Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya led the Rally Argentina in their Ford Focus World Rally Car at the end of today's opening leg of this sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Ford Martini team-mates Colin McRae and Nicky Grist were third as ...
Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya led the Rally Argentina in their Ford Focus World Rally Car at the end of today's opening leg of this sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Ford Martini team-mates Colin McRae and Nicky Grist were third as weary competitors returned to the rally base in Cordoba after a tough day's driving on gravel roads across vast open plains north of the city.
Spaniards Sainz and Moya posted fastest time on three of the day's six special stages to open a 4.2sec lead over Marcus Grönholm. Their first quickest time, on stage six, came despite a 3cm cut on their rear left tyre. However, Michelin's ATS mousse ensured the rubber remained inflated.
The platform for Sainz's lead was built on the day's longer stages, the 38-year-old Madrid-based driver claiming his stage victories on tests that were each more than 22km long. He had huge support from the flag-waving Argentines lining the gravel tracks to witness the fast and furious action. Indeed, the crowds were so large that one stage had to be cancelled for safety reasons.
"I think we can say that today has been perfect," said Sainz. "We've had no problems and I've felt increasingly confident with the Focus as the day has gone on. Of course we're only a third of the way through this rally, and the toughest leg is the final one, but given a choice of which position I would like to be in tonight, I would say first.
"Tomorrow's stages are more flowing and faster and with the exception of one test I don't think it will be any disadvantage for us to be running as the first car on the road," said Sainz.
McRae and Grist, second quickest on two speed tests, were 24.1sec behind their team-mates, the 31-year-old Scottish driver admitting it was a difficult day. "Early this morning conditions were a little tricky with a lot of dust hanging around but things improved as the day went on. The roads have been quite varied. This morning they were soft and sandy but a couple of stages this afternoon were quite rough, run over hard bedrock with many loose rocks. We've kept out of trouble and we're in good form for tomorrow."
McRae's only problem arose after the finish of the day's first stage. After stopping to swap the tyres around on his Focus, the still hot brakes caused the brake fluid to boil, allowing the brake pedal to go straight to the floor.
Petter Solberg and Phil Mills, driving a third Ford-entered Focus, lie ninth, the young Norwegian driver slowly acclimatising to the tough Argentine stages on his debut here. Solberg is under strict orders from team director Malcolm Wilson to drive cautiously to ensure he finishes and learns as much about the technically difficult roads as possible. Solberg has also been using development front suspension, providing vital data for the Ford Martini team to work on for future rallies.
However, Solberg and Mills endured a frightening incident on the final stage. "About 4km after the start we arrived at a long corner through a narrow gulley and I could see spectators on the bank above the road," said Solberg. "Suddenly a huge rock was launched at the car which shattered the windscreen. I lost concentration and it was very difficult to see anything out of the screen for the rest of the stage. These people are crazy. They should realise that this kind of thing could kill somebody."
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson supervised routine maintenance at the end of day service and said: "It's been a great performance today, especially from Carlos who was so fast on the longer stages and he fully deserves to lead tonight. Colin had a slight problem with the car's anti-lag system on the final stage this evening but held on to third and those two are in a superb position for tomorrow. Petter, too, has driven very well and he's doing everything the team is asking of him."
News from our Rivals
It has been a tough day for the manufacturer drivers, problems major and minor afflicting many. Worst to suffer was Seat, Didier Auriol and Toni Gardemeister retiring from seventh and eighth after they each stopped with clutch problems, just a kilometre apart, after river crossings on stage six. Francois Delecour (Peugeot) lost more than 15 minutes after a hydraulic leak caused fluid to drip onto his car's turbo, causing a fire. Kenneth Eriksson (Hyundai) slipped out of the top 10 after driving for several stages with no power steering. Those at the top end of the leaderboard did not escape either. Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi) lost sixth gear on stage six while Richard Burns (Subaru) suffered turbo failure after it inhaled water during a river crossing. Burns has also struggled with intermittent overheating, causing the engine to limit power output.
The second leg takes drivers south of Cordoba to stages based around the town of Santa Rosa de Calamuchita, in the heart of the region's lake district. The roads are faster and more flowing than those used today and drivers face seven more tests, of which two are repeated, covering 131.53km. They leave Cordoba at 07.15 and return to the city at 17.46 after a total distance of 470.30km.
<pre> Leaderboard after Leg 1 1. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus 1hr 27min 42.3sec 2. M Gronholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 1hr 27min 46.5sec 3. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus 1hr 28min 06.4sec 4. J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Subaru Impreza 1hr 28min 13.9sec 5. T Mäkinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 1hr 28min 16.3sec 6. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 1hr 28min 21.9sec 7. F Loix/S Smeets B Mitsubishi Carisma 1hr 29min 30.6sec 8. A McRae/D Senior GB Hyundai Accent 1hr 30min 26.1sec 9. P Solberg/P Mills N Ford Focus 1hr 31min 12.9sec 10 G Trelles/J Del Buono ROU Mitsubishi Lancer 1hr 33min 23.5sec