WRC

Rally Finland Ford Racing leg two report

Faultless Ford duo eye points finish in Finland Ford Martini drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist and team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya produced faultless displays during today's second leg of the Rally Finland to move into strong ...

Faultless Ford duo eye points finish in Finland

Ford Martini drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist and team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya produced faultless displays during today's second leg of the Rally Finland to move into strong points-scoring positions at the top of the leaderboard. Driving Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars, McRae climbed to fourth while team-mate Sainz moved through the order to sixth with just one leg of the three-day rally remaining.

Both have much to look forward to tomorrow. McRae lies just 3.7sec behind fellow Briton Richard Burns and faces an exciting showdown for the final podium place during tomorrow's three long speed tests. The 33-year-old Scot set two quickest times from today's nine ultra-fast special stages and will enjoy a psychological advantage over Burns, who saw his opening leg lead vanish, on the final day of this ninth round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

Sainz lies 20.1sec behind Estonian Markko Martin, a team-mate of Burns, and the experience of the 39-year-old Madrid-based driver could play a crucial part in his fight with the relatively inexperienced 25-year-old.

Thousands of fans enjoyed the warm sunshine as they crowded into the forests. Today's tests were held on fast and wide roads south-west of the rally base of Jyväskylä. The speeds were higher and the jumps even bigger than yesterday, and those brave enough to meet the challenge made significant gains.

McRae, only once outside the top four times, enjoyed the advantage of a favourable road position. Unlike yesterday when he was the first competitor through the stages and had to tackle roads covered in loose and slippery gravel, his lower road position meant the stones had been swept away, allowing him a clear run.

"It was a definite help," he said. "It's been superb today and we've made a major impression on Richard. We'll try as hard as we can to catch him tomorrow, but, bearing in mind the championship positions, we'll not throw away what we have in an all-out effort. We'll not take chances because the important thing is to score points."

Sainz also set a fierce pace and his fastest time on the morning's third stage was achieved at an incredible average of 127.43kph. "We ran much better than yesterday and I made no mistakes this time," he said. "We'll keep pushing hard tomorrow and see how things turn out. I enjoyed the wider roads. They're much more exciting to drive and it's easier to place the car than on the narrower roads yesterday.

François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup, driving a third Focus RS, recovered superbly from yesterday's problems. A string of top six times enabled them to climb from an overnight 27th to 15th during an untroubled leg. "I'm much happier," said Delecour. "We lost too much time yesterday to have a chance of making the top 10 but I've learned much about the Finnish stages and gained valuable experience of what is one of the most specialised rallies in the world. And I'm still the top Frenchman!" he joked.

Finnish amateur Jani Paasonen, whose speed yesterday proved the surprise of the day, retired after twice rolling his Focus RS. He crashed on the opening stage and continued after losing a minute but left the road again four stages later. Paasonen was unhurt but co-driver Arto Kapanen was taken to hospital for a check-up.

News from our Rivals
The day has been dominated by the battle between team-mates Marcus Grönholm and Harri Rovanperä (Peugeot). Grönholm regained the lead on the first stage this morning but his fellow Finn set four fastest times and reduced the deficit to just 14.2sec at the end of the leg. Gronhölm's only problem was a bent rear wheel on stage 15 while Rovanperä suffered an oil leak on his car's left front shock absorber early this morning. Overnight leader Richard Burns (Subaru) did not fare so well. Running first on the road and having to cope with loose gravel was a disadvantage and two punctures during the day did not help his cause. Team-mate Markko Martin could not maintain his overnight third. A heavy landing on stage 15 squashed his car's exhaust pipe and drained power from the engine and just 2km later he lost more time by sliding off the road briefly. The day's major retirement was Didier Auriol (Peugeot) who went out in stage 13 when his right front suspension broke after a heavy landing, throwing his car off the road. Another casualty was four-time world champion Juha Kankkunen (Hyundai) who stopped in the Ouninpohja test with brake failure.

FIA Super 1600 Cup
François Duval is the leading Ford Puma driver in the junior world championship category, ending the leg in second. He posted two fastest times and moved into the lead in the early afternoon before settling into second, firmly in contention for victory. Benoit Rousselot lies seventh in his Puma, despite losing two minutes with a puncture, and Alejandro Galanti is one place behind. Only 11 of the 22 starters remain.

Tomorrow's Route
The final leg returns to the same area that hosted today's action and offers a tough finale. Just three stages await but the opening test, at 40.84km, is the longest of the event and the second longest in the rally's 51-year history. And the final stage is a shortened version of the famous Ouninpohja, used this afternoon. After leaving Jyväskylä at 07.00, drivers face 96.34km of competition before returning to the city for the finish at 16.24. <pre>

Leaderboard after Leg 2 1. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 2hr 35min 24.0sec 2. H Rovanperä/R Pietilainen FIN Peugeot 206 2hr 35min 38.2sec 3. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 2hr 36min 02.3sec 4. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus RS 2hr 36min 06.0sec 5. M Martin/M Park EE Subaru Impreza 2hr 36min 31.3sec 6. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus RS 2hr 36min 51.4sec 7. S Lindholm/T Hantunen FIN Peugeot 206 2hr 37min 47.9sec 8. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 2hr 37min 50.7sec 9. J Pykälistö/E Mertsalmi FIN Toyota Corolla 2hr 38min 54.5sec 10 A McRae/D Senior GB Hyundai Accent 2hr 39min 00.4sec

-Ford Racing

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