WRC

Tour of Corsica, Ford Report - Leg 1

Newsgroups: rec.autos.sport.info Organization: motorsport.com, inc. Approved: jackd@motorsport.com From: Motorsport News International <press@motorsport.com> Followup-To: rec.autos.sport.rally McRae and Ford Martini make their mark in ...

Newsgroups: rec.autos.sport.info Organization: motorsport.com, inc. Approved: jackd@motorsport.com From: Motorsport News International <press@motorsport.com> Followup-To: rec.autos.sport.rally

McRae and Ford Martini make their mark in Corsica

Ford Martini World Rally Team pairing Colin McRae and Nicky Grist made a solid start to the Tour of Corsica, sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, ending today's opening leg in fifth position in their Ford Focus World Rally Car.

Hot sunshine and clear blue skies ensured the twisty asphalt mountain stages on the Mediterranean island were bone dry - ideal conditions for the two-wheel drive cars to make the most of their power to weight advantage, permitted by the sport's regulations, over the four-wheel drive entrants. They dominated the day, only McRae and Grist breaking their control of the fastest times by being quickest on the rally's opening test to lead the event.

The 30-year-old Scottish driver is 39.2 seconds behind leader Philippe Bugalski after consistently being among the top times of the FIA World Rally Championship contenders on what are regarded as the toughest asphalt stages of the season. Five stages (another was cancelled) covering almost 120km in temperatures approaching 25°C made it very demanding for drivers.

"It's been a pleasing day for us really," said former world champion McRae.

"The gap between ourselves and the leader is not that large and we're still well in contention at the top of the leaderboard. I've been happy with the way the Ford Focus has run today and I think a few alterations to the suspension and transmission settings will make it even better."

Ford Martini team-mates Simon Jean-Joseph and Fred Gallagher were unfortunate retirements, their Ford Focus stopping on the first stage. "After about 4.5km the car cut out completely and we were unable to restart. It was a real shame because I felt confident and the car felt good after our final test here. If the mechanics can repair the car we shall be able to return for the final live televised stage on Sunday. That's very important for both the team and myself because it's a big occasion for the sport and additional championship points are on offer for positions on that stage alone," said the 29-year-old Martinique driver.

Team director Malcolm Wilson was happy with McRae's performance. "We're the only four-wheel drive manufacturer to have set a fastest time today. Colin's in a strong overall position and we will be in a good place on the road for tomorrow's leg. We made a wrong tyre choice this morning for the first couple of stages. Ironically Colin set fastest time on the first but the soft compound rubber meant that he was not able to attack as hard as he would have liked on the next," said Wilson.

Leader Philippe Bugalski set three fastest times, despite claiming that he had little confidence with his Citroen, while team-mate Jesus Puras posted one quickest time en route to third, only McRae spoiling a clean sheet. The new Peugeot 206 has been impressive, Francois Delecour leading the rally after the second stage, despite a gearbox problem, and team-mate Gilles Panizzi always among the top times. Toyota pair Carlos Sainz and Didier Auriol each suffered one puncture during the day, neither losing any time. World championship leader Tommi Makinen endured a difficult leg, brake problems hampering his charge throughout while Mitsubishi team-mate Freddy Loix, competing on the island for the first time since 1995, is still trying to come to terms with the narrow and twisty roads. He lies 11th. After their tyre problems on Spain's Catalunya Rally last month, Subaru duo Richard Burns and Bruno Thiry have been acclimatising to revised compounds, Thiry admitting to leaving the road five times on the opening two stages! Burns lost a few seconds after a fourth stage spin. Harri Rovanpera and Piero Liatti are struggling in Corsica just as much as they did on Spain's asphalt, the Seat WRC needing more development to be competitive on this surface, and both are outside the top 10.

Tomorrow's Route

The second leg is the longest of the three-day rally. The drivers will leave Ajaccio at 07.00, heading up the backbone of the island to the town of Corte, around which a cluster of stages will be held before drivers make the return journey. They will arrive back in Ajaccio at 18.30 after six stages totalling 125km in a total route of 435km.

Key Stage

Nicky Grist: "The final two stages of the leg will be difficult, but especially the penultimate test which is the longest of the rally. It's a very twisty and tricky stage and there is a lot of gravel towards the end which makes it very slippery. Tyre choice, driving ability and concentration will all be crucial on this stage and I'm sure that something will happen here to one of the top drivers that will have a major effect on the final outcome of the rally."

Leaderboard after Leg 1 1. P Bugalski/J-P Chiaroni F Citroen Xsara 1hr 13min 41.7sec 2. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Peugeot 206 1hr 13min 53.0sec 3. J Puras/M Marti E Citroen Xsara 1hr 13min 54.0sec 4. C Sainz/L Moya E Toyota Corolla 1hr 14min 02.8sec 5. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus 1hr 14min 20.9sec 6. G Panizzi/H Panizzi F Peugeot 206 1hr 14min 23.2sec 7. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Toyota Corolla 1hr 14min 34.0sec 8. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 1hr 14min 39.5sec 9. T Makinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 1hr 14min 52.5sec 10 B Thiry/S Prevot B Subaru Impreza 1hr 15min 07.4sec

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