McRae battles to overcome start ruling dispute Colin McRae and Nicky Grist produced a battling performance during today's second leg of the Rally Australia to hold fifth position in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car after a controversial late...
McRae battles to overcome start ruling dispute
Colin McRae and Nicky Grist produced a battling performance during today's second leg of the Rally Australia to hold fifth position in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car after a controversial late night ruling yesterday effectively ended their hopes of victory. The Britons overcame the massive handicap of running first on the road for much of today's leg south of Perth to maintain hopes of climbing the leaderboard on tomorrow's final day of this penultimate round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Ford Martini team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya are ninth in their Focus RS but colleagues François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup crashed out. Grataloup was airlifted to hospital where he was detained with several cracked bones.
McRae had to re-start first on the road after organisers last night refused to allow the fourth-placed Scot to choose his preferred start position. They claimed McRae arrived late for the selection process before the Langley Park superspecial and he was prevented from climbing onto the stage at the scheduled time to make his choice.
Running first on the road through today's stages would subject McRae to the worst of the conditions, his pace hampered by tiny, but incredibly slippery, stones which are swept clear by earlier cars to the benefit of those behind. To assist McRae and the Ford team's championship challenge, non-registered third driver Delecour was asked to check out of the opening day's service park 13 minutes early, allowing the Frenchman to run ahead of McRae and clear some of the loose gravel.
However, McRae was back at the head of the running order after Delecour's accident in the 45.42km Wellington Dam, the third of the day's seven stages covering 141.12km. But after initially conceding a second per kilometre to the cars running lower down the order, 33-year-old McRae then restricted his losses to hold fifth, assisted by afternoon rain which helped bind together the loose gravel.
"Today has gone pretty much as expected," said McRae. "We knew we would lose time but fortunately we haven't dropped out of the points. With Harri Rovanperä less than 30 seconds ahead, we must go flat out tomorrow, especially on the first two stages early in the morning. The tests are long and rocky so a lot can still happen."
"I feel hard done by following last night's decision. I was refused the chance to make my selection and the whole process was vague," added McRae.
Sainz, too, found his road position a handicap, the 39-year-old Madrid driver forced to run further up the order than he wished after yesterday's troubles. However, he climbed to ninth after posting times which belied his disadvantage.
"It's been difficult coping with the loose gravel. We've pushed hard all day and we must push as hard as we can tomorrow because we need to score as many points as possible for Ford. But we'll need a lot of luck," he said.
Delecour's penalty dropped him to 28th but he was still attacking hard when he crashed at almost 100kph midway through Wellington Dam. "We were pushing very, very hard," said Delecour. "I changed down from sixth gear to fifth and touched the left hand side of the car on something. It flipped the car round and hit a tree very hard on Daniel's side, cutting the tree down.
"I climbed out but it was obvious Daniel was hurt so I stopped Colin, who was the next car along, and help began to arrive. It's not a nice end to my career with Ford but it's our job. It's very sad," said Delecour, competing on his final event for the team.
Grataloup was treated at the scene before being airlifted to hospital in Perth having sustained three cracked ribs, a cracked right collar bone, a cracked right shoulder blade and a minor collapse of his right lung. It is expected he will remain in hospital for two nights. Delecour was unhurt and the stage, the longest of the rally, was cancelled.
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Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) dominated the day. He set fastest time on every stage except the last to extend his narrow overnight lead into a 34.3sec advantage over Richard Burns (Subaru), who encountered gearbox problems on stage 15. Didier Auriol (Peugeot) suffered differential difficulties but maintained third ahead of team-mate Harri Rovanperä, who overhauled McRae, despite tyre selection troubles. Petter Solberg (Subaru) and Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi) battled hard for sixth, Mäkinen gaining the upper hand when Solberg hit a bank on the penultimate test and lost 20 seconds. Alister McRae (Hyundai) climbed onto the leaderboard despite breaking his gearbox on the second stage. Apart from Delecour, the only major retirement was Toshihiro Arai (Subaru) who hit a tree and damaged the engine cooling system on the opening stage.
The final leg is based entirely in the SOTICO (formerly Bunnings) pine plantations, south-east of Perth. Drivers face three long stages there before a short final test broadcast live on television across Australia. Two of the four tests include the famous Bunnings jumps and watersplash which attract huge crowds onto the hillsides. After leaving Perth at 05.50, drivers face 105.69km of competition before the finish back in the city at 16.00.