Ford driver Colin McRae has scored his first victory for a year on the seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Acropolis Rally, which finished in Greece today. The Scot and navigator Nicky Grist, whose last win came on the same...
Ford driver Colin McRae has scored his first victory for a year on the seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Acropolis Rally, which finished in Greece today. The Scot and navigator Nicky Grist, whose last win came on the same event 12 months ago, fended off a late challenge from current championship leader Marcus Grönholm to score their fifth Acropolis win in the last seven years. The victory moved McRae into fourth in the drivers' championship race and also lifted him alongside Carlos Sainz and Tommi Mäkinen on the record number of WRC event wins (24).
After two days with relatively few retirements, the notoriously rough Greek roads fought back with a vengeance today. Four manufacturer entries, including second-placed Richard Burns and fifth-placed Freddy Loix, retired with mechanical problems. Burns's dramas lifted McRae's Ford team-mate Carlos Sainz into third overall by the finish, a result that lifted the Spaniard into second in the drivers' championship.
Technical: The Focus RS WRC02s of Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz and Markko Martin have been reliable today.
Sporting: Colin McRae rattled off today's four scheduled stages to claim his first WRC event win in a year. The closing kilometres weren't without drama, however - at the end of one stage, McRae had to use a rock to bend back bodywork that had been pushed into a wheel when he misheard a pacenote, slid wide and hit a tree. Carlos Sainz, meanwhile, eased away from Harri Rovanperä and Freddy Loix during today's stages and the Spaniard was promoted to third overall once Richard Burns retired on the first stage of the day. He now lies second in the drivers' championship standings. Early event leader Markko Martin continued his recovery after his puncture yesterday, and the young Estonian's efforts were rewarded with a single point for sixth overall at the finish.
Quotes: Colin McRae said: "It's been a full year since we won but we've been so close many times. I certainly hope it's not another year before we win again - it can't be, if we're going to have a go at the championship. The key to the win here this time was the car's strength, because we were able to keep a good pace throughout and we never had any problems. It obviously makes our championship situation better but we have to look for a similar result on the Safari Rally now to get up some momentum."
Ford World Rally team boss Malcolm Wilson said: "It's a great result for the whole team. We desperately needed as many points as we could get from here and it's fantastic to get first and third. Hopefully this can kick-start Colin's season now as well. I'm also very, very pleased for Markko. If he hadn't had his problems yesterday then it would have been difficult for anyone to catch him today."
Technical: The 206 WRCs of Marcus Grönholm and Harri Rovanperä have been reliable today. But Richard Burns had to retire his car when it broke a suspension bottom arm on this morning's first stage.
Sporting: Richard Burns and Marcus Grönholm had expected to be locked in battle during this final day, but the Peugeot team-mates were denied their chance to fight when Burns retired with broken suspension in the opening stage this morning. That left Grönholm to pursue leader Colin McRae, but the time deficit was too large and the 2000 world champion settled for second at the finish. The result still extended his championship lead, however - he now has a 14-point cushion over second-placed man Carlos Sainz. Harri Rovanperä benefited from the retirements of Burns and Freddy Loix this morning, but the Finn came under later pressure from Petter Solberg as he tried to defend his fourth place. He ceded the position to the Norwegian on the penultimate stage, but fought back with fastest time in the last test to reclaim fourth.
Quotes: Marcus Grönholm said: "The gap to Colin was just too big today - I couldn't quite catch him. But it's still good that we scored some points and the gap in the championship is bigger now. The next rally, the Safari, is not one of my favourites but I'll be hoping to at least finish and get some points."
Richard Burns said: "I still feel a bit numb, to be honest. There was no warning about the suspension and I don't remember hitting anything, but there was no way we could continue. Obviously it makes the championship situation look harder now, but we just have to pick ourselves up for the Safari."
Technical: Petter Solberg reckoned that his car was slightly too softly sprung on today's second stage, but the Norwegian has encountered no major mechanical problems otherwise. His team-mate Toshihiro Arai ran without problems today.
Sporting: Petter Solberg's recovery from his first-day dramas picked up further pace today. Despite lacking confidence in his car's brakes near the end of the opening stage he charged ever closer to Harri Rovanperä. With the retirements of Richard Burns and Freddy Loix, Solberg was able to inch into fifth and he made that fourth with one stage remaining, as he passed Rovanperä. However, a mistake at the very last corner of the final test cost Solberg enough time to drop him back to fifth, by a single second. Toshihiro Arai, meanwhile, continued his steady run today. The Japanese driver eventually finished 13th.
Quotes: Petter Solberg said: "I thought I might get fourth but then at the very last corner, there was a lot of loose and I just stopped - not stalled, but stopped. But as we drove away I said to Phil (Mills, his navigator) that the place had gone, and it had. It's disappointing in a way but I've learnt about how to recover quickly after disappointments and I think it's great to get two points after all our problems on Friday."
Technical: Freddy Loix's hopes of a points finish ended after this morning's second stage. The Belgian had hit a large rock and cracked the sump guard, and his Accent's engine went sick shortly afterwards. He reached the end of the test but the damage to the car's crank sensor meant that he could proceed no further. Armin Schwarz's car, meanwhile, has run reliably today.
Sporting: Freddy Loix lost his fifth position on the second stage this morning, when the Belgian hit a rock and damaged his crank sensor beyond repair. Although he reached the end of the test, he was unable to continue. Armin Schwarz, meanwhile, has felt better today after he was troubled by an upset stomach for much of yesterday. The German didn't like his Accent's handling in the more rutted conditions but he still brought the car home in ninth, scoring a manufacturers' point for Hyundai.
Quotes: Armin Schwarz said: "It's been a hard event for us - if we hadn't had the problems on Friday then we'd have had a better road position for yesterday, and we could have been higher up. But we've shown good pace again and it's good to get a point for the team."
Freddy Loix said: "I know we drove very well on this rally and the car was excellent. I'm just sorry that I wasn't able to get the finish for everyone in the team who'd worked so hard."
Technical: The Xsara WRCs of Thomas Radstrom and Sebastien Loeb have been generally reliable today.
Sporting: Thomas Radstrom and Sebastien Loeb both continued to experiment with set-up today, as Citroen continued to gain experience of the Xsara WRC on the Acropolis stages. Radstrom said he lacked confidence of the car on heavy loose surfaces, while Loeb was more impressed with the Xsara in high-speed sections than the twisty roads. Radstrom finished eighth, while Loeb just missed out on a point in seventh.
Quotes: Thomas Radstrom said: "The hardest thing for me has been building up confidence in the car. There are many places where it's fine, but somewhere were you need commitment can be quite difficult. We haven't tried the traction control today but we experimented with differential settings. We've learnt a lot and got both cars to the finish."
Technical: François Delecour has reported no major mechanical problems today, but his team-mate Alister McRae was forced to retire this morning. He broke the right-front bottom ball joint in his Lancer's suspension when he clipped a concrete culvert in a tight corner.
Sporting: Alister McRae retired his Lancer in SS13, when he broke a bottom ball joint on a concrete culvert that was hidden on the inside of a tight corner. François Delecour, meanwhile, was pipped to a top 10 position by Skoda's Toni Gardemeister in the closing stage. The Frenchman finished 11th.
Quotes: François Delecour said: "It was disappointing this afternoon when Alister retired, because I was enjoying the fight with him - like a sort of 'Mitsubishi trophy'! Once he went out we didn't really have anything to fight for so we just tried to get round to the finish. It's been a hard event for us and it's clear we need to find some more pace, but at least our car has been reliable."
Technical: Kenneth Eriksson lost the front brakes on his Octavia WRC for much of this morning's second stage, and the problem returned for the closing tests as well. His team-mate Toni Gardemeister also reported minor brake problems, and he was also troubled by his car bottoming out in the rougher sections this morning. Stig Blomqvist's Octavia has struggled with differential problems today.
Sporting: Toni Gardemeister was slowed this morning by brake problems, but the young Finn recovered this afternoon to overhaul Francois Delecour and claim 10th by the finish. His team-mate Kenneth Eriksson suffered more persistent brake problems as he eventually claimed 14th, while veteran Stig Blomqvist finished 17th in his Octavia.
Quotes: Toni Gardemeister said: "The Acropolis Rally might be a bit smoother than before but we've seen here that it's still a very tough rally. We had a few too many problems to get close to the points but at least all three of our cars have reached the finish. That gives us good confidence for the Safari next month."
Finnish driver Janne Tuohino became the third winner in three rounds of the FIA Junior World Championship, as he triumphed in a tense battle with Jussi Valimaki today. The Citroen drivers started this morning's stages expecting a close scrap, but Valimaki's engine expired after he hit a rock and that handed Tuohino an advantage that he held until the finish. Italian driver Andrea Dallavilla claimed second, while late problems for Daniel Sola (steering) and Martin Rowe (puncture) allowed Nicola Caldani into third.