Corsica Rally leg one Ford Racing report

French ace Delecour flies Ford flag on home turf Ford Martini's asphalt experts François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup head the team's challenge in the Tour of Corsica rally after a tough opening leg in the mountains around Ajaccio today. The...

French ace Delecour flies Ford flag on home turf

Ford Martini's asphalt experts François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup head the team's challenge in the Tour of Corsica rally after a tough opening leg in the mountains around Ajaccio today. The French duo lie sixth in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car after the type of day which has earned the all-asphalt event its reputation as one of the most difficult in the FIA World Rally Championship.

Team-mates Colin McRae and Nicky Grist are 11th after a troubled day in their Focus RS while Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya retired after the second speed test after holing their car's sump on a rock in a bizarre incident.

Unusually hot weather, with temperatures reaching 32*C, delighted the fans who headed into the mountains to watch the action. The five special stages, covering 126.81km, were typical of this rally. Regular changes in surface and constant twists and turns as the narrow asphalt winds around craggy rock faces tests driver concentration, tyres and braking capabilities to the limit.

Delecour, a former winner of the rally, enjoyed a troublefree day, the 39-year-old happier with the performance of the Focus RS and Pirelli's tyres than on the last asphalt rally in Italy two weeks ago. "The car has been working perfectly and our tyres, so crucial in Corsica, have been working quite well, especially this afternoon when the temperatures have been higher," he said. "They seem more precise in warm weather. This afternoon's stages were dusty with quite a lot of grit dragged onto the roads by cars during the morning run through the stages."

Delecour and Grataloup tried a new compound Pirelli tyre this afternoon and were greatly encouraged by its performance. "It's a harder compound tyre and worked well on the longer stages on abrasive asphalt. It's not been used by the team before and I think we'll use it again tomorrow," explained Grataloup.

McRae suffered an early setback when a puncture cost a minute on the second stage, dropping the Scot to 18th. However, he recovered well to climb back up the order and, following the retirement of Sainz, he is Ford's sole surviving nominated driver and is the key to the team extending its lead in the manufacturers' championship.

"We've had no troubles with the car and it was disappointing to lose time this morning," said the 33-year-old Scot. "Now we must push as hard as we can and if the retirement rate continues to be high I think it's still possible to score a drivers' point here, maybe more for the team. As in Italy it looks as though the drivers' championship won't alter much as Carlos and Tommi Mäkinen have already retired and like us, Richard has dropped time today."

Sainz was eighth on the opening test but his rally came to a premature end after the next stage. ""We hit a big stone in the middle of the road which must have been dragged there by Tommi Mäkinen's car," said the 39-year-old Spaniard.

"It became wedged under the sump guard and we drove for about 600 metres before it freed itself. We continued to the finish of the stage but at the time control the oil pressure started to fall. We tried to drive back to service but the rock had obviously holed the sump and all the oil drained out so we had to stop about 4km from the control," he added.

News from our Rivals

As in Italy two weeks ago, the French asphalt experts established themselves at the top of the leaderboard. Gilles Panizzi (Peugeot) was the early leader but Jesus Puras moved ahead on the second stage and ended the leg 10.5sec in front. Didier Auriol and Marcus Grönholm (both Peugeot) came next after troublefree days. Petter Solberg (Subaru) was another to escape problems, the Norwegian 'the best of the rest' after the French cars. Team-mate Richard Burns lies 13th after losing a minute in the second stage when he misheard a pace note and went off the road. There were several big name retirements alongside Sainz. The opening stage claimed both Philippe Bugalski (Citroen) who crashed and Toshihiro Arai (Subaru) who understeered into a wall on a damp corner before the car tipped onto its roof. Bruno Thiry (Skoda) went out after the penultimate stage with gearbox problems while Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi) crashed heavily on the final test. Co-driver Risto Mannisenmaki was taken to hospital for precautionary checks and the stage was scrubbed. Team-mate Freddy Loix had a difficult day, the Belgian twice stopping to change punctures and dropping almost seven minutes. He lies 34th.

FIA Super 1600 Championship

Norwegian Martin Stenshorne, third in the championship, heads the Ford Puma contingent in fourth with Paraguay's Alejandro Galanti next in ninth. Asphalt experts François Duval and Patrick Magaud had difficult days. Duval retired after stage three with a fluid leak in his car's power steering system while Magaud had to stop and change a puncture on the previous stage, losing four minutes. A second Puma retirement was Benoit Rousselot, the Frenchman going out with a broken cam belt.

Tomorrow's Route

Another 08.00 start sees competitors set off for seven more stages covering 155.55km. After a repeat of today's third stage, the longest of the rally, they move north of Ajaccio for two passes of three stages. Drivers return to Ajaccio for the overnight halt at 17.21 <pre> Leaderboard after Leg 1 1. J Puras/M Marti E Citroen Xsara 1hr 03min 56.9sec 2. G Panizzi/H Panizzi F Peugeot 206 1hr 04min 07.4sec 3. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Peugeot 206 1hr 04min 08.2sec 4. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 1hr 04min 34.9sec 5. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 1hr 04min 47.4sec 6. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Ford Focus RS 1hr 04min 59.0sec 7. M Martin/M Park EE Subaru Impreza 1hr 05min 05.8sec 8. A Mörtl/S Eichhorner A Subaru Impreza 1hr 05min 44.5sec 9. H Rovanperä/R Pietilainen FIN Peugeot 206 1hr 05min 47.0sec 10 A McRae/D Senior GB Hyundai Accent 1hr 06min 00.2sec

-Ford World Rallye Sport-

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team