WRC

Swedish Rally - Leg 1 Ford Report

Ford Focus duo fly high on Sweden’s ice and snow Ford Martini World Rally Team drivers Colin McRae and Thomas Rådström both ended today’s opening leg of the Swedish Rally inside the top five after another impressive showing from the new...

Ford Focus duo fly high on Sweden’s ice and snow

Ford Martini World Rally Team drivers Colin McRae and Thomas Rådström both ended today’s opening leg of the Swedish Rally inside the top five after another impressive showing from the new Ford Focus World Rally Car. Rådström and co-driver Fred Gallagher set fastest time on one of the day's eight special stages en route to third position while McRae and Nicky Grist lie fifth in the second Focus.

Temperatures as low as -10°C and snow and ice-covered gravel roads have been the hallmark of this second round of the FIA World Rally Championship today but the Focus, competing on only its second rally, has been a match for both the conditions and the speed of its rivals.

Rådström, driving on home ground and on a rally he won in 1994, has settled into the Focus quickly on his debut for the Ford Martini team and has never been outside the top three. He was fastest on the 21.58km Bjälverud stage and second quickest on two more, including the opening stage of the rally, his first in the car. His only troubles came when he left the road at 150kph and hit a tree stump, damaging the front cross member on the Focus.

"I'm absolutely delighted with the way today has gone and third puts me in a good position on the road for tomorrow," said Rådström. "The conditions on the stages are really good and if they stay like that for tomorrow I’ll be able to attack hard. But I’m also a bit angry with myself because I twice stalled the car on the startline of stages. If you look at the time we lost from that we would be even closer to the front."

McRae, competing on one of his favourite rallies, has driven with great consistency, ending with second fastest time on the short final stage. The 30-year-old Scot lost almost a minute after smashing a rear wheel on a rock and admits he is still learning about the Ford Focus.

"We've been suffering from a lack of experience with Michelin tyres in these conditions. There's nothing wrong with the tyres it's just that I'm not used to them. The car has been very good and maybe tomorrow, with a better understanding of the tyres, we'll be in a position to climb further up the leaderboard," said McRae.

Malcolm Wilson, director of the Ford Martini World Rally Team, reflected on a tremendous day. "We're very encouraged by the performance of both the drivers and the Ford Focus. They’re both in a fabulous position with Thomas just 21 seconds behind the battle for the lead. We've had no mechanical problems today and when the team was asked to react quickly to accident damage after Thomas and Colin went off the road, we performed superbly."

Norway's Petter Solberg and Philip Mills, also making their Ford debut but in an Escort World Rally Car, lie 11th. "We've had no real problems with the car and we're really driving for a finish to gain as much experience as possible. It's a little frustrating not to be attacking all the time but this is all part of the learning curve and I realise the need to drive cautiously," explained 24-year-old Solberg.

News from our Rivals

Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi) and Carlos Sainz (Toyota) have fought a fierce battle for the lead all day. Sainz led after the opening stage, the Finn assumed control over the next five tests, the Spaniard edged back in front on the penultimate stage only for Mäkinen to end the day with a slender advantage of 1.7 seconds. The two have never been more than six seconds apart. Didier Auriol (Toyota) has held a troublefree fourth throughout but the Subaru trio of Richard Burns, Juha Kankkunen and Bruno Thiry have struggled with unsuitable tyres for the conditions. Seat lost Marcus Grönholm after only one stage while team-mate Harri Rovanperä dropped more than seven minutes, both complaining of fuel problems.

Tomorrow's Route

After leaving Karlstad at 08.00, drivers face six more special stages as they head north-east towards the town of Borlänge. They will cover another 142.85km of stages in a total route of 536km before arriving for the overnight halt at 20.27. The final action of the day will be a spectacular floodlit stage in the shadow of the massive ski jump at Falun where two cars at a time will race in front of more than 20,000 spectators.

Key Stage

Nicky Grist: "Tomorrow's fourth stage, Jutbo, is almost 48km long and could decide the outcome of the rally. It’s not only one of the longest stages in the championship but the surface is very gravelly in places and tyre choice will be critical. Choose the wrong tyres and the studs will be ripped out leaving absolutely no grip at all.”

Leaderboard after Leg 1 1. T Mäkinen/R Mannisenmäki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 1hr 15min 35.7sec 2. C Sainz/L Moya E Toyota Corolla 1hr 15min 37.4sec 3. T Rådström/F Gallagher S Ford Focus 1hr 15min 57.4sec 4. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Toyota Corolla 1hr 16min 10.9sec 5. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus 1hr 17min 32.8sec 6. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 1hr 18min 02.6sec 7. J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Subaru Impreza 1hr 18min 03.0sec 8. P Hagström/T Gardemeister FIN Toyota Corolla 1hr 18min 32.1sec 9. B Thiry/S Prévot B Subaru Impreza 1hr 19min 45.5sec 10 M Märtin/T Kitsing EE Ford Escort 1hr 19min 46.1sec

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