Colin McRae and Nicky Grist today finished second in the Rally Finland after a thrilling showdown on the final speed test to lift the Ford Martini team into the lead of the FIA World Rally Championship. Their Ford Focus World Rally Car came from...
Colin McRae and Nicky Grist today finished second in the Rally Finland after a thrilling showdown on the final speed test to lift the Ford Martini team into the lead of the FIA World Rally Championship. Their Ford Focus World Rally Car came from behind to claim the runners-up spot and move the team into a three point advantage in the manufacturers' series with five rounds remaining.
The performance of McRae and Grist during today's final leg was superb. They set fastest time on three of the five gravel special stages south-west of the host city of Jyväskylä, taking their total for the rally to four. Having moved ahead of Harri Rovanperä into second, McRae slipped behind on the penultimate stage and they started the final 25.43km Vaheri test 2.7sec apart.
McRae delivered a brilliant display in front of a live television audience to set fastest time and climb back into second, ending the three-day event, the ninth round of the championship, 3.4sec in front of Rovanperä.
The 32-year-old Scot's performance was all the more remarkable in that the Rally Finland is the most specialised event in the championship. With speeds frequently exceeding 200kph, the blind crests and awesomely fast corners call for bravery and skill in equal measure. Experience counts for much and McRae's previously poor finishing record meant he lost out to most of his rivals in that area. However, he was the only non-Finn to finish in the top five.
"This really is a big, big result for me and the Ford Martini team," said McRae, who earlier this month agreed a two-year extension to his contract with Ford. "That last stage went perfectly and when it goes as well as that it feels drama-free from inside the car. People said it looked very spectacular from the side of the road but inside it felt smooth and much better than the previous stage when we dropped almost 10sec to Harri.
"Having already driven that stage yesterday I remembered quite a lot and I was determined to go as fast as possible without risking throwing away a top three position altogether by going off the road.
"This is the hardest rally for me in the championship and now I have real confidence for the rest of the season. Marcus Grönholm has moved into the lead of the championship here but he has little experience of the next three rallies in Cyprus, Corsica and Italy. None of us know much about Cyprus, which is new to the series, so we go there on a level playing field and I now have my sights set on moving to the top of the championship," added McRae.
Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya, having climbed back from 110th to 12th following their first day problems, lost more time when a wire in the transmission tunnel caught fire on the penultimate stage. They had to stop to put it out, losing five minutes, but despite their problems they persevered and finished 14th.
"When you have a setback so early in the rally and lose any chance of a top position it takes away your motivation but we've been able to test some engine and suspension components and learned a lot," said the 38-year-old Spaniard. "It's fantastic for the team to move into the lead in the championship and hopefully we can both score points in Cyprus to maintain that advantage."
A delighted Martin Whitaker, European Director of Ford Racing, paid tribute to both drivers. "Each, in his own way, showed total commitment. Colin got to grips with an event that is far from his favourite while Carlos showed determination to continue setting fast times after his early disappointment, while carrying out testing work. Ford is now leading the championship and we don't intend to let go of it," he said.
News from our Rivals
Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) was untroubled on his way to a second straight win to take the lead in the drivers' standings. His cousin, Sebastian Lindholm, made an impressive debut for the team to maintain fifth while third driver Francois Delecour notched the final drivers' point despite rolling on the final stage. World champion Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi) finished fourth after a subdued rally for the team while the final manufacturer points were taken by Juha Kankkunen (Subaru) and Alister McRae (Hyundai). The Finn overhauled his rival on the final stage after McRae suffered power steering problems. McRae's team-mate, Kenneth Eriksson, fell down the order after cracking his car's sump following a heavy landing on the penultimate stage and having to limp through the final test.
The Cyprus Rally makes its debut in the FIA World Championship when competitors head to the island for round 10 on 8 - 10 September. The rally, a late replacement for the China Rally which withdrew from the series, is based in Limassol.
<pre> Final positions 1. M Gronholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 3hr 22min 37.1sec 2. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus 3hr 23min 43.3sec 3. H Rovanperä/R Pietiläinen FIN Toyota Corolla 3hr 23min 46.7sec 4. T Mäkinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 3hr 24min 15.8sec 5. S Lindholm/J Aho FIN Peugeot 206 3hr 24min 43.1sec 6. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Peugeot 206 3hr 27min 42.1sec 7. P Hagström/T Gardemeister FIN Toyota Corolla 3hr 27min 53.6sec 8. J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Subaru Impreza 3hr 28min 30.0sec 9. A McRae/D Senior GB Hyundai Accent 3hr 28min 46.2sec 10 M Martin/M Park EE Toyota Corolla 3hr 29min 27.7sec
2000 FIA World Rally Championship (after round 9 of 14) Drivers Manufacturers 1. M Grönholm 44pts 1. Ford 63pts 2. R Burns 38pts 2. Subaru 60pts 3. C McRae 36pts 3. Peugeot 54pts 4. C Sainz 27pts 4. Mitsubishi 33pts 5. T Mäkinen 26pts 5. Skoda 8pts 6. J Kankkunen 18pts 6. Seat 7pts