Monte Carlo: Ford Rallye Sport leg one report

Ford shows strength on opening day in monte carlo The most unpredictable rally of the 14-round championship was kinder to the world's top drivers than on many cases in recent years. The weather high in the mountains was fine and the narrow, ...

Ford shows strength on opening day in monte carlo

The most unpredictable rally of the 14-round championship was kinder to the world's top drivers than on many cases in recent years. The weather high in the mountains was fine and the narrow, twisty asphalt roads were clear with only a few kilometres of snow and some icy patches to trouble the drivers. It made tyre selection, usually the most difficult aspect of this challenging event, relatively simple, and both McRae and Sainz found their soft compound Pirelli rubber ideally suited to the conditions.

McRae was consistent from the start. Third fastest on the first three stages to be tackled (the opening run through the demanding Sisteron test was cancelled for safety reasons due to the large number of spectators), his only concern came on the penultimate test when he hit ice and understeered into a ditch.

"The weather made today easier than expected," said 33-year-old McRae. "I've been happy with our tyres although the conditions change so much in the space of a few kilometres that whatever tyre you choose, there will always be part of a stage when they're not 100 percent right. We have to be cautious because it's very easy to throw away a good position. Experience makes no difference either. Tommi Makinen and I can be caught out just as easily as a young guy like Sebastien Loeb."

Sainz led after the opening stage but lost time with a power steering problem during the second run through the Selonnet - Turriers test. "We lost power steering before halfway and I could hardly move the steering wheel," said the Madrid-based driver. "We filled the system with oil after the finish but had to drive the next stage like that. I couldn't slide the car into corners properly but we didn't lose so much time," said Sainz, who aggravated an already painful shoulder in his efforts.

With a new steering pump, steering rack and sump guard fitted at service, he bounced back with second quickest time on the last stage, run in darkness and plunging temperatures, to return to Monaco 58.1sec behind surprise leader Loeb.

Markko Martin and Michael Park drove with caution on their Ford debut. Tackling the stages here for the first time, they are 16th in their Focus RS, the Estonian driver using the day to try a variety of suspension settings.

"Everything was new to me so we drove carefully and I've felt more confident and increased my pace as the day has gone on," he said. "I altered the suspension after the first stage but the car handled worse so I tried Carlos' settings for the final two tests. I don't like driving in ice and snow so these conditions are better for me to settle into the car and the team."

Ford Rallye Sport team director Malcolm Wilson said the leg had been 'better than expected' for his drivers, considering the benign conditions. "Pirelli's tyres have worked well in the cold but we would favour trickier conditions. Carlos and Colin have driven fast but with the required caution while Markko is under strict orders to finish and has driven very maturely," he said.

News from our Rivals

It was a mixed leg for Citroen. Both Thomas Rådstrom and Philippe Bugalski retired on the liaison section out of Monaco this morning with cracked engine blocks. But last season's junior world championship winner, Sebastien Loeb, who also suffered engine failure during yesterday's shakedown, set sensational times to win the final two stages and become the shock leader by 36.7sec. Tommi Makinen (Subaru) lies second, despite a spin on the snow in Sisteron, searching for a fourth consecutive Monte Carlo win on his debut for his new team. Behind McRae, Marcus Gronholm led the Peugeot challenge. His team's hopes were weakened when Gilles Panizzi received 2min 10sec penalties after leaving service late this morning following hydraulic problems and when Richard Burns slid off the road for 25sec on the opening stage. The reigning world champion is seventh. Other first day retirements included Hyundai duo Freddy Loix and Armin Schwarz. Loix crashed and was taken to hospital with a badly bruised left foot while Schwarz broke his car's front right suspension after sliding off the road on ice and hitting a rock.

Junior World Championship

On a day of huge attrition in the Junior World Championship, all seven Ford Pumas that started are still running. Francois Duval heads the Ford challenge, the young Belgian leading the category after the third stage. However, he slid off the road on ice on the next test and ended the day in second. Briton Martin Rowe is sixth, despite a poor tyre choice for the first stage, one place ahead of Lebanon's Roger Feghali and two ahead of Sweden's Daniel Carlsson, both driving Pumas.

Tomorrow's Route

The second leg is based in Monaco itself, all the action taking place in the mountains just behind the Principality. After starting at 08.13, drivers face six stages covering 131.88km before returning at 20.40. The day includes two passes of the famous Col de Turini, run in the opposite direction to normal, where huge crowds will gather to watch the action.

Leaderboard after Leg 1

1. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen Xsara 1hr 17min 07.0sec
2. T Makinen/K Lindstrom FIN Subaru Impreza 1hr 17min 43.7sec
3. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus RS 1hr 17min 51.6sec
4. M Gronholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 1hr 17min 58.2sec
5. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus RS 1hr 18min 05.1sec
6. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 1hr 18min 17.4sec
7. R Burns/R Reid GB Peugeot 206 1hr 18min 53.6sec
8. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Mitsubishi Lancer 1hr 19min 03.1sec
9. H Rovanpera/R Pietilainen FIN Peugeot 206 1hr 19min 16.4sec
10 T Gardemeister/P Lukander FIN Skoda Octavia 1hr 19min 34.2sec

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About this article
Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team