Ford Martini drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist today won the gruelling Cyprus Rally in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. The Britons triumphed by 16.4sec from fellow countryman Richard Burns after three days of competition in searing heat...
Ford Martini drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist today won the gruelling Cyprus Rally in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. The Britons triumphed by 16.4sec from fellow countryman Richard Burns after three days of competition in searing heat and over tortuously twisty mountain roads. Team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya finished third in their Focus on this sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship to lift Ford into the lead of the manufacturers' series.
With air temperatures reaching 35°C and in-car temperatures topping 53°C, the rally was a fearsome test for both drivers and cars. But such was Ford's dominance and the performance of Pirelli's tyres, that the Focus drivers posted fastest time on 14 of the rally's 22 speed tests, covering more than 340km on the sun-drenched Mediterranean island.
The victory was McRae's 22nd world rally win and his second in succession after triumphing in Argentina last month. He is now just one behind the all-time record of 23, shared by team-mate Sainz and Juha Kankkunen. It was also Ford's second consecutive win in Cyprus, Spaniard Sainz winning in 2000.
The tactics of McRae and Grist in ensuring they did not restart this morning in the lead worked to perfection. Instead, Burns faced the worst of the road conditions during this morning's four special stages, ploughing his way through the loose gravel lying on the surface. McRae capitalised on the cleaner conditions to move ahead on the day's second test and it was a lead the 32-year-old Scot was never to lose.
"We've just won what I regard as the toughest event in the world championship so you can imagine the pleasure that gives us," said McRae. "It was never easy but we pushed as hard as possible today. We worked well, the Focus worked well and Pirelli's tyres worked well and that's a winning formula.
"Our target has always been the tougher events because they seem to suit the car. Two wins in succession means both Ford and myself can really think about championship titles now. The team is in the lead and we're only seven points behind in the drivers' series and that feels good. The next two rallies are also hot and rough and we'll be trying for maximum points on those events as well," added McRae.
Sainz restarted this morning in fourth and remorselessly closed on third-placed Marcus Grönholm. However, their thrilling battle ended when the Finn was forced to retire with mechanical problems, leaving Sainz safely in third. He ended the rally 26.5sec behind McRae and preserved his record of scoring points on every round of the championship so far.
"We pushed hard this morning because the top four cars were so close and victory was possible," said Sainz. "It was a shame Marcus retired because I was enjoying the battle but although I tried as hard as I could, Richard was too far ahead for us to catch.
"The roads were quicker and wider today than on the first two legs and I don't think the conditions played such a major part as they had done earlier. The whole team has worked very hard for the results we've enjoyed in Argentina and here but we must continue to work just as hard to stay ahead of the others," he added.
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson was overjoyed. "It's fantastic for Ford to lead the championship," he said. "These hot and rocky events suit the Focus. When the car was designed, we placed a big emphasis on strength and worked hard on developing an equally strong suspension. That's paying off so I'm looking forward to the next rounds in Greece and Kenya. Tactics played a big part here and it was a major psychological victory last night when Colin ensured he wouldn't have to run first on the stages today."
News from our Rivals
World champion Marcus Grönholm's (Peugeot) miserable season continued. He began the day in the thick of the victory battle but after Sainz reduced the gap between the two to just 0.5sec, Grönholm's car stopped en route to service after the final stage of the morning with no fuel pressure. It refused to re-start and he was out. Richard Burns (Subaru) struggled this morning with the worst of the road conditions but second lifted him to fourth in the drivers' standings. Team-mate Toshihiro Arai matched his best result with fourth after Freddy Loix (Mitsubishi) had to abandon his pursuit of the Japanese driver after collecting a puncture. He settled for fifth.
The FIA World Rally Championship remains in the Mediterranean as the series reaches its midpoint in Greece later this month. The Acropolis Rally, another hot and rough gravel event, is based in Itea from 14 -17 June.
<pre> Final positions 1. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus RS 5hr 07min 32.7sec 2. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 5hr 07min 49.1sec 3. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus RS 5hr 07min 59.2sec 4. T Arai/G MacNeall J Subaru Impreza 5hr 13min 11.0sec 5. F Loix/S Smeets B Mitsubishi Carisma 5hr 13min 42.9sec 6. P Hagström/T Gardemeister FIN Toyota Corolla 5hr 17min 05.2sec 7. A McRae/D Senior GB Hyundai Accent 5hr 18min 08.3sec 8. B Thiry/S Prévot B Skoda Octavia 5hr 19min 10.7sec 9. A Schwarz/M Hiemer D Skoda Octavia 5hr 20min 20.8sec 10 A Bakhashab/B Willis SA Toyota Corolla 5hr 29min 44.8sec
FIA World Rally Championship (after round 6 of 14) Drivers 1. T Mäkinen 27pts 2. C Sainz 26pts 3. C McRae 20pts 4. R Burns 15pts 5= D Auriol 10pts 5= H Rovanperä 10pts
Manufacturers 1. Ford 50pts 2. Mitsubishi 47pts 3. Subaru 22pts 4. Peugeot 20pts 5. Hyundai 10pts 6. Skoda 7pts