Rally Argentina - Leg 1 - Ford Racing Report

RÃ¥dstrom hails return with solid start in Argentina Thomas RÃ¥dstrom marked his return to world championship rallying with an encouraging performance on the opening day of the Rally Argentina. The Ford Martini World Rally Team driver ended...

Rådstrom hails return with solid start in Argentina

Thomas Rådstrom marked his return to world championship rallying with an encouraging performance on the opening day of the Rally Argentina. The Ford Martini World Rally Team driver ended his first day of competition since breaking a leg in February in sixth place in a Ford Focus World Rally Car on this seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

The 33-year-old Swede and co-driver Fred Gallagher showed no signs of rustiness after their near-three month lay-off, posting consistent top six times on today's eight narrow and rocky stages in the foothills of the Andes, west of the host city of Cordoba. Team-mates Colin McRae and Nicky Grist fared less well, the British pair retiring their Ford Focus on the second stage this morning.

Today's leg is regarded as one of the most punishing in the 14-round championship, huge rocks battering the underneath of the cars and testing the expertise of the tyre manufacturers in providing rubber that can withstand the jagged stones. For Rådstrom there was an extra difficulty - this is his first attempt at the rally.

"I had to be very careful because on some stages there were stones the size of a football lying in the road, dragged there by cars in front of us," said Rådstrom. "You come over a crest or round a corner to find a rock in the road and because the stages are so narrow there is no room or time to avoid it and so you must just drive over it.

"I spun the car on stage 6 and stalled the engine, losing around 20 seconds. I also had six punctures during the day but the mousse system on Michelin's tyres worked well to keep them inflated. Two or three times I didn't even realise we had a puncture until we reached the end of the stage," he added.

Colin McRae and Nicky Grist, driving the other Ford Martini Focus, made a perfect start by setting fastest time on the famous El Condor - Copina stage, the 30-year-old Scot covering the 8.39km test 0.5 sec clear of his closest rival and climbing to second overall. But on the next 19.23km Giulio Cesare - Mina Clavero stage, another classic Rally Argentina test but run downhill for the first time, it went wrong for McRae. After about 13km McRae swiped a large rock in the road just over a crest, tipping the Ford Focus onto its side. Although McRae and Grist pushed the car back onto its wheels, the impact broke a pin in the front suspension, sidelining them on the spot.

"It's obviously disappointing to retire so early," said McRae. "The car went really well on the first stage today, we set fastest time without really pushing that hard. We were just unlucky to hit a rock but that's typical Argentina, you have to pick your line very carefully and hope that luck is on your side. It wasn't with us today."

Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson said: "Considering the bad weather that Thomas had to put up with during the practice, when he couldn't see more than 50m ahead of him at times, he's driven really well today. Tomorrow's stages should suit him better and allow him to gain confidence in the roads and push a bit harder.

"It's disappointing to lose Colin so early. We understand he was around seven seconds quicker than his rivals on that stage before his accident so it's clear he was attacking hard and would probably have been leading after that test," added Wilson.

News from our Rivals

Today has been a revelation for Subaru drivers Richard Burns and Juha Kankkunen. After a difficult year, they set the pace, each setting three fastest stage times. Toyota duo Didier Auriol and Carlos Sainz were again in tandem in third and fourth, their only problem coming when the Spaniard had to stop and close his bonnet on stage 6 after it flew open just 300m from the start. World championship leader Tommi Makinen will be disappointed to be in fifth, the Finn spending most of the day without fourth gear in his Mitsubishi. Team-mate Freddy Loix endured a difficult day, swiping the rear of his car, spinning and meeting a horse on the road all in the course of the same stage! Seat drivers Piero Liatti and Harri Rovanpera hold seventh and eighth, Liatti bending a wheel on the first stage and the Finn tackling the first two tests with no intercom.

Tomorrow's Route

After the narrow, twisty and rugged tracks in the foothills of the Andes, the second leg takes competitors north of Cordoba for seven more stages, the gravel roads criss-crossing vast open plains at a lower altitude than today. Drivers leave Cordoba at 06.58, returning at 18.48 after more than 127km of stages in a route of almost 521km.

Key Stage

Fred Gallagher: "None of the stages tomorrow are really any more taxing than the others, although I would probably rate stage 15, which is more than 23km long, as the hardest, because it's very twisty and demanding."

Leaderboard after Leg 1 1. J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Subaru Impreza 1hr 32min 34.4sec 2. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 1hr 32min 35.5sec 3. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Toyota Corolla 1hr 32min 37.9sec 4. C Sainz/L Moya E Toyota Corolla 1hr 33min 20.0sec 5. T Makinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lanc 1hr 33min 49.2sec 6. T Rådstrom/ F Gallagher S Ford Focus 1hr 34min 02.9sec 7. P Liatti/C Cassina I Seat WRC 1hr 34min 12.0sec 8. H Rovanpera/R Pietilainen FIN Seat WRC 1hr 34min 48.4sec 9. F Loix/S Smeets B Mitsubishi Cari 1hr 34min 59.8sec 10 M Galanti/V Zucchini PY Toyota Corolla 1hr 39min 14.2sec

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Tommi Makinen , Colin McRae , Carlos Sainz , Freddy Loix , Richard Burns , Didier Auriol , Thomas Radstrom , Nicky Grist , Piero Liatti , Malcolm Wilson