Cyprus Rally - leg 1

Sainz takes control for Ford on Cyprus Rally Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya dominated today's opening leg of the Cyprus Rally in their Ford Focus World Rally Car to win seven of the nine speed tests and build a comfortable overnight lead. Their...

Sainz takes control for Ford on Cyprus Rally

Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya dominated today's opening leg of the Cyprus Rally in their Ford Focus World Rally Car to win seven of the nine speed tests and build a comfortable overnight lead. Their Ford Martini team-mates, Colin McRae and Nicky Grist, ended the leg in fourth after this 10th round of the FIA World Rally Championship lived up to all expectations of being the toughest event in the 14 round series.

It is the first time the rally has been included in the championship and, despite having not competed here before, the Spanish double world champions attacked from the start. They took the lead on the opening special stage and were never headed during the 104km of competition comprising the first of three days' action.

Searing temperatures and dusty, stony roads high in the Troodos mountains combined to make the day demanding for both drivers and cars. The narrow twisty stages rarely allowed drivers the luxury of climbing above third gear and the gruelling 31km fifth stage was won at an average of under 53kph.

However, Sainz was untroubled, the 38-year-old Spaniard returning to the rally base at Limassol with a lead of 1min 20.2sec over Francois Delecour. "I've quickly learned how to drive these stages and I have a really good feeling with the car. I've enjoyed today immensely. I've not taken any big risks but at the same time I'm aware that this is my last chance to make an impact on the outcome of the championship.

"People assumed the roads would be littered with boulders but I've found there's more loose gravel than rocks on the tracks. However, when we come through these same stages again tomorrow I think the opposite will be the case. It shouldn't be a problem running first on the road tomorrow but I think it will be a big problem for the driver in that position on the final day," he added.

McRae admitted he had not enjoyed today's stages. "It's not so much fun driving in first and second gear for long periods," said the 32-year-old Scot. "There's no flow to the roads and it's hard to develop a rhythm. Carlos has a comfortable lead and if he maintains a fast pace tomorrow I must think about the championship standings. With Marcus Grönholm out, Richard Burns is my big threat. My priority here is to finish ahead of him and I'm not going to risk everything by chasing Carlos."

Like Sainz, McRae's Focus escaped the major dramas which hit many of their rivals. Overheating brakes on stages five and six and an overheating engine on the final stage, caused when McRae hit a sandbank on the previous test and filled the radiator with sand, were his only problems. Ford Martini mechanics fitted a new radiator and intercooler at this evening's final service park to solve the difficulty.

Road surface temperatures of 37*C and the twisty abrasive tracks also created difficulties for tyres but both Sainz and McRae reported that their Michelin rubber stood up well to the rugged conditions.

Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson was highly satisfied with the team's performance. "Carlos has driven superbly well, very quickly but also carefully. The lack of damage to his car on such a rough rally shows he's looked after it. Colin is also well-placed in championship terms. He's aware the important fact is to finish ahead of Richard and although he'll attack tomorrow, he'll only attack to a certain level. Taking more points from this rally than Richard is the crucial factor," he said.

News from our Rivals

It was a disappointing day for championship leader Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot), the Finn retiring on stage six with electrical problems. Richard Burns (Subaru) was the only driver to set fastest times other than Sainz. The Briton won two stages to hold third and his only problems were a sticking throttle on stage four and a spin on stage eight. Team-mate Juha Kankkunen ended the day in ninth after receiving a five minute penalty for an alleged infringement at a control point. Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi) dropped 2min 30sec on the final two stages after breaking a front driveshaft while team-mate Freddy Loix rolled on the penultimate stage and lost almost five minutes. Didier Auriol (Seat) dropped around 12 minutes with broken steering and then retired after a right rear wheel bearing broke on the liaison section to stage seven. Toni Gardemeister, driving the team's second car, lies sixth despite understeering difficulties. It was a bad day for Skoda, Armin Schwarz, the only leading driver to have competed here before, rolling out on stage two and Luis Climent retiring two stages later after holing his car's sump and losing all the engine oil. The stages were so gruelling that of the 52 cars which left Limassol this morning, only 32 returned this evening.

Tomorrow's Route

The second leg follows a very similar route to today. Seven of the eight stages are exact repeats of tests used today and part of the other stage was also used this morning. Drivers leave Limassol at 08.00 and face 85.74km of competition before returning to the town at 19.59 for the final overnight halt.

<pre> Leaderboard after Leg 1 1. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus 2hr 23min 35.6sec 2. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Peugeot 206 2hr 24min 55.8sec 3. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 2hr 24min 59.1sec 4. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus 2hr 25min 17.9sec 5. M Martin/M Park EE Toyota Corolla 2hr 26min 41.0sec 6. T Gardemeister/P Lukander FIN Seat Cordoba 2hr 27min 59.1sec 7. T Mäkinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 2hr 28min 00.2sec 8. T Arai/R Freeman J Subaru Impreza 2hr 30min 14.5sec 9. J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Subaru Impreza 2hr 30min 59.2sec 10. S Jean-Joseph/J Boyere F Subaru Impreza 2hr 31min 59.6sec

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Tommi Makinen , Colin McRae , Carlos Sainz , Freddy Loix , Richard Burns , Didier Auriol , Marcus Gronholm , François Delecour , Armin Schwarz , Juha Kankkunen , Luis Moya , Nicky Grist , Toni Gardemeister , Malcolm Wilson