WRC

Tour de Corse: Ford Leg 2 report

Rain fails to dampen Ford's Corsican rally hopes Ford Rallye Sport drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist and team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya both hold solid points scoring positions after a wet second leg of the Tour de Corse, third round of...

Rain fails to dampen Ford's Corsican rally hopes

Ford Rallye Sport drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist and team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya both hold solid points scoring positions after a wet second leg of the Tour de Corse, third round of the FIA World Rally Championship, today. McRae's Ford Focus RS World Rally Car lies fifth, one position ahead of his Spanish team-mates while Francois Duval and Jean-Marc Fortin lie 10th in a third Focus RS.

Dark skies this morning gave a hint of things to come over the seven speed tests covering 150.23km. When the rain eventually began to fall on the switchback mountain roads, conditions on the speed tests became treacherous, especially this afternoon when the slimy roads had drivers comparing the rain-soaked asphalt to ice.

With the rain came the inevitable tyre selection dilemmas. Conditions at the service park on the coast were very different to those in the mountains and placed a heavy emphasis on accurate weather reports as Ford's drivers and tyre engineers tried to assess the best rubber. In an effort to judge the conditions, the team's helicopter hovered over the afternoon stages relaying news of the conditions as drivers waited until the last possible moment before making their tyre choice.

As predicted, the rain brought a significant improvement in the performance of the Pirelli-shod Focus RS cars and McRae, especially, took advantage. Three second fastest times saw him climb from eighth after this morning's first stage to fifth, only rally leader Gilles Panizzi depriving him of a deserved stage victory on each occasion.

"On the whole we had the right tyres except for the first stage when we had the wrong rubber for the damp roads," said the 33-year-old Scot. "It's hard to make the right selection in the service park down by the sea when the stages are 20km away in the mountains. There was standing water on this afternoon's first test (stage 10) and the car aquaplaned a lot so we took it easy so as not to slip off the road.

"Tomorrow's stages shouldn't be so slippery and there should be a good fight for the points behind the Peugeots. Fourth is possible and that would be good," he added.

Sainz posted a second and third fastest time to maintain his points placing but was unable to fend off team-mate McRae this afternoon. "I had similar tyres to Colin but couldn't make them work. They didn't warm up properly in the rain and I couldn't find a good feeling with them. It's hard to keep your confidence in those situations but we're still there and I'll try my hardest tomorrow to score points," said the 39-year-old Madrid-based driver.

Duval provided more evidence of his potential in a 2001 specification Focus RS. The 21-year-old Belgian outpaced many more experienced drivers, only a front right puncture in stage eight slowing him when the anti-deflation system failed to keep the tyre inflated and he lost about a minute.

"We were caught in a big downpour this afternoon and the car's demister didn't work so we had to drive for three stages with a misted windscreen," said Duval. "We had a lucky escape in the rain on the final stage when the car aquaplaned at the end of a long straight before a hairpin so we were more cautions after that."

Markko Martin and Michael Park had a difficult day in their Focus RS, the Estonian driver returning to the rally base in Ajaccio in 11th. Having had a development clutch fitted to his Focus yesterday, the team reverted to the traditional system for part of today but Martin felt less comfortable with that and with the rain. He dropped time on the final stage after stalling at a hairpin and taking 30sec to restart the engine.

"I prefer the drier conditions to the rain," he said. "Today was the first time I've used intermediate tyres on a rally and I was unsure how hard to push. I thought I was destroying them but when I arrived back at the service park they looked new so at least I've learned something."

Ford Rallye Sport team director Malcolm Wilson was pleased with a day which saw his drivers climb to third and fourth in the manufacturer placings. "Our performance has improved in the rain and four second fastest times are evidence of that. If conditions remain the same then we could get a good result," he said.

News from our Rivals

Gilles Panizzi (Peugeot) continued his domination of the rally, the Frenchman posting four fastest times en route to extending his overnight lead over team-mate Marcus Grönholm to 41.7sec. Both were untroubled as was Richard Burns who maintained the 1-2-3 order for the French team. Petter Solberg (Subaru) was again a strong challenger but a possible fourth became seventh following two punctures, the second on the final stage costing 30sec when the tyre almost came off the rim. Team-mate Tommi Mäkinen was the day's main retirement when the Finn slid off the road and hit a rock in stage 10, breaking his car's front right suspension. Armin Schwarz (Hyundai) enjoyed the rain as he climbed to ninth as did Mitsubishi duo François Delecour and Alister McRae who both made ground.

Tomorrow's Route

The final leg is the most compact of the three and with showers forecast for the morning, conditions could again be unpredictable. After leaving Ajaccio at 08.20, drivers face just two loops of two stages covering 112km before returning to the town for the finish at 14.36. Both stages are long and tough, the first covering 24.21km and the other 31.79km.

<pre> Leaderboard after Leg 2 1. G Panizzi/H Panizzi F Peugeot 206 2hr 45min 22.2sec 2. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 2hr 46min 03.9sec 3. R Burns/R Reid GB Peugeot 206 2hr 46min 24.3sec 4. P Bugalski/J-P Chiaroni F Citroen Xsara 2hr 47min 21.7sec 5. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus RS 2hr 47min 27.2sec 6. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus RS 2hr 47min 42.4sec 7. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 2hr 47min 46.5sec 8. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Mitsubishi Lancer 2hr 49min 14.3sec 9. A Schwarz/M Hiemer D Hyundai Accent 2hr 49min 39.9sec 10 F Duval/J-M Fortin B Ford Focus RS 2hr 49min 56.8sec

-frs-

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team