This Week in Ford Racing February 22, 2000

FIA World Rally

Ford Martini lured by Kenyan victory memories

Kenya's Safari Rally has a place in the hearts of all true rallying aficionados. It is one of motorsport's great adventures and holds a place in the memories of many in the sport. For the Ford Martini World Rally Team the memories are especially poignant - it is just 12 months since Colin McRae and Nicky Grist guided their Focus World Rally Car to its first victory on only its third rally.

McRae and Grist will return to the Safari (25 - 27 February) with team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya, also former winners of the African classic, boosted by a podium finish each during the opening two rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship. However, current form cannot ever hope to provide an accurate guide to this third round of the 14-event series.

The Safari is like no other world championship rally, it has all the superlatives. The longest, the toughest, the roughest, the hottest, the highest, the most demanding on drivers and cars - choose any one of these and you have the essence of the Safari.

Just 12 days separate the end of the Swedish International Rally and the start of the Safari but far more than a different continent separates the two rallies, as McRae, also a winner in Kenya in 1997 appreciates more than most.

"It's all about endurance, an adventure over pretty wild terrain," said the 31-year-old Scot. "The competitive sections are long, held over open roads with animals roaming across the plains. Every rally has a slightly different character but this is very much one on its own. To be successful you must find a balance between speed and survival.

"I enjoy the rally very much and it's Nicky's favourite in the championship," McRae said of co-driver Grist. "I would love to go to Kenya and win again. The team is in high spirits after our result in Sweden, the Focus proved last year how strong it is and I see no reason why we can't repeat last year's win," he added.

Sainz is a Safari veteran, and recognises the importance of caution as much as speed. "Although the Safari has moved much closer to a European-style event in recent years, it's still very different. The roads are so rough and rocky in places that it's impossible to drive at 100 per cent all the time as we do on other rallies. As a rally driver used to driving as fast as I can all the time, it's sometimes difficult to judge the correct speed. It's always in the back of your mind that someone else is pushing a little bit harder but it's tricky to know the limit of car and tyres in those conditions.

"Several years ago teams were allowed to put mechanics in helicopters so they could land and make repairs if a car hit problems but that's not allowed any more. Now if you push too hard and hit troubles on the rough roads, it can mean instant retirement," added the 37-year-old Spaniard.

A third Ford Focus is entered for young Norwegian Petter Solberg and co-driver Phil Mills. Solberg emerged as one of the stars of last year's event, finishing fifth on his debut in Africa after being called into the Ford Martini team at the last moment due an injury to Thomas Rådström