Ford Focus sets hot pace on Catalunya Rally 'test' Colin McRae and Nicky Grist filled the Ford Martini World Rally Team with confidence by setting two fastest times on today's second leg of the Catalunya Rally, fifth round of the FIA World Rally...
Ford Focus sets hot pace on Catalunya Rally 'test'
Colin McRae and Nicky Grist filled the Ford Martini World Rally Team with confidence by setting two fastest times on today's second leg of the Catalunya Rally, fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Although yesterday's time loss ruled them out of contention for a third successive win, the stage victories proved the pace of the Ford Focus World Rally Car on its first true asphalt rally and provided valuable technical knowledge for the team ahead of next month's Tour of Corsica, another asphalt event.
McRae's two fastest times, backed up by a second quickest time, was the best performance of any World Championship contender over the mountain roads south of Barcelona and was bettered only by the lightweight two-wheel drive car of rally leader Philippe Bugalski. Having achieved the team's aim of using today as a test session to learn more about how the Focus behaves on asphalt, Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson decided to withdraw McRae at this evening's final service park.
Wilson described today's impromptu test session as 'absolutely invaluable'.
"It's gone very well and we've gained a lot of knowledge from this afternoon's 46km stage. We're now happy that we have a good base set-up ahead of next month's Tour of Corsica. The test has, however, shown up other aspects that we need to address and we're keen to get the team back to England to look at these," he said.
"This is the busiest time of the season and with three rallies in the next five weeks we want to use the time to work on the car. Colin's two fastest stage times today prove that we have gone in the right direction with the set-up of the Focus and that's why we're confident for Corsica," added Wilson.
McRae was upbeat after today's excellent performance. "After our time loss yesterday, I'm really glad that we stayed on to test the car. It's gone very well and two fastest stage times gives us every reason to be confident ahead of the Tour of Corsica next month. The team has some work to do before the rally but we can go home happy."
Ford Martini team-mates Simon Jean-Joseph and Fred Gallagher started well this morning and powered the second Ford Focus into the top 10. But electrical problems before the start of the 46km Gratallops - Escaladei stage caused worries and these were confirmed when the car stopped during the stage, bringing retirement.
"A small cable leading to the alternator was cut and so the alternator wasn't able to charge the battery," said Jean-Joseph. "We started the stage but after 24km we had to stop because the battery was flat. It's always disappointing to retire but I was encouraged by the performance of the Focus which felt much better than when I last competed in Monte Carlo."
News from our Rivals
The more abrasive asphalt of the Tarragona region did little to stop the two-wheel drive cars using their weight advantage over the four-wheel drive machinery to dominate the rally. Philippe Bugalski (Citroen) posted three fastest times from the six stages although team-mate and overnight leader Jesus Puras had no opportunity to show his paces - he failed to leave Lloret de Mar this morning after his car would not re-start. Toyota duo Didier Auriol and Carlos Sainz maintained their overnight team formation, Sainz falling back on the long stage after puncturing a front right tyre and completing the stage with the rubber worn down to the wheel rim. Freddy Loix (Mitsubishi) enjoyed a troublefree day to overhaul Sainz after the Spaniard's problems but was repassed on the final stage to end in fourth. Jump starts were a major talking point as Tommi Makinen (Mitsubishi), Richard Burns (Subaru) and Harri Rovanpera (SEAT) were all penalised a minute for false starts on the day's opening stage, but Makinen, who also punctured on the long stage, and Burns recovered well. Skoda's good run ended when Armin Schwarz retired with a flat battery after an alternator bracket broke and Pavel Sibera went out after a fire in his car's engine bay.
Many of the stages used in yesterday's opening leg are repeated as the rally returns to the mountain roads around Vic and Girona - only the opening Coll de Santigosa of the leg's five stages is new. The drivers will leave Lloret de Mar at 08.30 returning there for the seafront finish at 15.30 after 91.28km in a total route of 349.92km. Only one service park at Manlleu splits the five stages.
The sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Tour of Corsica, is based in Ajaccio from May 6 - 9.
Leaderboard after Leg 2 1. P Bugalski/J-P Chiaroni F Citroen Xsara 3hr 14min 33.1sec 2. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Toyota Corolla 3hr 14min 50.8sec 3. C Sainz/L Moya E Toyota Corolla 3hr 16min 16.6sec 4. F Loix/S Smeets B Mitsubishi Carisma 3hr 16min 21.7sec 5. T Makinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 3hr 16min 42.3sec 6. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 3hr 17min 50.7sec 7. J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Subaru Impreza 3hr 17min 58.9sec 8. B Thiry/S Prevot B Subaru Impreza 3hr 18min 15.1sec 9. O Gomez/O Julia E Renault Megane 3hr 19min 03.7sec 10 L Climent/A Romani E Subaru Impreza 3hr 19min 29.1sec