WRC

Sanremo Rally Ford Racing leg one report

Ford Martini drivers Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya and team-mates François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup offered the major challenge to the French asphalt experts during today's opening leg of the Sanremo Rally in Italy. Their Ford Focus RS World ...

Ford Martini drivers Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya and team-mates François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup offered the major challenge to the French asphalt experts during today's opening leg of the Sanremo Rally in Italy. Their Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars showed a big improvement on their last asphalt rally performance in Spain to offer the most serious threat to the specialists who dominate this rally each year.

Sainz and Moya lie seventh after eight narrow and twisty stages high in the mountains above the Italian Riviera resort of Sanremo. Delecour and Grataloup are eighth while a third Focus RS of Colin McRae and Nicky Grist are 13th after a difficult day. Such are the numbers of non-regular specialists here that Sainz and McRae hold third and fifth of the manufacturer cars nominated for FIA World Rally Championship points, giving Ford a clear advantage over rivals Mitsubishi in the title battle.

As expected Peugeot and Citroen dominated the opening day of round 11 of the championship, which began dry and sunny but which ended in thick fog on the final stage over the Passo di Teglia, one of the highest points of the rally. Sainz interrupted their serene progress by posting three top six times, including third fastest on the opening stage and lies 50.7sec behind leader Jesus Puras.

"We've made big improvements with both the Focus and Pirelli's tyres since the Catalunya Rally in March," said 39-year-old Sainz. "I knew we wouldn't be up there with the French teams which are so strong on asphalt but we're not too far from their pace so we must keep working hard. It'll be difficult to make up time on them tomorrow but we're third manufacturer car so it's not a bad position."

Delecour has made minor alterations to the set-up of his Focus RS throughout the day in an attempt to shave seconds from his time but his efforts were not helped by fog on the final stage. "We lost about 20 seconds because the fog was very thick but there was nothing we could do about that," said the Frenchman. "Tyre performance is crucial on this rally and our Pirelli rubber has worked pretty well, especially on the more abrasive sections of asphalt."

McRae has struggled with a mystery electrical problem which caused the active differentials on his Focus RS to malfunction, locking the front wheels intermittently and causing the dashboard read-out to freeze.

"It's not been such a good day for us," said McRae, who twice stalled the engine of his Focus RS at the start of the last stage. "We had the opportunity to capitalise on the problems suffered by Richard Burns and Tommi Mäkinen but we, too, have had difficulties. The car just didn't feel right and that shows in the times. We should have been on the same pace as Carlos and François but couldn't match them."

The team examined McRae's car thoroughly in the final service at Imperia and feel confident that the electrical gremlins have now been solved.

News from our Rivals

As forecast, asphalt experts Peugeot and Citroen dominated the day to hold the top six positions. Jesus Puras (Citroen) and Gilles Panizzi (Peugeot) swapped the lead throughout the day, Puras ending with a 1.5sec advantage. Both posted three fastest times. Philippe Bugalski (Citroen) dropped 25 seconds on the opening stage after spinning and hitting a wall but set two quickest times to climb to third. Team-mate Sebastian Loeb excelled on his debut to hold fifth, ahead of reigning world champion Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) who suffered gearchange troubles on the last test. It was a tough debut for the new Mitsubishi Lancer WRC, Tommi Mäkinen and Freddy Loix's cars both suffering rogue electrical problems which affected their differentials. They lie 14th and 17th. After the Rally New Zealand failed to claim a single manufacturer retirement, there were three on the very first stage in Italy. New Zealand winner Richard Burns (Subaru) slid off the road just 4km after the start, Piero Liatti (Hyundai) did the same 1km from the finish and Armin Schwarz (Skoda) retired at the finish with electrical problems. The sole-surviving Hyundai of Alister McRae lies 56th after the Scot dropped 15 minutes when he went off the road on the penultimate stage and had to tackle the final test with broken rear suspension.

FIA Super 1600 Championship

Belgian François Duval heads the Ford Puma challenge in the junior world championship. He lies fourth, despite a 50sec penalty as mechanics from the AutoMeca team battled to cure brake problems. Also on the leaderboard are Patrick Magaud in eighth, despite a second stage puncture, and Benoit Rousselot in ninth. All seven Pumas that started are still running.

Tomorrow's Route

The second leg uses identical roads to today, although six of the eight scheduled stages are run in the reverse direction. Only the San Bernardo and Nava tests are used the same way. After leaving Sanremo at 06.00, the drivers face 142.01km of competition before returning to the town at 20.02. <pre>

Leaderboard after Leg 1 1. J Puras/M Marti E Citroen Xsara 1hr 31min 41.4sec 2. G Panizzi/H Panizzi F Peugeot 206 1hr 31min 42.9sec 3. P Bugalski/J-P Chiaroni F Citroen Xsara 1hr 31min 57.5sec 4. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Peugeot 206 1hr 32min 08.0sec 5. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen Xsara 1hr 32min 12.8sec 6. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 1hr 32min 18.1sec 7. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus RS 1hr 32min 32.1sec 8. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Ford Focus RS 1hr 32min 50.6sec 9. R Travaglia/F Zanella I Peugeot 206 1hr 32min 53.1sec 10 P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 1hr 32min 55.1sec

-Ford Racing-

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About this article
Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team