Podium finish for Ford Focus on world rally debut The debut of the Ford Focus World Rally Car ended in success when Colin McRae and Nicky Grist finished a tremendous third on the Monte Carlo Rally which ended in Monaco this afternoon. The...
Podium finish for Ford Focus on world rally debut
The debut of the Ford Focus World Rally Car ended in success when Colin McRae and Nicky Grist finished a tremendous third on the Monte Carlo Rally which ended in Monaco this afternoon. The pairing set fastest time on four speed tests during the four-day asphalt event in the southern French mountains, the opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship - more than winner Tommi Mäkinen.
It was a remarkable debut for the Focus on the world’s most famous rally, just 13 months after the Ford Martini World Rally Team began designing the new car. Ford’s delight was sealed when Simon Jean-Joseph and Fred Gallagher finished 11th in the second Focus on only the Martinique driver’s second world championship event.
The result equalled 30-year-old McRae’s best performance on this rally. “To finish third on our first rally with the Ford Focus is superb. Even after our final test here in Monte Carlo I didn’t feel very confident about our chances but part of that was me having to get used to a whole new car,” he said.
“Now I’ve learned a great deal more about the feel of the Focus and how it works so my confidence has grown as the event has gone on. And the really encouraging factor is that there’s much more performance still to come,” added McRae.
The Scot’s technical ability came to the fore this morning when both rear driveshafts pulled away from the car’s differential during the day’s opening stage. McRae and Grist worked furiously by the side of the road after the finish of the test to push the driveshafts back into position and then stormed to fastest time on the very next stage.
Jean-Joseph produced a performance of great maturity. “My target was to finish the rally and learn more about the car, the team, my co-driver and the world championship, which are all so new to me. I’ve achieved that and I’m delighted,” he said. Experienced co-driver Gallagher was full of praise for his driver. “He’s coped extremely well with a massive learning curve during the last four days. Not many drivers have set a top six time on only their second ever world rally.” Ford Martini World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson admitted McRae’s third place was far more than he expected. “It’s a very emotional moment for me, more so than when the team scored their first win in Greece in 1997. After all the effort everyone in the team has put into this project, all the late nights and early mornings, to come here and get a podium place exceeds all our hopes.
“Colin has done an incredible job. He’s a great driver and after his efforts to repair the car this morning, he’s also one of our best technicians! Problems like that are to be expected with a new car but rallying is becoming so technical that it’s vital to have a driver with good mechanical knowledge,” he added.
News from our Rivals
Any hopes of a challenge to Tommi Mäkinen’s leadership ended on the opening stage when Gilles Panizzi, lying second overnight, slid into a wall after hitting black ice and rolled his Subaru into retirement. Didier Auriol set two fastest times on the last day to win a thrilling three-car battle for fourth, edging out former rally winner Francois Delecour’s Ford and Bruno Thiry, who held fourth going into the final stage. Less than 10 seconds separated the trio. And fastest time for Harri Rovanpera on the penultimate stage was the first ever for Seat in the world championship.
The frozen wastes of Sweden await the Ford Martini World Rally Team next month. Snow-covered gravel roads and extreme temperatures are the hallmark of the championship’s only true winter rally which is based in Karlstad. The three-day Swedish Rally begins there on 12 February and ends back in the town on 14 February.
Provisional final positions
1. T Mäkinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 5hr 16min 50.6sec
2. J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Subaru Impreza 5hr 18min 35.3sec
3. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus 5hr 20min 07.4sec
4. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Toyota Corolla 5hr 20min 43.4sec
5. F Delecour/D Savignoni F Ford Escort 5hr 20min 51.8sec
6. B Thiry/S Prévot B Subaru Impreza 5hr 20min 53.1sec
7. P Liatti/C Cassina I Seat WRC 5hr 23min 48.7sec
8. H Rovanpera/R Pietilainen FIN Seat WRC 5hr 23min 52.9sec
9. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 5hr 26min 15.2sec
10 H Lundgaard/F Pedersen DK Toyota Corolla 5hr 30min 56.8sec
11 S Jean-Joseph/F Gallagher F Ford Focus 5hr min 13.1sec
1998 FIA World Rally Championship (after round 1 of 14) Drivers Manufacturers
1. T Mäkinen 10pts 1. Mitsubishi 10pts 2. J Kankkunen 6pts 2. Subaru 6pts 3. C McRae 4pts 3. Ford 4pts 4. D Auriol 3pts 4. Toyota 3pts 5. F Delecour 2pts 5. Seat 3pts 6. B Thiry 1pt