Upset for Sainz but Ford pair stay on points trail Colin McRae and Nicky Grist and Ford Rallye Sport team-mates Markko Martin and Michael Park kept the team firmly on course for a points scoring finish during today's second leg of the Catalunya...
Upset for Sainz but Ford pair stay on points trail
Colin McRae and Nicky Grist and Ford Rallye Sport team-mates Markko Martin and Michael Park kept the team firmly on course for a points scoring finish during today's second leg of the Catalunya Rally in Spain. McRae and Martin lie seventh and eighth respectively in Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars although the day was marred by crowd congestion which forced the cancellation of another two speed tests and caused the retirement of colleagues Carlos Sainz and Marc Marti.
High temperatures again ensured bone dry conditions for the six scheduled asphalt special stages in the mountain region of Girona, north-west of the rally base at Lloret de Mar. McRae and Martin maintained their consistent pace of the opening leg to keep both Focus RS cars in the manufacturers' points but the major talking point of the day was crowd control.
After the cancellation of yesterday's opening stage, organisers had to scrap today's first two after tens of thousands of people flocked into the region overnight, many parking on the edge of the roads in the tests. Faced with drivers speeding between solid walls of cars, organisers had little option but to cancel them on safety grounds.
The remaining four stages were held, despite concerns from teams and competitors, and on the second Sainz crashed out of eighth position.
"We were pushing hard when we came into a sixth gear left curve at about 140kph," said Sainz. "There were a few spectator cars parked on the inside and I cut the corner but when I went to correct the line I saw cars parked on the outside with two wheels on the asphalt. I had to spin the car to avoid them and we slid down the road before hitting a large rock with the back of the car which broke the rear suspension.
"We were lucky. I'm glad I escaped from the accident but it's another impact on my neck which is already sore and I'm going to be very stiff again tomorrow," added Sainz. Marti, who replaced the injured Luis Moya just three days before the start, also complained of a sore neck.
"It was stupid to risk running the stage, it would have been better to take a safe option and cancel it. The sport has become so popular that organisers need specific plans to control stages and spectators because otherwise incidents like this will happen. There must be greater emphasis on advance planning to prevent these situations.
"I must thank Marc who replaced Luis at short notice and did a fantastic job. He was 100 per cent and could not have done more. Now I just want to look ahead to Cyprus, gravel stages and to getting back with Luis," added Sainz.
Martin Whitaker, Ford's European motorsport director, backed Sainz's call for change. "The crowds seen today demonstrate the popularity of rallying but also show the problems organisers face in not only controlling the crowds but making it safe and allowing spectators who make the effort to visit stages to see competitors in action."
McRae's injured hand hurt this morning but team doctor Simon Morris applied new strapping at lunchtime to remove the pain. "It was much better this afternoon, obviously not perfect but not horrendous either," said 33-year-old McRae. "Hopefully we can stay in the manufacturers' points but scoring a drivers' point will be hard. The gap to Solberg is quite big and although we've made improvements on asphalt we're still not on the pace of those ahead. We really need those in front to make a mistake or hit problems."
Martin lost time with differential pressure problems this morning, although the cancellation of the two stages reduced his potential time loss. "We solved it in service and today was quite a good day overall, although probably not as good as yesterday. Temperatures were cooler this afternoon and that helped us inside the car and also the tyres," he said.
Germany's Armin Kremer and Dieter Schneppenheim lie 15th in their Focus RS. Kremer stalled the engine at the start of the opening stage and lost about 15 seconds. "That was frustrating but apart from that all has been OK. The car is working really well and tomorrow I will try to improve my times further," he said.
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French manufacturers continued to dominate, holding the top five positions. Gilles Panizzi (Peugeot) extended his lead over team-mate Richard Burns to 44.4sec. Petter Solberg (Subaru) was the only driver to break Panizzi's run of stage victories with fastest time on stage 10 after the Norwegian altered his car's differential mapping to cure handling difficulties. Philippe Bugalski and Sebastien Loeb (both Citroen) remain third and fourth, both happier with new suspension settings introduced yesterday, with Marcus Grönholm completing the French march. Tommi Mäkinen (Subaru) failed to reach the opening service park, his car stopping on the liaison section with a damaged radiator, the legacy of his accident on yesterday's final stage. Another not to make first service was Stig Blomqvist (Skoda), the veteran Swede limping back to Lloret de Mar last night with serious alternator problems which prevented him from re-starting this morning.
The final leg covers similar territory to today and is again based around Manlleu. The format remains the same as the previous two legs, drivers tackling two loops of three stages, comprising 106.26km. Competitors leave Lloret de Mar at 06.15 and return for the finish ceremony at 17.15.