Ford Martini moved into a clear lead in the FIA World Rally Championship after Colin McRae and Nicky Grist and team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya finished second and fourth respectively on the Rally New Zealand today. McRae's podium finish at...
Ford Martini moved into a clear lead in the FIA World Rally Championship after Colin McRae and Nicky Grist and team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya finished second and fourth respectively on the Rally New Zealand today. McRae's podium finish at the wheel of a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car moved him into the joint lead of the drivers' series with four of the 14 rounds remaining, the Scot ahead by virtue of the tie-break.
The results carried Ford into a 10 point lead in the manufacturers' championship while McRae moved level with four-time champion Tommi Mäkinen, the two drivers nine points clear of Richard Burns. Sainz lies fourth, another point behind.
It was a controversial rally, the move from the southern hemisphere winter to spring transforming the event from a wet one to a dry one. The result was that the first cars to tackle the stages had to plough through thick gravel coating the smooth, flowing roads, sweeping them clear to the benefit of those behind who enjoyed a cleaner line.
Both McRae and Sainz endured the worst of the conditions. But a gritty drive from McRae put him into second starting today's third and final leg south of the rally base of Auckland. With Burns forced to suffer by being first on the road today, McRae sliced his overnight deficit from 42.6sec to just 14.7sec with two speed tests remaining.
The 33-year-old Scot knew he could not catch Burns and eased off but he almost fell into the clutches of those behind when he spun and stalled the engine of his Focus RS on the penultimate stage. However, he held on, finishing 44.6sec behind Burns.
"We had backed off a little bit before the penultimate stage when we realised we couldn't catch Richard," said McRae. "But we slid into the loose gravel and half spun. The engine wouldn't start and we dropped about 35 seconds. It was a very quiet liaison section to the start of the final test because we knew there were now three cars just a handful of seconds behind us.
"The conditions decided this rally and with our road position victory here was always a long shot. We had to run close to the front of the field on each day which effectively penalised us for driving quickly so it wasn't a very even fight," added McRae.
Sainz, fourth overnight, regained third this morning and went into the final stage sandwiched between McRae ahead and Marcus Grönholm and Harri Rovanperä behind. However, the 39-year-old Madrid-based driver spun his Focus RS just three bends from the finish line and the handful of seconds lost dropped him to fourth.
"We were caught out by the loose gravel," said Sainz. "We stopped facing the wrong way and I had to find first gear and spin the car round before continuing. After Colin's spin I thought second was possible but instead we finished fourth. That wasn't a bad result in view of spending three days driving through loose gravel but it was a frustrating rally for us due to the conditions."
François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup, driving a third Focus RS, finished 12th. Despite rolling during the second leg and losing four minutes, the French duo had hopes of a top 10 finish. But they ended when Delecour spun and stalled his engine on this morning's second test, losing another 40 seconds. "It's good to finish after what happened but obviously I would have liked to have been higher. It's the first time I have driven some of these stages so that's good experience for the future," he said.
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson was full of praise for McRae and Sainz. "Both were fantastic considering their unfavourable running positions. We have had absolutely no problems with any of the three cars and to take a 10 point lead into the two asphalt rallies is ideal," he said.
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Despite the disadvantage of running first on the road, Richard Burns (Subaru) held on to score his first win since last year's Rally of Great Britain and move to third in the championship. Behind McRae, Harri Rovanperä (Peugeot) looked set for fifth until a dramatic final stage. Sainz's spin and a 10 second jump penalty for Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) promoted Rovanperä to third and saw Grönholm make the reverse journey. Didier Auriol (Peugeot) took the final drivers' point while Petter Solberg (Subaru) overhauled Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi) on the final test, after three consecutive fastest times, to take the last manufacturers' point. Remarkably all 14 manufacturer-entered cars which started the rally reached the finish.
There is little respite for drivers who return to action on Italy's Sanremo Rally from 4 - 7 October, the first of two all-asphalt events in the month. <pre> Final positions 1. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 3hr 47min 28.0sec 2. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus RS 3hr 48min 12.6sec 3. H Rovanperä/R Pietilainen FIN Peugeot 206 3hr 48min 18.1sec 4. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus RS 3hr 48min 20.2sec 5. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 3hr 48min 23.8sec 6. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Peugeot 206 3hr 48min 39.3sec 7. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 3hr 49min 43.8sec 8. T Mäkinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 3hr 49min 49.0sec 9. A McRae/D Senior GB Hyundai Accent 3hr 51min 01.8sec 10 K Eriksson/S Parmander S Hyundai Accent 3hr 51min 49.9sec
FIA World Rally Championship (after round 10 of 14) Drivers 1= C McRae 40pts 1= T Mäkinen 40pts 3. R Burns 31pts 4. C Sainz 30pts 5. H Rovanperä 27pts 6. M Grönholm 16pts
Manufacturers 1. Ford 76pts 2. Mitsubishi 66pts 3. Subaru 46pts 4. Peugeot 44pts 5. Skoda 15pts 6. Hyundai 10pts