McRae's Focus climbs Monte Carlo leaderboard Colin McRae and Nicky Grist ended the penultimate leg of the Monte Carlo Rally in fourth after another excellent day behind the wheel of their Ford Focus World Rally Car. They moved up from an ...
McRae's Focus climbs Monte Carlo leaderboard
Colin McRae and Nicky Grist ended the penultimate leg of the Monte Carlo Rally in fourth after another excellent day behind the wheel of their Ford Focus World Rally Car. They moved up from an overnight sixth and sealed a good display with fastest time on the last of the day's asphalt speed tests in the mountains of southern France - their third quickest time of the rally, a total matched only by leader Tommi Makinen.
The pace of the Focus, making its debut on this opening round of the 1999 FIA World Rally Championship, was matched by its reliability. On only their second day of competition, the Ford Martini World Rally Team cars of McRae and team-mates Simon Jean-Joseph and Fred Gallagher ran without mechnaical problems.
McRae began the day with second fastest time on the opening icy special stage to move into fourth. Although the 30-year-old Scot slipped to fifth on the following test, consistently fast times enabled him to regain fourth on the final stage.
"Today has been a gruelling day," said McRae. "We lost time in the Sisteron stage but that was our fault because we picked the wrong tyres. Otherwise it's been good and it was great to end the day on a high with fastest time. On the previous stage, the climb up the Col de Turini was bad as spectators were shovelling snow onto the road. We were quite cautious because we could see where other cars had slid into the snowbanks but that last stage was much cleaner with better grip."
Jean-Joseph, from the Caribbean island of Martinique, impressed onlookers with a mature performance in the second Martini-backed Ford Focus. After starting this morning in 16th, the 29-year-old, driving on only his second World Championship event, reeled in drivers ahead of him to reach the overnight halt in Monte Carlo in 12th.
After clipping a wall on the day's third stage and damaging the suspension, mechanics worked furiously to fit new parts at the following service park to put Jean-Joseph back on the road without additional time penalties. They changed a new steering rack, a cross member, both front suspension uprights, a driveshaft and an anti-roll bar in just 20 minutes, earning warm applause from spectators.
"The incident happened just 6km from the end of the stage. It was a long corner and I put two wheels onto the grass which dragged the car into the wall. It was a silly mistake because I had not been taking any risks but we've had a good day and the car has been getting better with every stage," said Jean-Joseph.
"It's the first time all these things have been changed on the Focus in such a hurry," said team director Malcolm Wilson. "Our mechanics did an incredible job to fit the new parts in the time allowed and it shows the value of designing the car so that major parts can be changed quickly and easily in far from ideal conditions. To finish with another fastest time by Colin was a great boost. If you look at Colin's time on the last stage tonight and remember that it will be used twice more tomorrow, the advantage he gained on the cars in front is very encouraging."
News from our Rivals
Surprise leader Gilles Panizzi received a 20 second penalty after arriving late at the first service park following difficulties in starting his engine at the restart in Gap. He then lost a minute after spinning his Subaru at a hairpin and stalling the engine on the day's third stage. That gave the lead back to Tommi Makinen, who has been markedly quicker all day apart from the opening stage where a poor tyre choice cost time. Piero Liatti plunged from fourth to ninth after losing almost five minutes when forced to drive the final two stages with a faulty foot brake on his Seat WRC while a misfire on the penultimate test cost Richard Burns 2min 30sec in the second works Subaru.
The mountains above Monte Carlo will be the setting for the final leg. After leaving Monaco at 07.00, drivers tackle two loops of two stages, a repeat of tonight's last two tests, before returning to the Principality for the finish at 14.12. The four stages total more than 109km in a total route of 324km. Thousands of fans will spend tonight in the mountains at the famous Col de Turini to watch the cars twice more tomorrow.
Tomorrow's Key Stage
Nicky Grist: "Tomorrow's two runs over the Col de Turini (stages 11 and 13) will be crucial because of tyre choice. There's a good chance the stages will freeze tonight but by the time we go through for the second run tomorrow they may have cleared."
Leaderboard after Leg 3 1. T Makinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 3hr 48min 56.5sec 2. G Panizzi/H Panizz F Subaru Impreza 3hr 50min 42.1sec 3. J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Subaru Impreza 3hr 51min 02.3sec 4. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus 3hr 51min 44.2sec 5. F Delecour/D Savignoni F Ford Escort 3hr 53min 06.4sec 6. B Thiry/S Prevot B Subaru Impreza 3hr 53min 33.4sec 7. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Toyota Corolla 3hr 53min 50.2sec 8. H Rovanpera/R Pietilainen FIN Seat WRC 3hr 55min 57.2sec 9. P Liatti/C Cassina I Seat WRC 3hr 55min 59.9sec 10. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 3hr 58min 31.9sec 12. S Jean-Joseph/F Gallagher F Ford Focus 4hr 03min 12.0sec