McRae sets fastest times in Sanremo
Ford Martini World Rally team driver Colin McRae and co-driver Nicky Grist set two fastest times on the second leg of the Sanremo Rally today clearly demonstrating the potential of the Ford Focus WRC.
Tight and twisty roads around the town of Acqui Terme covered in gravel and sand provided the most technical of the gruelling stages of three day event but thirty-one-year-old McRae was enjoying setting the pace on only the third true asphalt rally for the car - the 12th round of the World Rally Championship.
First McRae set the fastest time on the third test of the day - the 24.40km Turpino stage and then again the Scot was quickest on the 7.3km Loazzolo stage.
McRae was determined to prove the potential of the car and his driving skills on the demanding stages after losing time earlier in the day. A water leak caused a misfire first thing in the morning and cost McRae four and a half minutes. He lost a further four minutes changing a wheel on stage 10.
However McRae was halted in his progress on the penultimate test of the day when he crashed 7km into the stage. "There was a small bump on a right hand corner and the Focus bounced across the road and rolled over a bank before ending up on the road below. The impact broke the steering which meant we couldn't continue but the car looks worse than it really is.''
McRae and co-driver Grist escaped with minor cuts and bruises and said that although they had run through the stage in the morning there was extra gravel on the road and the bump was more pronounced.
Ford Martini team-mate Simon Jean-Joseph and co-driver Fred Gallagher have spent the day locked in battle for fifth place. At one point three cars were covered by just one second and they finished the second leg in overall and on course for picking up manufacturer's points for Ford seventh place.
"It's been a really good day for us,'' said Jean-Joseph. "I've learnt a lot about the car which is important because I haven't spent much time behind the wheel this year. It feels good to be able to challenge for world championship points for Ford and although there is a long way to go yet we're looking forward to the final day's stages.''
Ford team director Malcolm Wilson praised Jean-Joseph's driving skills on such difficult and technical stages. "Today's times show that we have made significant progress with the Focus WRC and after Colin's early problems this morning we decided to test and evaluate the Focus. For Colin to go out and set fastest times when he wasn't in the heat of competition was an excellent achievement.''
Petter Solberg and co-driver Phil Mills in the third Ford Focus WRC spent much of the day building up their confidence on the stages and making minor modifications to the car. They finished the day 35th overall.
News from our Rivals
Leading the rally overnight is Gilles Panizzi (Peugeot) who snatched the lead from his team-mate François Delecour on the final test of the day. Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi) continues in a strong world championship position lying third overnight but he is just 27 seconds ahead of Didier Auriol (Toyota) with whom he currently shares the championship lead. The toughest day of the rally has taken its toll on the leaderboard with Richard Burns (Subaru) an early retirement today with gearbox problems and Marcus Grönholm dropped to ninth after rolling his car on one stage and crashing on the following. Armin Schwarz (Skoda) retired his Octavia with steering damage.
The third and final leg of the rally is based back in Sanremo with four stages in the hills behind the Italian Riviera town. Action starts at 07.00 tomorrow morning with the crews first tackling the 40.61km Colle Langan stage which is also the final stage tomorrow afternoon. The crews face a total of 111.03km of competition before the finish back in Sanremo at 16.12.
Fred Gallagher: "Tomorrow we have one of the classic Sanremo Rally stages across the top of the mountains - Colle Langan. We thought the stages were twisty when we drove them yesterday but after today's stages they will seem like a motorway.''
Leaderboard after Leg 2 1. G Panizzi/H Panizzi F Peugeot 206 3hr 08min 59.3sec 2. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Peugeot 206 3hr 09min 02.1sec 3. T Mäkinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 3hr 09min 22.2sec 4. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Toyota Corolla 3hr 09min 49.0sec 5. F Loix/S Smeets B MitsubishiCarisma 3hr 11min 19.4sec 6. A Aghini/L Roggia I Toyota Corolla 3hr 11min 48.6sec 7. S Jean Joseph/F Gallagher M Ford Focus 3hr 12min 29.3sec 8. J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Subaru Impreza 3hr 12min 32.0sec 9. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 3hr 13min 25.7sec 10. G Cunico/L Pirollo I Subaru Impreza 3hr 13min 32.3sec