McRae keeps Ford in control on Acropolis Rally A faultless performance by Ford Rallye Sport drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist carried them into the lead of the Acropolis Rally today. The British pair completed the second leg of this seventh...
McRae keeps Ford in control on Acropolis Rally
A faultless performance by Ford Rallye Sport drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist carried them into the lead of the Acropolis Rally today. The British pair completed the second leg of this seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship with a 32.6sec advantage over fellow countryman Richard Burns. Their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car never missed a beat during today's gruelling mountain speed tests fought out over rough gravel tracks amid intense heat in central Greece.
Team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya lie fourth in another Focus RS but the day was not so kind for overnight leaders Markko Märtin and Michael Park. They moved further ahead this morning but had to stop to change a damaged tyre on their Focus RS in the longest special stage of the rally and lost 3min 30sec. They now lie eighth.
Today's leg, the longest of the rally, contained six stages covering 158.76km but the fourth was cancelled for safety reasons. The heat was as intense as ever with in-car temperatures climbing above 50*C. But driving conditions were more even than yesterday, with the top 15 leaderboard reversed to provide the front-runners with cleaner, gravel-free roads on which to battle.
McRae, third overnight, climbed to second on the opening test. That became first when Märtin, who had stretched his lead to 57.1sec, had to stop in the 37.16km Elatia test to fit a new right rear tyre. The 33-year-old Scot then extended his advantage over Burns in the final two stages.
"It was very unfortunate for Markko but we've had a good run with no problems today which makes a big difference," said McRae. "Our lead isn't necessarily enough to ensure a win because it's very easy to have problems here. There are so many places on these roads where you can puncture a tyre or spin but we've managed to avoid all the rocks. It would be fantastic to take 10 points from here but Burns and Grönholm won't sit back so we must keep our pace high and keep our momentum."
Sainz, who started in fifth this morning, lost time on the opening test when a misunderstanding over a pace note caused him to overshoot a junction and stall the engine of his Focus RS. The 40-year-old Madrid-based driver dropped to seventh but posted third fastest time on the next stage to regain fifth. He climbed to fourth following Märtin's troubles, despite a gearchange problem on the final stage which forced him to stop briefly and switch from the automatic to manual change system.
"It will be tough now to get third place but the Focus is very good in these rugged conditions so we'll attack hard in the morning and see what happens," said Sainz. "The roads have been quite smooth today for Greece and our improved running position has meant we've had much cleaner stages."
Examination of Märtin's tyre suggested the rubber had initially been holed by a rock, the damage too severe for Pirelli's anti-deflation system to operate. "The tread started to come off the right rear tyre halfway through the stage and we had to stop as it was damaging the car," he said. "The rally had been fantastic up to then. We hadn't made mistakes and I felt really comfortable. That's the way the sport goes sometimes but I feel we made our point."
The 26-year-old Estonian posted two fastest times today to take his tally for the event to five but he could not disguise his feelings. "I'm very disappointed because I had the speed to win but I must continue to push because a points finish is still possible," he said.
Ford Rallye Sport team director Malcolm Wilson praised Märtin's efforts. "He's done a magnificent job and he made exactly the right decision to stop and change the tyre. If he'd carried on the car would probably have been too badly damaged to continue," he said.
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Behind McRae, Richard Burns and Marcus Grönholm (both Peugeot) were untroubled but team-mate Harri Rovanperä lost ground after puncturing on both stages eight and nine, the latter costing almost a minute. Freddy Loix (Hyundai), second overnight, could not reproduce yesterday's pace and lies fifth. He lost time with a spin on stage eight and a broken shock absorber on the next test. Team-mate Armin Schwarz slipped off the leaderboard following rear suspension problems and the German also suffered severe stomach cramps. Colleague Juha Kankkunen was today's only major retirement when he was withdrawn after the first two stages when the team could not find a solution to his rally-long engine problems. Petter Solberg (Subaru) took advantage of his low position on the road to win two stages and climb from 17th to seventh following yesterday's problems. Alister McRae and Francois Delecour (both Mitsubishi) had a rude awakening when shortly after midnight their hotel was evacuated for 90 minutes due to a laundry fire. Their day improved and neither had problems on their way to 12th and 13th respectively. Differential problems continued to trouble Kenneth Eriksson (Skoda) and he lost a further three minutes when he stopped to change a front left puncture on the penultimate stage.
The final leg is the shortest of all but no less punishing. After leaving Parnassos at 08.00, drivers face four more stages covering 96.39km before the finish in Itea at 16.04. All the tests have already been used, ensuring the tracks will be free of loose gravel for all drivers, and the penultimate stage, the 37.16km Elatia, is the longest of the rally.
<pre> Leaderboard after Leg 2 1. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus RS 3hr 23min 02.1sec 2. R Burns/R Reid GB Peugeot 206 3hr 23min 34.7sec 3. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 3hr 23min 44.4sec 4. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus RS 3hr 24min 32.3sec 5. F Loix/S Smeets B Hyundai Accent 3hr 24min 40.0sec 6. H Rovanperä/R Pietilainen FIN Peugeot 206 3hr 24min 56.8sec 7. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 3hr 25min11.6sec 8. M Märtin/M Park EE Ford Focus RS 3hr 25min 23.9sec 9. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen Xsara 3hr 25min 29.6sec 10 T Rådström/D Giraudet S Citroen Xsara 3hr 26min 31.0sec