WRC

Portugal Ford Martini First Day Notes

McRae leads Rally of Portugal for Ford Martini Colin McRae and Nicky Grist took an early lead on the Rally of Portugal as the Ford Martini World Rally Team pair posted fastest time on this afternoon's opening special stage. McRae thrilled the...

McRae leads Rally of Portugal for Ford Martini

Colin McRae and Nicky Grist took an early lead on the Rally of Portugal as the Ford Martini World Rally Team pair posted fastest time on this afternoon's opening special stage. McRae thrilled the huge crowds basking in the hot sunshine, and those watching live on Portuguese television, by scorching round the 3.20km Baltar test in his Ford Focus World Rally Car 0.4 second faster than Finland's Marcus Gronholm.

The spectators were treated to some spectacular driving as two cars at a time raced each other around the dusty purpose-built circuit. Only tenths of a second divided the top drivers as they returned to the rally's host city of Porto after the only competitive action of the first day of this fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

A smiling McRae, winner of last month's Safari Rally in Kenya, said: "That was good fun. It's a nice stage to drive but very dusty. At the end of the stage Nicky and myself were filthy because the dust thrown up by Carlos Sainz's car, which we were racing against, came into our cockpit through through the roof ventilation holes. Now the fun is over and the rally starts properly tomorrow with long and demanding stages."

Ford Martini team-mates Petter Solberg and Philip Mills were 18th in the second Focus, 10.1 seconds behind McRae after losing time by stalling the car.

News from our Rivals Behind McRae and Gronholm came the Toyotas of Carlos Sainz and Didier Auriol with world championship leader Tommi Makinen (Mitsubishi) fifth and Juha Kankkunen (Subaru) completing the top six. They were covered by just 2.6 seconds.

Tomorrow's Route After leaving Porto at 06.00, the route takes competitors north for two stages near the Spanish border before heading inland for two loops of three stages close to the town of Fafe. They return to Porto at 20.30 after eight stages totalling 156km in a total route of 626km. The leg features the longest stages of the event and drivers twice tackle the 27.60km Cabreira test, the longest of the rally.

Key Stage Nicky Grist: "None of tomorrow's stages are any more difficult than the others. But the final three tests will be used for a second time and the road surface will start to cut up a little. But the surfaces here are good so it shouldn't be too much of a problem."

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Series WRC
Drivers Tommi Makinen , Colin McRae , Carlos Sainz , Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , Philip Mills , Juha Kankkunen , Nicky Grist