McRae on form in Sanremo for Ford Martini
The Ford Martini team was in confident mood at the end of day one of the Sanremo Rally after Colin McRae and co-driver Nicky Grist powered their Ford Focus World Rally Car into fifth position on this 12th round of the FIA World Championship.
Thousands of spectators lined the asphalt special stages in the mountains above the Italian resort of Sanremo. Thirty-one-year-old McRae entertained them with an attacking drive which saw him net a string of consistent top six times in a rally boasting the highest quality entry witnessed in the championship for many years.
McRae, happy and confident with the set-up of the four-wheel drive Focus, made only minor modifications to suspension and damper settings on the car during the day, ending the six stages 35.6sec behind leader Francois Delecour. The Scot, the leading championship regular tonight, admitted he was surprised at the pace of the three leading Peugeots.
"All year the regular contenders have been battling it out for tenths of seconds but today the Peugeots have been winning stages by large margins,'' he said. "But I think tomorrow's stages will be much tighter. The roads are completely different, much more twisty and narrow, and it's the most technical and longest leg of the rally."
Ford Martini team-mates Simon Jean-Joseph and Fred Gallagher, driving a Focus for the first time since May's Tour of Corsica, soon regained their rhythm and ended the day in 12th in the second Focus.
"After my disappointments earlier in the season, I'm pleased to have been able to prove my pace on the world championship scene," said Jean-Joseph. "I tried to push harder on the last couple of stages but the guys in front are going so fast, although I would happily have settled for this position at the beginning of the day," added the Martinique-based driver.
The third Ford Focus of Norwegian Petter Solberg and co-driver Phil Mills finished Leg One 54th overall after a brush with a wall on a slippery downhill section during the second stage. The impact broke the rear left hub and cost almost four minutes as the crew limped to the finish of the test.
"There's no way we can make up the lost time during the next two days so we're just taking things steadily to ensure we finish,'' said Solberg. "We're concentrating on learning the stages, getting to the end and not taking any risks.''
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson was pleased to see the Focus leading every other regular championship contender at the end of the leg. "After the disappointment in China we have to be happy with the way things have gone. Once again we've proved the Focus is competitive and we think tomorrow's stages, which are more technical, will really suit the car. Having McRae, Jean-Joseph and Solberg reach the end of day one with no mechanical problems has given the team a real boost," he said. News from our Rivals
The fight for the World Rally Championship swung in favour of Didier Auriol (Toyota) and Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi) today after Toyota driver Carlos Sainz crashed out on the final stage of the day. There was also disappointment for Citröen when Jesus Puras was forced out with clutch problems. Subaru drivers Richard Burns and Juha Kankkunen have struggled on today's stages while Seat trio Harri Rovanpera, Piero Liatti and Toni Gardemeister have been off the pace on the asphalt debut of the new Cordoba. However, the action has been dominated by Peugeot which has set the fastest times on all six stages, covering 105km and drivers François Delecour, Gilles Panizzi and Marcus Grönholm hold the top three positions.
The second leg is based in the Savona region with eight stages around the town of Acqui Terme. The crews face 167.98km of competition on roads completely different from today's six stages - narrow, covered in loose gravel and twisty. The first cars leave Sanremo at 05.30 and are not due back at the Italian resort until 21.49.
Nicky Grist: "The first stage of the morning which is repeated later in the day will prove the most important tomorrow. The roads are exceptionally narrow and there's a lot of mud and gravel on them which will add extra hazards for all the drivers. Those who are brave through the stages could make up a good deal of time.''
Leaderboard after Leg 1 1. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Peugeot 206 1hr 10min 54.8sec 2. G Panizzi/H Panizzi F Peugeot 206 1hr 10min 56.8sec 3. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 1hr 11min 24.2sec 4. P Bugalski/JP Chiaroni F Citröen Xsara 1hr 11min 24.7sec 5. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus 1hr 11min 30.4sec 6. T Mäkinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN MitsubishiLancer 1hr 11min 32.4sec 7. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Toyota Corolla 1hr 11min 35.6sec 8. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 1hr 11min 49.9sec 9. A Aghini/L Roggia I Toyota Corolla 1hr 11min 50.8sec 10 F Loix/S Smeets B MitsubishiCarisma1hr 11min 51.8sec 12 S Jean Joseph/F Gallagher F Ford Focus 1hr 11min 58.8sec