Colin McRae and Nicky Grist and team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya continue to hold first and second places on the Acropolis Rally after Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars dominated today's second leg of the Greek classic. Ford Martini drivers were...
Colin McRae and Nicky Grist and team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya continue to hold first and second places on the Acropolis Rally after Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars dominated today's second leg of the Greek classic. Ford Martini drivers were quickest on six of the day's seven gruelling gravel stages in the Parnassos mountain region as temperatures soared to 36°C.
McRae suffered the considerable disadvantage of running first through the stages, sweeping the roads clear of loose gravel for the benefit of his pursuers. However, he held off Sainz and third-placed Richard Burns to end the leg 9.8sec ahead of the Spaniard. Sainz, fastest on two stages, is 5.0sec in front of Burns to set up a thrilling final day showdown tomorrow.
Ford Martini team-mates François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup were in stunning form. Despite a badly sprained right wrist, Delecour was fastest on four stages in his Pirelli-shod Focus RS and second quickest on two more as he charged up the leaderboard to seventh, and in a good position to challenge for points tomorrow.
McRae's Focus RS never missed a beat during the 123km of competition, although the 32-year-old Scot admitted it was difficult to be first car. "It was slightly worse than we expected," he said. "Nobody really wanted to pass us today because then they would have to be first on the road tomorrow but someone has to be there. I wanted to keep my lead about the same as last night but we lost a little time. Only two of tomorrow's seven tests are being used for the first time so it shouldn't be as difficult to be first through the stages as it was today. The tracks are standing up well to double usage and I'm looking forward to a good fight," he added.
Sainz, too, had no mechanical problems. "I'm happy with my day," said the 39-year-old Madrid driver. "It'll be a big battle tomorrow and I think the second stage in the morning will be crucial. It's almost 40km, the longest of the rally. Although it's used again in the afternoon the first run will be vital because of the conditions. If there's a lot of loose gravel it'll make a difference. We'll see if we can catch Colin. Nine seconds isn't a large gap so we'll try but we must also watch for Richard behind us."
Delecour's performance was amazing. Driving with a heavily strapped wrist, revised suspension settings on his Focus transformed the Frenchman. After climbing to seventh, a power steering problem cost a minute and he slid to 10th. However, within one stage he was back to seventh and setting his sights on catching Tommi Mäkinen.
"We lost the power steering just after the stage start and I drove for about 17km with no assistance," he said. "That was hard because of my wrist and I really struggled to wrestle the car around the twists and turns." The effort was such that Delecour was totally exhausted and Grataloup had to drive the car on the next liaison section to service. The trouble was traced to a large rock embedded in the hard gravel track which damaged the car's sump and dislodged the power steering belt.
News from our Rivals
Behind the Ford duo, Richard Burns and Petter Solberg (both Subaru) had no difficulties in third and fourth while Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi) regained some ground after losing out yesterday by running first on the road. However, team-mate Freddy Loix slipped back after a gearbox problem in the morning was followed by additional time penalties when mechanics had to fit a new radiator, suspension, sump guard and waste gate after a heavy landing. Alister McRae (Hyundai) dropped around 18 minutes when a driveshaft broke at the start of the third stage, cutting a pipe which sprayed out oil and started a small fire. The crew put out the flames and disconnected the driveshaft before completing the stage and two others before service with just three-wheel drive. Armin Schwarz enjoyed a troublefree day to climb onto the leaderboard although team-mate Thiry complained that his car's suspension was still too hard. The major retirements came early this morning when Kenneth Eriksson (Hyundai) retired en route to the opening stage with turbo failure and the good run of Markko Martin (Subaru) ended in that stage when his front right suspension strut broke 2km from the end as he tried to drive on a punctured tyre.
FIA Super 1600 Cup
It has been another tough day for the two-wheel drive machinery in the junior world championship category - only 11 of the 22 starters survive. Leading Puma driver is Martin Stenshorne, the Norwegian lying third, while Frenchman Patrick Magaud is fifth. Puma driver François Duval, the overnight leader, retired after the first stage today with a broken shock absorber mounting and team-mate Benoit Rousselot, second last night, went out with mechanical problems on stage 11.
The mountain region around Parnassos hosts the final leg also. Seven more stages, five of which drivers will be tackling for a second time, lie in wait, covering 132.01km. The most crucial stage of the day will be the daunting 38.69km Elatia - Rengini test, the longest of the rally, which is tackled twice. The second run will be the final stage of the event. Competitors leave Itea at 07.00 and return for the finish ceremony at 18.30.
Leaderboard after Leg 2 1. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus RS 2hr 53min 22.1sec 2. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus RS 2hr 53min 31.9sec 3. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 2hr 53min 36.9sec 4. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 2hr 54min 22.8sec 5. H Rovanperä/R Pietilainen FIN Peugeot 206 2hr 54min 35.7sec 6. T Mäkinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 2hr 55min 28.9sec 7. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Ford Focus RS 2hr 56min 03.9sec 8. P Bugalski/J-P Chiaroni F Citroen Xsara 2hr 56min 23.4sec 9. A Schwarz/M Hiemer D Skoda Octavia 2hr 57min 04.5sec 10 G Panizzi/H Panizzi F Peugeot 206 2hr 57min 36.7sec