WRC

Safari Rally - leg 2

Sainz charges back as Focus sets top pace Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya dominated today's second leg of the Safari Rally for the Ford Martini World Rally Team. The Spanish pair set fastest time on three of the four gruelling speed tests in...

Sainz charges back as Focus sets top pace

Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya dominated today's second leg of the Safari Rally for the Ford Martini World Rally Team. The Spanish pair set fastest time on three of the four gruelling speed tests in their Ford Focus World Rally Car during a sensational charge that carried them from 10th position last night to fourth as the cars returned to Nairobi this evening.

Sainz set such a fierce pace over the rock-strewn gravel tracks straddling the Equator that he completed today's 359km of competitive driving an incredible 3min 38sec faster than rally leader Richard Burns. The combination of intense heat and road conditions that brought cars to walking pace in places, again took its toll on many competitors and only 17 of the original 51 starters are still going tonight. But Sainz's Focus never missed a beat.

Driving in the dust of others cost Sainz time on the first 123km section, the longest of the rally. But from then on he attacked hard on the smooth sections, adopted more caution on the rougher parts and was uncatchable.

"It's been a fantastic day," said 37-year-old Sainz. "After the disappointment of losing so much time yesterday, I'd hoped to climb into sixth and into the points today. But we've done better than that and tomorrow we'll try to improve even more. If we'd lost that amount of time on a typical European rally, there would have been no chance of any points, but that's the magic of the Safari. You can have problems but if you recover well, a good finish is still possible."

Moya outlined the plan for tomorrow's final leg. "When it's been smooth today we've driven at the sort of speed we would on a European rally but we were careful in the rough areas. Tomorrow it's full European speed everywhere but remember, we have to tackle the hell of yesterday's first leg all over again."

Ford Martini team-mates Colin McRae and Nicky Grist recovered from a difficult day yesterday and moved from fifth to third on the opening section. They maintained their position until the final section when the engine of their Focus stopped while crossing a river after 32km of the 73km test.

Despite McRae's frantic efforts to restart, the engine would not fire up and the British pair were forced into retirement. "We tried everything we could to restart the engine but there was nothing we could do," said a disconsolate McRae. "We started well this morning and managed to avoid most of the dust problems in the first section. We lost a little time with power steering troubles this afternoon but we were going well. It's very disappointing."

Petter Solberg and Phil Mills ended the day in fifth after another solid display by the young Norwegian driver. After deliberately leaving early morning service late to drop behind McRae on the road, easing the dust problems for his colleague and relieving the pressure of having McRae chasing him through the section, a furious Solberg dropped time through no fault of his.

He was signaled to pull over by another driver's spotter helicopter and assuming a car was close behind him he generously stopped. However, he had to wait for two long minutes before his rival eventually went by. "I was very angry at the time," said Solberg. "But we put that behind us to drive quickly, without taking any uneccessary risks, and it's paid off. But we're not there yet. Tomorrow is another very long day and we must not let our concentration drop."

Before McRae's retirement, the three Focus cars shared in a superb performance on the second section when Sainz, McRae and Solberg gave Ford a clean sweep of the top three times.

Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson praised Sainz and Solberg for their excellent performances. "Carlos has set the pace for all to follow and Petter has put in another solid day's work. It's obviously disappointing to lose Colin from third but it does seem the water at the river crossing was a little higher than when that section was used this morning," he said.

News from our Rivals

McRae's problems ensured the top three remained unaltered from the overnight positions, a rarity on the Safari Rally. Richard Burns (Subaru) set one fastest time, on the opening section this morning, and extended his advantage over team-mate Juha Kankkunen to 4min 55sec. The only scare for either was at the end of the penultimate section when Burns' engine stopped and he had to wait for it to cool down before it would fire up again. Third placed Didier Auriol has kept out of trouble, just a puncture this morning and a few suspension modifications to concern him. Two other major retirements today were Freddy Loix (Mitsubishi) who stopped with a broken shock absorber on the penultimate section and Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) who went out 5km from the end of the last section with a damaged clutch.

Tomorrow's Route

The final leg is an exact repeat of yesterday's opening day. Competitors leave Nairobi at 05.00 and face four more gruelling competitive sections covering 350km in a total route of 748km. They return to the capital city for the finish ceremony at 16.00 after more than 1060km of action during the three days in a total distance of 2690km.

Leaderboard after Leg 2 1. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 5hr 45min 23sec 2. J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Subaru Impreza 5hr 50min 18sec 3. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Seat Cordoba 6hr 00min 58sec 4. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus 6hr 06min 42sec 5. P Solberg/P Mills N Ford Focus 6hr 10min 18sec 6. T Arai/R Freeman J Subaru Impreza 6hr 18min 36sec 7. A Schwarz/M Hiemer D Skoda Octavia 6hr 27min 38sec 8. L Climent/A Romani E Skoda Octavia 6hr 44min 55sec 9. C Menzi/E Galindo RA Mitsubishi Lancer 7hr 09min 55sec 10 R Sanchez/J Del Buono RA Subaru Impreza 7hr 20min 25sec

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