Colin McRae and Nicky Grist led Spain's Catalunya Rally in their Ford Focus World Rally Car after today's gruelling second leg which the Ford Martini team dominated with fastest time on four of the five asphalt speed tests. Team-mates Carlos...
Colin McRae and Nicky Grist led Spain's Catalunya Rally in their Ford Focus World Rally Car after today's gruelling second leg which the Ford Martini team dominated with fastest time on four of the five asphalt speed tests. Team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya lie third in their Focus and with less than 10 seconds covering the top three drivers, the scene is set for a thrilling final day battle in the mountain roads tomorrow.
McRae powered past overnight leader Richard Burns on the opening test this morning, posting fastest time and shattering the stage record by eight seconds. He was quickest when the stage was repeated in the afternoon and returned to the rally base of Lloret de Mar 4.3sec ahead of Burns.
Sainz was fastest on each of the day's final two stages in the Tarragona region, south of Barcelona, and was the quickest driver overall during today's leg which covered a mammoth 926km. It was the longest single day of competition during a European rally since 1983 and Sainz ended it just 9.3sec behind McRae.
Warm sunshine all day made tyre choice a far more simple exercise than yesterday's wet leg and Michelin's hard compound dry weather racing tyres have been the option for both McRae and Sainz throughout the day. The rubber suited both drivers perfectly as they set a pace over the twisty roads that none could match.
"It's been a great day, although it's all a little close for comfort in the top three," said McRae. "We lost a handful of seconds after sliding wide and stalling the engine on the second stage this morning but otherwise it's been perfect. I just hope I'm saying the same thing tomorrow night.
"The closeness of the competition is amazing. It was incredible that this afternoon we drove flat out for almost 46km and the fastest three cars were separated by only six tenths of a second," he added.
Not even McRae could match Sainz over the final two tests, the 37-year-old Madrid driver full of confidence for tomorrow. "After the first stage this morning we changed the suspension and differential settings. After the next stage we changed them a little bit more and then I had complete confidence in the Focus and could really push hard. Luis and myself, I think we've been working quite well today," he said with a wry smile.
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson praised 'a great performance by both drivers'. "Stage victories on four of the day's five stages took our total for the rally to six and is a real indication of the Focus' performance. We're in a very strong position for tomorrow with Colin leading and Carlos pushing Richard hard and both cars have run perfectly now for two days," he said.
"Beating the stage record by eight seconds on the opening test this morning was a fantastic effort and shows the rapid development in world championship rallying, largely due to the increasing number of manufacturers taking part," added Wilson.
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Sandwiched between the Ford duo is Richard Burns (Subaru), whose early morning gearbox worries were traced to his engine's electronic management system. Team-mate Juha Kankkunen had another troubled day, two punctures costing much time and leaving him in a lowly 22nd. Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi) lost his brakes on the final stage and a head cold hampered him slightly on the longer stages. Behind the Finn came the Peugeot trio of Gilles Panizzi, Marcus Grönholm and Francois Delecour. Delecour was the only one of the three to suffer major problems, the Frenchman losing time when his car jammed in third gear. Freddy Loix (Mitsubishi) climbed into the top 10 despite his car's throttle jamming open on the day's first stage and incurring additional time penalties after stopping to fix a loose brake pipe himself on a liaison section. Didier Auriol (Seat) enjoyed a better day to climb to ninth but team-mate Toni Gardemeister retired on the final stage after hitting something and ripping off his car's rear left wheel. Alister McRae's (Hyundai) difficult rally ended when he retired with no oil pressure shortly before the finish of the ninth stage while team-mate Kenneth Eriksson lost almost 10 minutes during the final two tests after a broken exhaust caused an engine fire. Armin Schwarz and Luis Climent (both Skoda) are still in the rally, Schwarz slipping off the leaderboard during the final stage to hold 11th. Climent is 15th after suffering several minor technical difficulties.
Surviving competitors return to the Girona region north of Barcelona for the final leg. After leaving Lloret de Mar at 06.15, they face two laps of two stages covering 110.38km before returning to the resort for the finish at 16.27. The weather could prove decisive, a repeat of the rain experienced in the same area during yesterday's first leg making tyre selection a drivers' nightmare. The forecast suggests changeable conditions with a 60 per cent chance of showers. <pre> Leaderboard after Leg 2 1. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus 2hr 57min 17.5sec 2. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 2hr 57min 21.8sec 3. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus 2hr 57min 26.8sec 4. T Mäkinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 2hr 57min 52.9sec 5. G Panizzi/H Panizzi F Peugeot 206 2hr 58min 11.9sec 6. M Gronholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 2hr 58min 47.6sec 7. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Peugeot 206 2hr 58min 49.7sec 8. F Loix/S Smeets B Mitsubishi Carisma 3hr 00min 34.7sec 9. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Seat Cordoba 3hr 00min 52.2sec 10 M Martin/M Park EE Toyota Corolla 3hr 01min 13.5sec