WRC

Ford WRS Rally Australia final report

McRae opens up championship lead for Ford Ford Martini drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist moved into a clear lead of the FIA World Rally Championship after finishing fifth in the Rally Australia today. The Britons hold a one point lead in...

McRae opens up championship lead for Ford

Ford Martini drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist moved into a clear lead of the FIA World Rally Championship after finishing fifth in the Rally Australia today. The Britons hold a one point lead in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car and with three drivers covered by just three points, the scene is set for a thrilling final round showdown for the title in Great Britain later this month.

McRae holds the narrowest advantage over Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi) with Richard Burns (Subaru) another point behind. Ford Martini drivers Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya finished eighth in Australia in their Focus RS and can also still claim the title. The Spaniards are nine points behind team-mate McRae. Just two teams remain in contention for the manufacturers' crown. Ford will start the Rally of Great Britain just four points behind Peugeot.

The final leg of this 1402km, four-day event was based at one of the most famous locations in the sport. Thousands of fans flocked to the pine plantations near North Bannister, south-east of Perth, to watch the final four speed tests at what used to be called the Bunnings complex. Two of those stages included the famed spectacular downhill jumps and watersplash which provided dramatic pictures as the action was broadcast across Australia on live television.

McRae's victory hopes in Australia were dealt a cruel blow at the end of the first leg when organisers controversially barred him from selecting his start position and he drove the second leg hampered by slippery loose gravel. As a result he had little chance of moving up the order in today's 105.69km of stages. Happy to claim two points following Friday's controversy, the 33-year-old Scot posted three fastest times today, narrowing his overnight deficit to Harri Rovanperä from 28.8sec to 9.1sec.

"Today went well but it's not been the best weekend for us," said McRae. "We could have finished on the podium and I still can't believe that decision on Friday. It ruined the rally for us. But we still have everything to go for in Britain and with three drivers separated by just two points it's going to be fun. It's simple - the winner takes all!"

Team-mates Carlos Sainz powered their Focus RS past Gilles Panizzi on the penultimate stage to secure eighth after a time-consuming accident early in the first leg cost three minutes. "I tried hard and, believe me, I've tried very hard since the accident," said the 39-year-old Madrid-based driver. "As soon as we crashed I knew it was 'game over' and that if nothing happened to the cars in front we had no realistic chance of points. It's a pity our only mistake of the year happened here but that's life."

Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson pointed to the seven stage wins for the Focus RS cars as proof of their performance. "Given the same conditions as our rivals we were right on the pace but with Carlos and Colin running on the loose gravel yesterday, we didn't have a chance. It proves how crucial start order is here. It's all down to the final round now and with two titles at stake, we've everything to go for."

Daniel Grataloup, co-driver for François Delecour, who was injured when their Focus RS crashed yesterday, is making good progress in hospital in Perth. Despite an uncomfortable night, the 41-year-old Frenchman was cheerful and awaiting further examination by surgeons. It is expected he will remain in hospital until tomorrow at least.

It was their final rally with the team and Wilson paid tribute to both. "It's a sad way for them to end the year with us. They have done a fantastic job for Ford this season, both in competition and in testing and development, and I would go a long way to work with such dedicated, genuine and committed people."

News from our Rivals

Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) dominated the rally from start to finish. Leading for all but two of the 21 stages, the outgoing world champion finished 40.4sec ahead of Richard Burns (Subaru). Didier Auriol (Peugeot) took third with team-mate Harri Rovanperä giving the French manufacturer three cars in the top four. Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi) secured the final drivers' point in sixth with Petter Solberg (Subaru) in seventh, scoring the last point in the teams' series. Twenty-year-old François Duval, who has signed for Ford for the 2002 season, finished a superb third in the Group N showroom specification category on his first visit to Australia.

Next round

The last round of the championship will be the Rally of Great Britain which is located entirely in Wales. It will be based in Cardiff on 22 - 25 November. <pre>

Final positions 1. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 3hr 17min 01.3sec 2. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 3hr 17min 41.7sec 3. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Peugeot 206 3hr 18min 21.4sec 4. H Rovanperä/R Pietilainen FIN Peugeot 206 3hr 18min 32.2sec 5. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus RS 3hr 18min 41.3sec 6. T Mäkinen/T Hantunen FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 3hr 20min 04.0sec 7. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 3hr 20min 42.5sec 8. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus RS 3hr 22min 00.5sec 9. G Panizzi/H Panizzi F Peugeot 206 3hr 22min 10.3sec 10 A McRae/D Senior GB Hyundai Accent 3hr 24min 33.0sec

FIA World Rally Championship (after round 13 of 14) Drivers 1. C McRae 42pts 2. T Mäkinen 41pts 3. R Burns 40pts 4. C Sainz 33pts 5. H Rovanperä 30pts 6. M Grönholm 26pts

Manufacturers 1. Peugeot 90pts 2. Ford 86pts 3. Mitsubishi 69pts 4. Subaru 62pts 5. Skoda 15pts 6. Hyundai 13pts

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-Ford World Rally Sport-

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