13 February 1999
Rådstrom puts Ford in sight of podium in Sweden
Thomas Rådstrom and Fred Gallagher maintained their grip on third place during today's penultimate leg of the Swedish Rally, their Ford Focus World Rally Car firmly on course for its first podium finish when this second round of the FIA World Rally Championship ends tomorrow afternoon.
The 33-year-old Swedish driver has delighted the huge number of home fans supporting him in the special stages by setting second fastest time on four of today's six speed tests in the Ford Martini World Rally Team car. Speeds again topped 200kph on the snow and ice covered tracks as the Focus continued to impress onlookers on only its second rally.
Rådstrom, who restarted this morning 20.0 seconds behind second placed Carlos Sainz, slashed the deficit to 11.7 seconds by early afternoon before eventually ending the day 18.0 seconds behind. Warmer temperatures saw the thermometer hovering around zero rather than the -10°C experienced yesterday but the roads remained icy.
"It's been another good day for us in perfect rallying conditions," he said. "The weather was good, the stages were nice to drive and I've never seen so many spectators on the Swedish Rally. It's a big boost to see so many people waving flags and cheering us on. The car has been good and apart from one bad tyre choice which cost a few seconds, we've had no problems. Tomorrow will be flat out because we have to be in a position to make the most of any mistakes from the two drivers ahead of us."
Ford Martini World Rally Team colleagues Colin McRae and Nicky Grist retired from the rally on the opening stage this morning when lying fifth in the second Ford Focus.
"We were about 7km into the stage when the engine began to lose water," said McRae. "We continued for a short while and had just decided to pull over to have a look under the bonnet when the engine lost all compression and stopped. Obviously it's disappointing but the car felt good throughout. I probably didn't make the most of it yesterday but we're learning all the time and I'm happy with its performance."
"We won't know the exact reason for the retirement until we strip the engine back in England," said team director Malcolm Wilson. "It's disappointing to lose Colin because by last night his confidence in the car and the tyres was growing. But overall we're very happy with the way Thomas and the car have performed today. We're in a good position but we can't afford to relax because the competition at the front is so close. Carlos is only a spin away and therefore we have to keep attacking and as part of the development of the Focus we need to keep pushing the car as hard as we can because that's the only way we'll learn for future rallies," added Wilson.
Norway's Petter Solberg and British co-driver Philip Mills lie 10th, the 24-year-old Scandinavian continuing to rack up vital experience of the Swedish stages with an eye to the future. "I've driven steadily again today, gaining in confidence with the car and also in myself, because I've not driven competitively since November. I'm driving at about 85% now and of course I'm happy to be inside the top 10," he said.
News from our Rivals
Overnight leader Tommi Makinen (Mitsubishi) has dominated today, setting fastest time on five of the day's six stages. He will start tomorrow's final leg with a comfortable lead of 30.8 seconds over Carlos Sainz (Toyota), who has enjoyed a similarly troublefree day, save for a spin on the second stage this morning. Subaru pair Richard Burns and Juha Kankkunen twice swapped places with each other as they battled in fifth and sixth, still trying to come to terms with their tyres in the snow and ice. Team-mate Bruno Thiry slipped to 11th after collecting additional time penalties as mechanics changed the new fly-by-wire transmission, which enables the driver to select gears via a switch on the steering column, for a more traditional system.
The final day is the shortest of the three-day event. It also provides the earliest start, the drivers leaving Borlange at 06.15. Five more stages lie in front of them, two of which are repeats, covering almost 99km before returning to Karlstad's main square for the finish ceremony at 16.00. Tomorrow's total route is 429km.
Fred Gallagher: "Tomorrow we tackle the Rammen stage twice and that's important for two reasons. Firstly, any problems encountered in the pace notes will obviously come up again. Secondly, the stages we have driven just once have not changed much since the recce. Some 70 cars will complete Rammen before we go through for a second time and conditions will change noticeably, particularly in the corners. They will cut up in the braking area before changing from gravel to ice halfway round. Not nice."
Leaderboard after Leg 2 1. T Makinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 2hr 37min 16.6sec 2. C Sainz/L Moya E Toyota Corolla 2hr 37min 47.4sec 3. T Rådstrom/F Gallagher S Ford Focus 2hr 38min 05.4sec 4. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Toyota Corolla 2hr 38min 19.4sec 5. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 2hr 42min 08.0sec 6. J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Subaru Impreza 2hr 42min 13.2sec 7. P Hagstrom/T Gardemeister FIN Toyota Corolla 2hr 44min 40.7sec 8. M Martin/T Kitsing EE Ford Escort 2hr 45min 12.7sec 9. F Loix/S Smeets B Mitsubishi Carisma 2hr 45min 31.1sec 10 P Solberg/P Mills N Ford Escort 2hr 45min 35.8sec