Ford Martini drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist delivered a gutsy performance in today's second leg of the Rally Finland to put their Ford Focus World Rally Car on course for a podium finish. The British pair lie third with one leg remaining of...
Ford Martini drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist delivered a gutsy performance in today's second leg of the Rally Finland to put their Ford Focus World Rally Car on course for a podium finish. The British pair lie third with one leg remaining of this ninth round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
On this most specialised event of the 14-round series, where local experience counts for so much, McRae is the only non-Finn in the top five. He has spent most of the day's eight speed tests, covering 165km over predominantly wide and flowing gravel roads, consolidating third while fending off a string of Finnish challengers from behind.
Such has been the pace of this fastest event in the championship that top speeds have exceeded 200kph and huge crowds have gathered in the forests to watch the cars flying through the air over the spectacular jumps.
McRae's world championship hopes received an early morning boost with the retirement of points leader Richard Burns and he plans to attack hard on tomorrow's final leg to try to overhaul Harri Rovanperä, second on the rally. The gap between the two drivers stands at ????.
Thirty-two-year-old McRae, who set his first fastest time of the rally on this afternoon's 19.08km Ehikki test, suffered no major problems, his only difficulty coming after a heavy landing buckled his car's sump guard and pushed the cross-member back by more than 10cm.
"It's been difficult to find a rhythm and today has been a balance between trying to catch Harri and holding off the Finns behind me," said McRae. "The gap to Harri is less than 20 seconds but sometimes it's felt like 20 minutes because it's so hard to make inroads on these fast stages. If I knew yesterday that I would be third tonight I would have been happy but I'm competitive and I always want more. At these speeds it's a fine line between staying on the road and going off. That line is now almost invisible but I must think of the championship positions all the time.
"In the morning I'll try to put pressure on Harri but the risk is that when you push in the hope of forcing a mistake, you're just as likely to make an error yourself. Most of tomorrow's stages are repeats and that will help my confidence and rhythm but the roads will be rougher. The first stage will be important because it often sets the pattern for the day," added McRae.
Ford Martini team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya climbed from an overnight 30th to ????, despite rolling on the day's opening stage. "It was a very slow place, a third gear corner," said 38-year-old Sainz. I dropped the back of the Focus into a ditch and it just rolled over. It was a bit stupid really."
Sainz is eighth registered manufacturer contender and hopes that further retirements could let him back into the points. But he admitted it was hard to remain motivated. "In our situation it's difficult to find the motivation to take risks for the last few tenths of a second," he said.
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson praised McRae for his performance today. "We'd be delighted if Colin could hold his position to the finish. Realistically he can't do anything about leader Marcus Grönholm but he may be able to catch Rovanperä. Carlos has been testing different engine specifications and we've also been letting him try a few ideas of his own with suspension settings," he said.
News from our Rivals
The day began with a flurry of retirements. Toni Gardemeister (Seat) was first to go when he stopped on the liaison section to the opening service park after electrical difficulties caused the fuel pump to fail. On the opening 30.34km Juupajoki, second placed Richard Burns (Subaru) rolled heavily just after the flying finish and Freddy Loix (Mitsubishi) first went off and then retired with a broken radiator. Team-mates Marcus Grönholm, Sebastian Lindholm and Francois Delecour (all Peugeot) have enjoyed a virtually troublefree day, although Lindholm dropped a handful of seconds with a turbo problem. Juha Kankkunen's (Subaru) hopes of a podium finish ended when he had to stop and change a puncture on Ouninpohja, losing almost 4min 30sec. He now lies 10th, benefiting from the late retirements of Tapio Laukkanen and Janne Tuohino. A poor tyre choice this morning cost Tommi Mäkinen dear but he has recovered well to hold fourth while Kenneth Eriksson (Hyundai) lost four minutes when he stopped after the battery cable came off the alternator.
The final leg covers similar terrain to today. Four of the five stages were tackled today but drivers can expect a much rougher run tomorrow. After leaving Jyväskylä at 06.00, competitors face almost 117km of competition before returning to the finish at 16.11. There is a real sting in the tail as the last two stages, Ouninpohja and Vaheri, are two of the longest, and also the most famous, tests in the rally.
<pre> Leaderboard after Leg 2 1. M Gronholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 2hr min .sec 2. H Rovanperä/R Pietiläinen FIN Toyota Corolla 2hr min .sec 3. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus 2hr min .sec 4. T Mäkinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 2hr min .sec 5. S Lindholm/J Aho FIN Peugeot 206 2hr min .sec 6. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Peugeot 206 2hr min .sec 7. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Seat Cordoba 2hr 8. P Hagström/T Gardemeister FIN Toyota Corolla 2hr 9. A McRae/D Senior GB Hyundai Accent 2hr 10 J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Subaru Impreza 2hr 25min 09.3sec