Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart drivers Alister McRae/David Senior put on a fine performance today in their debut outing in the Safari Rally, posting creditable times and setting third fastest through the roughest section of the rally (CS3). The Scot...
Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart drivers Alister McRae/David Senior put on a fine performance today in their debut outing in the Safari Rally, posting creditable times and setting third fastest through the roughest section of the rally (CS3). The Scot however hit problems in the final and longest section of the leg, plummeting down the leaderboard from eighth to 14th position when he dropped 37 minutes with a broken strut and shattered brake components. Team-mates Francois Delecour and Daniel Grataloup were maintaining a comfortable and measured pace until an engine problem saw them on the sidelines with five of their rivals.
The opening leg of the Safari Rally has been a classic, testing the strength, reliability and ingenuity of man and machinery alike in an event like none other in the FIA World Rally Championship. Fast open roads have contrasted the rough and rocky sections, speeds varying between a flat-out 200kph and painstaking 7kph crawl. But, for the local warriors who wander the vast plains, appearing from nowhere in resplendent red Masai 'Shuka', the action is still their biggest annual sporting spectacle and one worthy of a long hot walk.
The Lancer Evolution WRC crew of McRae and Senior made a creditable start to their first Safari Rally, the British crew posting ninth fastest time in the opening section. A damper problem in CS2 dropped them some time but third fastest in the third section rewarded them with eighth overall, despite penalties in service for vital repairs carried out by the tireless team technicians. However, in the final section of the day, and the longest of the rally, the British duo dropped 37 minutes working furiously to repair broken components just 20 kilometres into the 106.56 kilometre section.
"I felt a bang on the front of the car while we were driving over a sandy section of road," said Alister. "The steering started vibrating, I thought we had a puncture and then felt the wheel making contact with the arch. We stopped to have a look and could see that the strut was broken and the brake calliper and disk had completely shattered. The wheel was straight and the tyre still inflated, so it's a bit strange and I'm not just sure what happened. We repaired everything and carried on but it's really disappointing, especially after setting such a good time in CS3. But that's the Safari and we'll carry on pushing because who knows what else can happen. Generally the car has felt very good though."
Team-mates Francois Delecour and Daniel Grataloup were also making good progress until the cooling fan stopped and an overheating problem saw them join an ever-increasing list of retirees. "The fan stopped working in CS3, the fuse popped out and then we got caught in Juha's (Kankkunen) dust again for 35 kilometres," said Francois. "While we were following him the temperatures were gradually going up and we stopped to fill up the water at the end of the section, but then the car wouldn't re-start. Up until that point I was really happy with the car, the suspension was good and things were fine."
Adding to their comments, Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart team manager Derek Dauncey said: "This is the roughest Safari for a number of years and we expected a high attrition rate. It's obviously really disappointing to lose Francois, and similarly for Alister to lose the time he did in CS4. However, in the Mitsubishi spirit of competition, Alister and David repaired the car and battled on. There are still two very long days to go where anything can still happen, so Alister will carry on pushing and hopefully we'll be rewarded for our efforts."
The opening leg of the Safari Rally has taken its toll on many of the leading drivers. Peugeot's World Championship leader Marcus Gronholm was the first to succumb, the Finn on the sidelines in CS1 with engine failure. Freddy Loix and Armin Schwarz (both Hyundai) were soon to follow, the Belgian out with clutch failure while his team-mate suffered alternator and subsequent electrical problems. Skoda's Toni Gardemeister lost a wheel 85 kilometres into the final section and Subaru's Petter Solberg also joined the sidelines, engine failure halting him. In contract, team-mate Tommi Makinen, twice winner of the Safari Rally with Mitsubishi, led the field back to Nairobi this evening, the Finn dropping some time in CS4 to hold a slim 16.1 second advantage over Colin McRae (Ford). Neither McRae nor team-mate Carlos Sainz, third, have experienced much more than a damper problem in CS3, although the Spaniard was also forced to stop and change a puncture in the same section. Harri Rovanpera is fourth, the amiable Finn leading Peugeot's assault, but he too had shock absorber problems in CS3. Fifth position is held by Skoda driver Kenneth Eriksson, the Swede having held third position until CS3, the roughest of the event. Markko Martin rounds off the top six, the Estonian putting on a fine performance in his debut outing in Africa, a puncture in CS2 his only hindrance. Citroen, like Hyundai, is competing in the Safari Rally for the first time and Swede Thomas Radstrom leads the team challenge in seventh position. Safari Rally veteran, and three-time winner, Juha Kankkunen, lies 11th in the sole remaining Hyundai, damper problems hindering the Finn during the day.
Still to come--
The second leg of the Safari Rally takes the crews back to Suswa on Saturday, the base for the day's five competitive sections. Each of these is a repetition of today's action, albeit run in the opposite direction, with an additional run at the Kedong-Ngema section. The route - the longest of the three legs - covers a total distance of 943.12 kilometres, 532.65 of which is competitive.