Acropolis Rally - Ford Rally Leg 1 Report

McRae leads Acropolis Rally for Ford Martini Colin McRae and Nicky Grist overcame searing heat and punishing mountain roads to lead the Acropolis Rally in their Ford Focus World Rally Car after today's opening leg. The Ford Martini World Rally...

McRae leads Acropolis Rally for Ford Martini

Colin McRae and Nicky Grist overcame searing heat and punishing mountain roads to lead the Acropolis Rally in their Ford Focus World Rally Car after today's opening leg. The Ford Martini World Rally Team pairing drove with a mixture of speed and caution over some of the roughest roads seen in this year's FIA World Rally Championship to end the day 8.7 sec ahead of triple world champion Tommi Makinen.

McRae and Grist charged into the lead after today's opening stage. With Ford Martini team-mates Thomas Rådstrom and Fred Gallagher also setting a hot pace, Ford held first and second for the first two stages as McRae and Rådstrom took turns to lead

Running third on the road proved a disadvantage for the 30-year-old Scot, who had to cope with a liberal covering of gravel on the driving line. Those running further down the order enjoyed clearer conditions but McRae remained firmly in contention at the top and ended the final stage in second place, behind fellow Briton Richard Burns. However, Burns, wanting to avoid the same difficulties as McRae endured today, gambled by deliberately checking in three minutes late at the final time control this evening. The 30 second penalty relegated him to fourth, promoting McRae to first.

"We've been driving as hard as we can considering how rough the stages have been," said McRae. "We could have pushed harder but the risk of damaging the car terminally would have been so much greater. We really wanted to end the day in third or fourth to make the most of the better conditions tomorrow but it doesn't worry me too much. We started the second leg second on the road last year and set fastest time on the first stage so we'll see what happens.

"The car has stood up remarkably well to stages that have been rougher than the Safari Rally in places. Although the roads should not be quite so rough tomorrow, we'll have to make a decision on when to push hard and when to take it easy. This rally will be one decided by strategy not just by outright speed," he added.

Rådstrom's rally came to an unfortunate end on stage six when the demanding roads brought about his retirement. Leading after stage three, the 33-year-old Swede found trouble on the next stage when he hit a large rock.

The impact forced the sump guard up onto the sump itself, causing an oil leak. With no opportunity for repairs, he had to continue but all the oil drained from the sump causing terminal engine failure.

"I had a great deal of confidence from the start, the car felt good and we tackled those rough stages in a positive mood," said Rådstrom. "I'm obviously disappointed to retire but the damage was such that we had to stop, but it's better to retire having led than having struggled at the wrong end of the leaderboard."

Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson was astonished at how bad the roads were. "This is the toughest Acropolis Rally I've ever seen. The cars are taking a lot of body damage but mechanically they're holding together well and we've reinforced the protection around the sump on Colin's car after the problems Thomas had. Colin has driven with real maturity, thinking carefully about when to attack and when to be cautious and that's something he will have to do again tomorrow," said Wilson.

News from our Rivals

It's been a tough day in the mountains for the frontrunners. Didier Auriol and Matthias Kahle (Toyota) retired with broken suspension after both hit a stone hidden among bushes at the edge of the road in stage six. Juha Kankkunen (Subaru) also punctured after hitting the same stone, dropping around 50 seconds. Another retirement was that of Harri Rovanpera who escaped unhurt after crashing his Seat WRC at 200kph on the final stage. Richard Burns dropped to 10th after stopping on this morning's opening stage with water in the transmission's electronic system but bounced back to lead the rally with fastest time on the next four stages, before dropping to fourth. Mitsubishi duo Tommi Makinen and Freddy Loix have had no problems except for punctures, the Finn suffering once and his team-mate twice. Overnight leader Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) retired on the opening stage after flooding the engine in a river crossing.

Tomorrow's Route

The second leg is the most gruelling of the four-day rally. After restarting from Agii Theodori at 06.00, drivers face more than 15 hours on the road before returning at 21.12. They tackle eight stages covering 166.51km as the route heads into the centre of Greece for a series of tests around Itea and Gravia. The day's first stage, Bauxites - Karoutes, is a classic Acropolis Rally test and the longest of the rally at 28.85km.

Key Stage

Nicky Grist: "The first two stages tomorrow are very abrasive and tyre wear will be a crucial factor there but the next two after that will be the most important. Stage 11, Drimea, is very rough and stage 12, Pavliani, is tough because it has difficult corners on which we must be very precise and accurate."

Leaderboard after Leg 1 1. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus 1hr 20min 03.1sec 2. T Makinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 1hr 20min 11.8sec 3. C Sainz/L Moya E Toyota Corolla 1hr 20min 16.6sec 4. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 1hr 20min 16.7sec 5. F Loix/S Smeets B Mitsubishi Carisma 1hr 20min 20.7sec 6. J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Subaru Impreza 1hr 20min 26.5sec 7. P Liatti/C Cassina I Seat WRC 1hr 20min 47.5sec 8. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Peugeot 206 1hr 22min 14.7sec 9. M Martin/T Kitsing EE Toyota Corolla 1hr 22min 41.3sec 10 A Schwarz/M Hiemer D Skoda Octavia 1hr 23min 43.1sec

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Tommi Makinen , Colin McRae , Freddy Loix , Richard Burns , Marcus Gronholm , Thomas Radstrom , Juha Kankkunen , Nicky Grist , Malcolm Wilson , Matthias Kahle