourth.
Second and third places for McRae and Sainz moved the Ford Martini team to within a point of the championship leaders in the manufacturers' series with six rounds remaining and enabled both drivers to close in on leader Richard Burns, who retired today, in the drivers' table. Ford drivers posted 11 special stage victories from the rally's 24 speed tests.
McRae and Grist started today's final leg, based primarily in Maramarua Forest, south of Auckland, with their sights set on victory. The 31-year-old Scot posted four consecutive fastest times, taking his tally for the rally to eight. But a second stage spin ended his victory hopes after slashing the advantage to leader Marcus Grönholm on the opening, and longest, test of the leg. He finished just 14.5sec behind the Finn.
"I'm delighted with second because it makes the situation very interesting in both championships and maintains our great run through the middle part of the season," said McRae. "If we can maintain this kind of form for the entire second half of the year then we'll be in with a great chance of championship success in November on the final round in Britain.
"The spin gave Marcus a 10 second breathing space and created a minor gear selection difficulty for us so we had to be careful. The rally was certainly winnable but we just slid ever so slightly off line and reached the point of no return. It's very easy to do on these stages," added McRae.
Sainz and Moya, who started today in fourth, climbed to third following Burns' retirement. The Spanish pair had enjoyed a troublefree rally and were under no pressure from behind on today's final leg, covering 79km of competitive driving. "To finish on the podium is always a good result and today is no different," said 38-year-old Sainz.
"And to have three cars finish in the top four makes it even more pleasing. The team has now found reliability and performance which, when put together, are the keys to success. It was a hard rally because the conditions played such an important role but this sport is all about adapting to certain situations and that's what we had to do here."
Fourth was the best world championship result for Solberg and Mills, the 25-year-old Norwegian driver enhancing his already flourishing reputation as a potential champion of the future on his debut drive in New Zealand.
"Again this rally taught me a lot," said Solberg. "Yesterday I realised how hard it was to run first on the road when the conditions are against you but also learned that I had to be patient, pace myself and not try to go beyond my limits. That patience paid off today and I'm so happy. I knew that if I maintained a steady rhythm today I would finish in the points but fourth was more than I could have hoped for."
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson was overjoyed with the performance of the Focus cars and his drivers. "Three cars in the top four is a fantastic achievement. Colin would have been close to victory had he not spun, Carlos was as consistent as always and Petter was simply superb. He's shown everyone what a great future he has. We still have work to do to develop the car. We must improve on performance, which we will because we have exciting things in the pipeline," he said.
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Although today's third leg was the shortest, it produced drama virtually by the minute with four manufacturer cars retiring. First to go was Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi) who hit a bank on the opening stage and arrived at the following service park on three wheels. His car's front sub-frame was too badly damaged to continue safely and he pulled out. Alister McRae (Hyundai), who posted his first fastest time on a world championship rally on the same test, found his joy shortlived as transmission problems stopped his car for good 4km from the service park. Richard Burns and Juha Kankkunen (both Subaru) both retired after the day's third stage when each stopped to investigate power steering problems and their cars refused to restart.
The championship returns to Europe for one of the classic events in world rallying. The Rally Finland, based in Jyväskylä on 17-20 August, is one of the most technically difficult events in the calendar, characterised by its high speeds and huge jumps.
<pre> Final positions 1. M Gronholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 3hr 45min 13.4sec 2. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus 3hr 45min 27.9sec 3. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus 3hr 46min 31.8sec 4. P Solberg/P Mills N Ford Focus 3hr 48min 14.1sec 5. K Eriksson/S Parmander S Hyundai Accent 3hr 48min 26.1sec 6. P Bourne/M Stacey NZ Subaru Impreza 3hr 52min 08.0sec 7. M Stohl/P Muller A Mitsubishi Lancer 3hr 57min 05.4sec 8. C Crocker/G Foletta AUS Subaru Impreza 3hr 57min 14.6sec 9. G Argyle/P Fallon NZ Mitsubishi Lancer 3hr 58min 00.8sec 10 G Trelles/J Del Buono ROU Mitsubishi Lancer 3hr 58min 51.7sec
2000 FIA World Rally Championship (after round 8 of 14) Drivers 1. R Burns 38pts 2. M Grönholm 34pts 3. C McRae 30pts 4. C Sainz 27pts 5. T Mäkinen 23pts 6. J Kankkunen 18pts
Manufacturers 1. Subaru 58pts 2. Ford 57pts 3. Peugeot 41pts 4. Mitsubishi 29pts 5. Seat 8pts 6. Skoda 7pts