17 July 1999
Ford Focus sets winning stage times in NZ
Thomas Rådström and Fred Gallagher posted two special stage victories in their Ford Focus World Rally Car during today’s second leg of the Rally New Zealand as they climbed the leaderboard to an impressive fourth overall. The Ford Martini World Rally Team pairing also set one second fastest time as they improved from an overnight sixth during the third day of this ninth round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
The sweeping gravel roads in the Northland district of North Island are reminiscent of Rådström’s native Scandinavia and allowed the 33-year-old Swede to display the potential of the Ford Focus to its utmost. Drier weather made driving easier than yesterday’s rain-soaked leg although the roads were still wet and slippery.
Rådström quickly overhauled Possum Bourne on this morning’s opening group of four stages and then held off the challenge of a recovering Carlos Sainz as the afternoon continued before the Spaniard slipped back down the leaderboard again. Although Rådström’s Ford Focus still bore the scars of battle after yesterday’s accident, it has once again displayed perfect reliability mechanically.
“It’s been absolutely fantastic today,” enthused Rådström. “I’ve really enjoyed the stages, which have been fast and flowing and technically suited to both my driving style and the set-up of the car. Although it’s been much drier today, the roads have still been quite slippery because the cars ahead of us have thrown stones and gravel onto the driving line.
“Fourth is a good position considering the time we lost during our accident and with large time gaps both ahead and behind us, it’s a position we will be happy to hold onto tomorrow. But we’ll see what happens in front and hopefully we’ll be ready to capitalise should anyone have trouble,” he added.
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted with the performance of both Rådström and the Ford Focus. “Since Carlos slipped back, we’ve told Thomas to ease up a little, take no risks and ensure he finishes. He’s pushed hard all day to climb into a comfortable position and we’ve had no major problems with the car. The mechanics changed the transmission and the front differential tonight purely as a precaution.”
“Both Colin McRae before his retirement and now Thomas have set fastest times which is hugely encouraging for us. For Thomas to produce that sort of performance after such a heavy accident merely underlines how well it stood up to the impact and just how strong the Ford Focus is,” added Wilson.
News from our Rivals
Most of today’s dramas surrounded the Toyota team. Frenchman Didier Auriol lost second place when he ripped the left rear wheel from his car after sliding into a bank on a tightening corner in stage 14. He dropped three minutes limping to the end. To complete a miserable day for him, the electronic gear shift failed four stages later and he had to change to manual mode, losing about 1min 30sec during the final three tests. Team-mate Carlos Sainz’s battle with Rådström ended when the Spaniard slid into a ditch on the penultimate test and remained there for almost four minutes. Today’s only major retirement was Harri Rovanperä, whose troubled rally finally ended on stage 17 when his Seat stopped with oil pressure problems. At the head of the leaderboard Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi), Juha Kankkunen (Subaru) and Toni Gardemeister (Seat) all reported no problems while further down Freddy Loix (Mitsubishi) broke into the top 10 for the first time on his debut in New Zealand.
Much of the last day is based in Maramarua Forest, south-east of Auckland. However, the first stage is a slightly extended version of the opening test of yesterday’s first leg, on the opposite coast of North Island, and is the longest of the rally. The drivers leave Auckland at 07.00 and cover seven stages totalling 85.67km before arriving at Manukau for the finish ceremony at 15.45.
Fred Gallagher: “The first stage will be the toughest. It’s very technical and difficult, a typical New Zealand stage which is fast and flowing. You must have good pace notes to ensure the right line because the roads are very slippery off line and, as we’ve already seen, if you get it wrong you can have an accident. At more than 32km, it’s also a vast percentage of the total distance on the final leg.”
Leaderboard after Leg 2 1. T Mäkinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 3hr 21min 28.9sec 2. J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Subaru Impreza 3hr 23min 05.8sec 3. T Gardemeister/P Lukander FIN Seat WRC 3hr 24min 00.2sec 4. T Rådström/F Gallagher S Ford Focus 3hr 25min 58.0sec 5. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Toyota Corolla 3hr 27min 33.9sec 6. P Bourne/C Vincent NZ Subaru Impreza 3hr 27min 49.9sec 7. C Sainz/L Moya E Toyota Corolla 3hr 29min 42.1sec 8. M Kahle/D Schneppenheim D Toyota Corolla 3hr 33min 09.5sec 9. F Loix/S Smeets B Mitsubishi Carisma 3hr 34min 34.1sec 10 G Trelles/M Christie RA Mitsubishi Lancer 3hr 35min 08.0sec