Cyprus: Ford Rallye Sport Cyprus leg two report

McRae extends lead for Ford in Cyprus monsoon. Ford Rally Sport drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist stretched their lead during today's second leg of the Cyprus Rally despite a monsoon-like thunderstorm which turned the mountain tracks on the ...

McRae extends lead for Ford in Cyprus monsoon.

Ford Rally Sport drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist stretched their lead during today's second leg of the Cyprus Rally despite a monsoon-like thunderstorm which turned the mountain tracks on the Mediterranean holiday island into a muddy morass. Their Focus RS World Rally Car returned to the rally base in Lemesos having turned yesterday's advantage of 6.9sec into a 26.2sec lead over Marcus Grönholm with one day of this fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship remaining.

Five Focus RS cars filled the top 12 places with Ford Rally Sport team-mates Markko Märtin and Michael Park sixth and also in a points-scoring position. Private entrants Manfred Stohl and Ilka Petrasko lie 10th ahead of fellow privateers Janni Tuohino and Petri Vihavainen and double world champions Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya, who claimed two stage wins as they recovered from 23rd to 12th after yesterday's troubles.

In contrast to yesterday's daylong sunshine, clear skies in the early morning turned to heavy black clouds. As thunder and lightning crackled around the mountains, the twisty rock-strewn tracks quickly became awash as the rain tumbled down and McRae later described the 29.88km test from Foini to Koilinia as 'easily the most treacherous stage I've ever driven'. Conditions were so bad that organisers cancelled the repeat run, trimming the day's competition to seven stages and 116.09km.

"The road was like a river with water flowing down the ruts and large rocks sticking out above the water," said the 33-year-old Scot. "We seemed to aquaplane at every bend and drove so slowly it was difficult to judge the pace." Accurate forecasts from his gravel note crew and team personnel positioned in the stages encouraged McRae to choose Pirelli's mud tyres at the previous service park - an inspired choice.

"It's a great result for us today but conditions have been atrocious. A combination of the rain and the rough tracks made it very difficult. Some stretches of road have been used so often they're destroyed. Tomorrow's tests are shorter but one stage is rough and it will be easy to damage the car. Marcus will attack so we must stay at full speed. I'm happy now but I'll be happier if the positions remain like this tomorrow," he added.

Märtin was unable to match the pace that saw him lead briefly yesterday, minor brake problems and a misted windscreen delaying him slightly. "Our screen misted so badly that we spun. I couldn't tell whether it was raining or not because I couldn't see through the windscreen anyway! I never want to drive in conditions like that again. We've been unlucky because drivers running in front of us managed to complete some stages in the dry whereas when we tackled them it was raining heavily," he said.

Sainz, frustrated by yesterday's transmission and power steering problems, started strongly this morning, taking full advantage of running lower down the order on roads swept clear of loose gravel by earlier cars. He was fastest on the opening two stages and enjoyed a trouble-free day as he hunted down those ahead of him. "I've driven as hard as I can and will continue to do so tomorrow. My road position was a help this morning but once the rain started there wasn't any real advantage. It was wet for everyone!" said the 40-year-old Madrid-based driver.

Francois Duval and Jean-Marc Fortin's excellent run to fourth in their Focus RS ended on the third stage this morning, the longest of the rally. "Two kilometres after the start a warning lamp flashed on the dashboard and the engine's oil pressure started to drop. We stopped because we were worried about breaking the engine. We spoke to our engineers and carried on for another kilometre but then we had to retire," said 21-year-old Duval, whose speed on only his third rally in a Focus RS emphasised his potential.

News from our Rivals

This toughest leg of the rally and, more particularly, this afternoon's thunderstorm, took a fearsome toll. Four top drivers retired and several others encountered problems on the Foini - Koilinia test. Freddy Loix (Hyundai) was unable to climb a hill after his car became stuck in high gear, Alister McRae (Mitsubishi) stopped with no drive after rolling earlier in the day, Roman Kresta (Skoda) crashed and Bruno Thiry went out with damaged suspension. Francois Delecour (Mitsubishi) and Toni Gardemeister (Skoda) dropped five and 10 minutes respectively when their windscreen wipers failed while Tommi Mäkinen (Subaru) lost a minute when he damaged the right rear wheel and suspension after hitting a rock. Gardemeister's day got worse as he broke his car's front left suspension wishbone after hitting a rock on the final stage and lost another six minutes. Jani Paasonen (Mitsubishi) retired on the opening stage after hitting a concrete block and breaking his car's steering while Harri Rovanperä (Peugeot) ended the day in fifth despite rolling, just one place behind team-mate Richard Burns. After a wretched opening leg, Petter Solberg (Subaru) was in blistering form, setting four consecutive fastest times to climb to eighth.

Tomorrow's Route

The final day is the shortest of the rally, comprising two loops of three stages further to the east in the hilly and forested Machairas area. Drivers leave Lemesos at 08.00 and return for the podium ceremony at 16.30 after 81.88km of competition. <pre> Leaderboard after Leg 2 1. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus RS 3hr 08min 50.5sec 2. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 3hr 09min 16.7sec 3. T Mäkinen/K Lindström FIN Subaru Impreza 3hr 10min 35.3sec 4. R Burns/R Reid GB Peugeot 206 3hr 10min 45.6sec 5. H Rovanperä/R Pietilainen FIN Peugeot 206 3hr 10min 55.4sec 6. M Märtin/M Park EE Ford Focus RS 3hr 11min 03.9sec 7. K Eriksson/T Thörner S Skoda Octavia 3hr 11min 27.6sec 8. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 3hr 11min 31.1sec 9. A Schwarz/M Hiemer D Hyundai Accent 3hr 11min 36.4sec 10 M Stohl/I Petrasko A Ford Focus RS 3hr 14min 46.1sec 11 J Tuohino/P Vihavainen FIN Ford Focus RS 3hr 14min 55.5sec 12 C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus RS 3hr 16min 02.8sec


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Series WRC