WRC

Colin McRae returns at Sanremo Rally

Ford's Colin McRae will be fit to start Italy's Sanremo Rally (20 - 23 October) just 11 days after hospital surgery to repair a cheekbone fractured in his accident during the Tour of Corsica rally at the end of last month. Doctors in Edinburgh...

Ford's Colin McRae will be fit to start Italy's Sanremo Rally (20 - 23 October) just 11 days after hospital surgery to repair a cheekbone fractured in his accident during the Tour of Corsica rally at the end of last month. Doctors in Edinburgh this evening gave the 32-year-old Scot the go-ahead to return to the wheel of his Ford Focus World Rally Car following a three-hour operation on Monday to insert a plate.

It is a remarkable recovery by McRae, who was flown to hospital with a double fracture and a bruised lung after plunging into a ravine on the Mediterranean island. He and co-driver Nicky Grist, who was unhurt, were determined to start the rally with themselves and their Ford Martini team in potential title-winning positions in the FIA World Rally Championship with just three rounds remaining.

"Since the surgery I've been relaxing in Scotland," said McRae. "After the operation I was always confident I'd be OK to compete but had to wait for approval from the surgeon. Now that's happened, I'm delighted. I want to put the accident behind me and concentrate on winning the title. We didn't lose much ground in Corsica and I'm going to Italy with just one thing in mind and that's to win the rally.

"The team is planning a private test on Thursday to give me the chance to get some mileage in before the rally starts. I don't feel apprehensive about driving again. I think that if you ever feel that way after an accident it's time to consider whether you should still be in the sport," he added.

The season is set for a thrilling climax. Ford Martini lead the manufacturers' standings by nine points with McRae third in the drivers' championship, only four points behind leader Marcus Grönholm. Team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya, chasing a third world title, are just one point behind McRae in fourth.

The Sanremo Rally, round 12 of 14, is the final asphalt event of the championship. It is a magnet for the enthusiastic Italian fans who flock into the narrow mountain roads above the genteel seaside resort in their tens of thousands. It is a rally McRae has won twice, in 1996 and 1997.

"It's not my favourite rally but the roads are wider than in Corsica and if you make a mistake you have more room in which to sort it out," he said. "The stages will be run in both directions so a lot of dirt will be dragged onto the roads from the first run. When they're reversed it could prove quite tricky for us all."

Sainz goes to Sanremo as the second Ford Martini driver among the four title protagonists. "We're at the stage of the year where settling for a good points score isn't enough," he said. "First and foremost we go to Italy looking to win. We need maximum points to try to open a lead at the top of the championship. If that's not to be, we must finish ahead of our rivals to score more points than they do.

"Sanremo is always about weather and tyres. If it's dry it's OK, but if there's no sunshine the roads can be slippery under the trees. We often have to make our tyre selection a long time before tackling the stages. The weather in the mountains can change quickly and we can find ourselves on unsuitable rubber for the road conditions," said Madrid-based Sainz.

Piero Liatti and Carlo Cassina will use Ford's prototype semi-automatic gearchange system on their Focus for the second time. "I love this event and I'm looking forward to competing in front of my home crowd on roads I know well," said the 38-year-old Italian driver.

"Carlos has completed 470km of testing in Wales since Corsica without any problems with the semi-automatic system," said Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson. "We want to try a few modifications on Piero's car in Italy before we introduce the system to Carlos and Colin's cars. The drivers' and manufacturers' championships are currently so close that it would be foolish to introduce a major new part to either car before we're 100 per cent confident of reliability."

Tyre Talk

The more compact nature of this year's rally simplifies the always difficult problem of tyre production for engineers from Ford Martini's partner, Michelin. Analysis of data from testing is much easier because there are fewer different roads being used although the difference between the lengths of the stages will be an important factor. The first day comprises four groups totalling 36km each while on the second leg the groups cover 53km, encouraging Michelin to develop two distinct types of rubber to meet the differing demands.

The decision to remove the narrow and dusty roads around Acqui Terme from the time-table will ensure more consistent grip in general. However, the onset of autumn, bringing with it falling leaves high in the mountains above Sanremo, will make the roads slippery in places, especially in shaded areas.

Rally Route

This year's event breaks new ground with bold steps to combat spectator congestion, making it the most compact world rally ever. All 1103km are held within a radius of 25km from the host town of Sanremo and all 12 service parks are based in the same location alongside the town's shoreline. On each of the three days there will be only two main stages, used up to four times each and usually run twice in each direction. It is the first time in 20 years that stages will be widely used in both directions. The concept is aimed at reducing the spectator traffic cluttering the narrow mountain roads by encouraging fans to stay in the same place all day. There are 17 stages in all, providing 382km of competition.

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Series WRC
Drivers Colin McRae , Carlos Sainz , Marcus Gronholm , Luis Moya , Nicky Grist , Piero Liatti , Malcolm Wilson , Carlo Cassina