Ford Martini drivers Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya and team-mates Colin McRae and Nicky Grist are both on course for a points-scoring finish after today's second leg of Italy's Sanremo Rally. The Spanish duo lie fifth in their Ford Focus World Rally...
Ford Martini drivers Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya and team-mates Colin McRae and Nicky Grist are both on course for a points-scoring finish after today's second leg of Italy's Sanremo Rally. The Spanish duo lie fifth in their Ford Focus World Rally Car with their British colleagues in sixth and just one day remaining of this 12th round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
The asphalt mountain roads high above the Ligurian coastal resort of Sanremo again played host to today's action. With almost 198kms of competition and almost 16 hours on the road ahead of the drivers, it promised to be a gruelling leg. However, after delays earlier in the day organisers scrapped the final running of the 37.81km Langan stage to the relief of the weary competitors.
Sainz was in the midst of a fierce four-car battle for fourth, which became a fight for third after the morning retirement of Richard Burns. At one point less than six seconds covered the duelling foursome and positions constantly switched as every tenth of a second gained on the narrow roads became vital.
The 38-year-old Madrid driver constantly searched for the minute improvements to the set-up of his Focus which would give him the edge. As the cars arrived back in Sanremo for the end of leg service with darkness falling, Sainz was just 13.6sec behind third-placed Tommi Mäkinen and 11.9sec away from championship leader Marcus Grönholm in fourth.
"It's been a tough day for us all," said Sainz. "When you're involved in such a close fight, you must concentrate harder than normal because one slip can throw away the good work put in during the rest of the day. Fortunately we haven't made any slips. The Focus feels good and I can't push any harder.
"We must be just as concentrated tomorrow. We must forget about the two cars at the front and put all our efforts into winning our private battle for third," he added.
McRae and Grist have again earned huge respect for their performance just 12 days after an operation to re-set McRae's fractured cheekbone. Fatigue has been his worst enemy and he has taken every opportunity to snatch sleep in the Ford Martini motorhome during the service breaks.
After restarting in eighth this morning, consistent times saw him embroiled in a duel with Simon Jean-Joseph. He was rewarded when he climbed into the last point-scoring position on tonight's final 15.61km stage after a day in which his Focus never missed a beat.
"The car has run really well today and it's a good feeling to be in sixth and in with a good chance of scoring points for myself and the team, " said the 32-year-old Scot. "To get a point would be great and the championship would certainly not be lost, that's for sure.
"It's been hard to keep my concentration and although I do feel tired tonight, I'm not nearly as tired as I was last night. Tomorrow's stages should be straight forward if the weather stays fine and after a good night's sleep I'll feel fresh again," he added.
Piero Liatti and Carlo Cassina were again the favourites of the huge number of Italian fans gathered alongside the stages. After slipping to seventh following the opening two stages this morning, Liatti fitted a new suspension and found a fresh turn of speed. Fastest time on the following stage and third quickest on the next elevated him to fifth but his delight turned to disappointment when he had to retire on the liaison section back to service with engine problems.
"It was disappointing for us because the new suspension improved the handling even further, the tyres worked well and I felt confident with the car," said 38-year-old Liatti. "The engine temperature rose slowly through the stage and the car stopped on the road section." The exact reason for the problem will not be known until the car returns to the team's base.
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Team-mates Gilles Panizzi and Francois Delecour (both Peugeot) remain in control in the top two places but their domination has not been as marked as yesterday. Panizzi was fastest on the opening two stages and leads by 21.4sec. Richard Burns' (Subaru) championship hopes suffered a blow on the second stage when he slid his car into a large rock and split the radiator. Faced with a 50km liaison section to service, Burns nursed the car back but with no coolant in the engine and two under bonnet fires, it was too badly damaged to continue. Team-mate Simon Jean-Joseph set two fastest times, one shared with Liatti, his first quickest times at world championship level. He was in sixth until gearbox problems on the final stage cost 30 seconds. It has been a good leg for Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi), blistering times through the three long stages elevating him to third. Kenneth Eriksson (Hyundai) dropped 30 minutes after stopping in stage 12 with no fuel pressure. One other major retirement was Toni Gardemeister (Seat) with a broken turbo.
The final leg comprises just two stages, the second essentially a shortened version of the first, covering just 40.74km. The drivers leave Sanremo at 07.00 and return to the Riviera resort for the finish ceremony at 12.04.
<pre> Leaderboard after Leg 2 1. G Panizzi/H Panizzi F Peugeot 206 3hr 23min 58.8sec 2. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Peugeot 206 3hr 24min 20.2sec 3. T Mäkinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 3hr 24min 57.3sec 4. M Gronholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 3hr 24min 59.0sec 5. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus 3hr 25min 10.9sec 6. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus 3hr 25min 40.2sec 7. S Jean-Joseph/J Boyere F Subaru Impreza 3hr 25min 54.7sec 8. F Loix/S Smeets B Mitsubishi Carisma 3hr 26min 22.7sec 9. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 3hr 26min 32.2sec 10 S Loeb/D Elena F Toyota Corolla 3hr 27min 21.8sec