Ford and McRae claim third straight Greek win. Ford Rallye Sport drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist won Europe's toughest rally today in Greece. The Britons claimed victory in the Acropolis Rally, seventh round of the FIA World Rally ...
Ford and McRae claim third straight Greek win.
Ford Rallye Sport drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist won Europe's toughest rally today in Greece. The Britons claimed victory in the Acropolis Rally, seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship, after three days of competition in gruelling heat over rocky mountain tracks.
It was the team's second consecutive triumph following victory in Argentina last month and the third straight win in Greece for Ford and McRae, who now has five Acropolis crowns to his name. The win also moved McRae alongside Ford team-mate Carlos Sainz and Tommi Mäkinen at the top of the all-time winners list with 24 successes.
McRae's Ford Focus RS World Rally Car beat championship leader Marcus Grönholm by 24.5sec with the ever-consistent Sainz and co-driver Luis Moya third in their Focus RS. As ever, it was a rally of attrition with only 35 of the 84 starters completing the 15 dusty, boulder-strewn speed tests covering 374.16km in the centre of the country.
Long-time rally leaders Markko Märtin and Michael Park were sixth in another Focus and the combination of Märtin and McRae ensured Ford led from start to finish. The result lifted Sainz and McRae into second and third respectively in the drivers' championship and second-placed Ford closed in on leaders Peugeot in the manufacturers' series.
The 33-year-old Scot claimed the lead yesterday afternoon and his task was eased when closest rival Richard Burns retired early on today's stifling final leg north of Itea, in which air temperatures reached 35*C and in-car figures again exceeded 50*C.
"Today seemed to go on forever," admitted a relieved McRae. "This is the type of rally where you can strike problems at any time but we escaped ours and now we're in a much better position in the championship. Our main aim is still to win the world title and this victory has come at just the right time. Hopefully we can close the gap again to Grönholm on the next round in Kenya. The win is really down to the strength and set-up of the car. As a result we could judge our speed through the rougher sections."
McRae survived a scare on this morning's opening test when he ran wide on a bend 3km from the end and clipped a tree with the left rear wheel arch of his Focus RS. "There was only panel damage but if it had happened earlier in the stage the damaged bodywork could have burst the tyre and we would have had to stop and change it. We were lucky and at the time I thought the win might have got away from me," he added.
Spaniard Sainz celebrated his 82nd podium finish from 158 world rally starts by watching his country beat Ireland in the World Cup. "This is a great result, especially after our success in Argentina," he said. "Starting third on Friday when the roads were still covered in loose gravel was never going to be easy but the car is reliable and has good suspension which is what is required in these conditions. The Acropolis is always a tough event but that kind of rally should have a place in the championship."
Estonian Märtin looked a certainty for victory until he had to stop and change a tyre holed by a rock yesterday afternoon, but he recovered well to claim the final drivers' point. "It's a shame we don't have a zero at the end of our one point!" he joked. "But we've maintained our 100 percent finishing record this season and I believe we have a good chance of winning a rally this year if everything goes well."
Team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted with his squad's performance. "We won in Argentina under strange circumstances but this was a real win. We led from start to finish and this kick-starts Colin's championship hopes and gives us 14 points we really needed. We proved again that on rough surfaces, we're the team to beat," he said.
News from our Rivals
Behind the top three Petter Solberg (Subaru) looked to have completed a superb recovery from his first day problems to overhaul Harri Rovanperä (Peugeot) for fourth on the penultimate stage, but the Finn fought back on the last test to regain the place by just one second. Armin Schwarz's (Hyundai) perseverance earned the German ninth and the final manufacturers' point. A dramatic opening to the leg saw four top crews retire in the first two stages. Richard Burns (Peugeot) broke his rear suspension in the first test, team-mates Gilles Panizzi stopped after the next with a broken gearbox, Freddy Loix (Hyundai) retired at the same point with a broken sump after hitting a rock and Alister McRae (Mitsubishi) stopped in the first stage with a broken steering arm.
Following the toughest rally in Europe, drivers must now face the hardest event of all. Nairobi hosts Kenya's Safari Rally on 12 - 14 July, one of the championship's classics and at almost three times longer than a traditional round, a test of car and driver endurance. <pre> Final positions 1. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus RS 4hr 27min 43.8sec 2. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 4hr 28min 08.3sec 3. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus RS 4hr 29min 29.4sec 4. H Rovanperä/R Pietilainen FIN Peugeot 206 4hr 29min 41.4sec 5. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 4hr 29min 42.4sec 6. M Märtin/M Park EE Ford Focus RS 4hr 30min 23.9sec 7. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen Xsara 4hr 31min 29.6sec 8. T Rådström/D Giraudet S Citroen Xsara 4hr 32min 52.5sec 9. A Schwarz/M Hiemer D Hyundai Accent 4hr 33min 24.8sec 10 T Gardemeister/P Lukander FIN Skoda Octavia 4hr 35min 01.2sec
FIA World Rally Championship (after round 7 of 14) Drivers 1. M Grönholm 37pts 2. C Sainz 23pts 3= C McRae 20pts 3= G Panizzi 20pts 5. R Burns 19pts 6. P Solberg 15pts 11 M Märtin 4pts
Manufacturers 1. Peugeot 77pts 2. Ford 55pts 3. Subaru 35pts 4. Mitsubishi 6pts 5. Skoda 5pts 6. Hyundai 4pts