WRC

Rally of Portugal Ford stage 1 report

Rally of Portugal - after stage 1, Baltar Appalling conditions greeted tonight's opening action in the Rally of Portugal, third round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Incessant rain during the past few weeks has turned the gravel roads...

Rally of Portugal - after stage 1, Baltar

Appalling conditions greeted tonight's opening action in the Rally of Portugal, third round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Incessant rain during the past few weeks has turned the gravel roads which host this third round of the FIA World Rally Championship into a muddy morass.

A combination of glutinous mud and base bedrock, exposed after the torrential rain simply washed away the gravel surface, awaits the 93 starters on this four-day rally. Conditions are so tough that the Ford Martini World Rally team's Luis Moya, the most experienced co-driver in world rallying and a veteran of 137 starts, said they were 'the most difficult I have ever seen'.

The event began with a 3.20km super special at the Baltar kart circuit where two cars at a time raced around the mud-covered roads, swirling fog adding to the difficulties.

Carlos Sainz and Moya were the leading Ford Martini drivers, the Spaniards bringing their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car to the end of the test in fourth, six seconds behind leader Tommi Mäkinen. Team-mates François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup were 11th in their Focus with Colin McRae and Nicky Grist 20th, after the engine of their Focus stalled briefly in the stage.

"The conditions were pretty awful really," said McRae. "It's not going to improve too much tomorrow and I think the rally could turn into a battle for survival." Drivers are usually split by tenths of seconds on a short super special stage but the state of the roads was such that almost 12 seconds covered the top 10 after little more than 3km of competition.

The opening leg continues tomorrow when the cars leave Santa Maria da Feira at 06.30. Ahead of them lie nine stages covering 154.88km, eight in the spectacular hills around Fafe and the last at Lousada rallycross circuit where two cars at a time will entertain the anticipated huge crowds.

<pre> Leaderboard after stage 1 1. T Mäkinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 3min 46.9sec 2. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 3min 47.9sec 3. H Rovanperä/R Pietilainen FIN Peugeot 206 3min 51.0sec 4. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus RS 3min 52.9sec 5. F Loix/S Smeets B Mitsubishi Carisma 3min 54.7sec 6. M Martin/M Park EE Subaru Impreza 3min 54.7sec 7. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 3min 56.5sec 8. B Thiry/S Prévot B Skoda Octavia 3min 56.9sec 9. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Peugeot 206 3min 57.5sec 10 T Laukkanen/K Lindström F Toyota Corolla 3min 58.5sec

- Mark Wilford

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Tommi Makinen , Colin McRae , Carlos Sainz , Daniel Grataloup , Luis Moya , Nicky Grist