Rådstrom retires on final leg of Rally New Zealand
Ford Martini World Rally Team pairing Thomas Rådstrom and Fred Gallagher saw their hopes of a fourth place finish on the Rally New Zealand ended on the opening special stage of today's final leg. Their Ford Focus World Rally Car slid off the road during the muddy test, the longest of this ninth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, and although it was undamaged, they could not rejoin the track and retired.
It was a disappointing end for the 33-year-old Swedish driver and his Ulster co-driver, who performed superbly to fight their way back up the leaderboard - setting three fastest times - after a heavy accident on the opening leg.
"The stage used the same route as the opening test on Friday so it was very muddy and quite badly cut-up," said Rådstrom. "We had completed about 20km when we approached a very slow right-hand bend. We slid a little wide and the car just slipped off the edge on the inside and became stuck. We were right on the side of the road but the nose was buried into the soft earth and we just couldn't push the car back on again. It's very frustrating."
For Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson, the rally was one of mixed emotions - pleasure that both Colin McRae, who led the rally during the first leg before retiring, and Rådstrom had again emphasised the competitiveness of the Ford Focus and disappointment that the Swede retired when fourth place appeared to be his.
"We've posted six fastest times during the rally and that's a really positive aspect to take back home with us because we've taken another step in the right direction with the development of the car. On the other hand it's a big disappointment for the whole team to lose Thomas today. We worked so hard to repair the car after his big accident and he drove so well yesterday and that just adds to the frustration," he said.
News from our Rivals
Aside from Rådstrom's retirement, there were no changes to the leaderboard, the large time gaps between drivers encouraging them to settle with their overnight order. Tommi Makinen (Mitsubishi) posted fastest time on the day's first three stages before throttling back with victory assured. The winning margin was 1min 37.0sec. Juha Kankkunen (Subaru) and Toni Gardemeister (Seat) completed a clean-sweep of the podium places for Finland. It was a particularly impressive drive from 24-year-old Gardemeister who was competing on his first world championship event in a World Rally Car.
The FIA World Rally Championship returns to Europe for round 10, the drivers heading to Scandinavia for the Rally Finland on 20 - 22 August. The rally is one of the fastest in the championship, the smooth flowing forest roads and huge jumps providing a superb spectacle.
"The roads in Finland are similar in nature to those here in New Zealand and I see no reason why we cannot be just as competitive there. No Briton has won the rally and it's a burning ambition of mine and of Colin's to set the record straight," said Wilson.
Final positions 1. T Makinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 4hr 11min 07.1sec 2. J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Subaru Impreza 4hr 12min 44.1sec 3. T Gardemeister/P Lukander FIN Seat WRC 4hr 13min 56.1sec 4. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Toyota Corolla 4hr 17min 22.9sec 5. P Bourne/C Vincent NZ Subaru Impreza 4hr 17min 55.4sec 6. C Sainz/L Moya E Toyota Corolla 4hr 19min 23.0sec 7. M Kahle/D Schneppenheim D Toyota Corolla 4hr 25min 44.2sec 8. F Loix/S Smeets B Mitsubishi Carisma 4hr 26min 34.4sec 9. G Trelles/M Christie RA Mitsubishi Lancer 4hr 28min 32.8sec 10 H Al Wahaibi/T Sircombe OM Mitsubishi Lancer 4hr 30min 21.2sec
1999 FIA World Rally Championship (after round 9 of 14) Drivers Manufacturers 1. T Makinen 46pts 1. Toyota 78pts 2. D Auriol 35pts 2. Mitsubishi 59pts 3. C Sainz 30pts 3. Subaru 52pts 4. J Kankkunen 24pts 4. Ford 35pts 5. C McRae 23pts 5. Seat 12pts 6. R Burns 23pts 6. Skoda 3pts