15 March 1999
Ford Martini team aims to build on McRae's win
After their emphatic victory on Kenya's Safari Rally last month, Colin McRae and Nicky Grist lead the Ford Martini World Rally team into action in Portugal next week with a new outlook on their FIA World Rally Championship season. Their near 15 minute victory on the toughest round of the series, on only the third event for the new Ford Focus World Rally Car, has raised expectations for the rest of the year.
In what was, and still is, a development year for the Focus, rivals are talking about the Ford Martini team as realistic world title contenders. The four-day Rally of Portugal (21 24 March) is the first true all-gravel event of the season and will give a much clearer indication of the potential of the Focus on the championship's predominant surface.
Fought out in front of wildly enthusiastic fans, many of whom cross the border from Spain, the rally is always regarded as a true indicator of form for the season ahead after the unique challenges posed by the vastly different conditions of the opening three rounds.
Not that McRae has any doubts. "I haven't ruled out winning the championship, I now think that's a realistic goal. It was always in the back of my mind but we thought it would take us the first half of the year to make the Focus truly competitive. Our Safari victory, coming after excellent performances in Monte Carlo and Sweden, has shown everyone that the Focus is much closer to a front-running pace than anyone thought it would be at this stage of the season," said the 30-year-old Scot.
"Another top three finish is definitely a possibility but the question is whether we have the edge to fight for victory just yet on a sprint-type gravel rally. The car is still heavier than we would like but that's something that the team is working hard to sort out. This rally has a mixture of rough and smooth roads but we know from our experiences in Kenya that the Focus can take the rough sections without a problem," added McRae.
His team-mate in Portugal will again be Norway's Petter Solberg, replacing the injured Thomas R