Rally New Zealand Ford Racing leg one report

After a bizarre opening day of the Rally New Zealand, Ford Martini drivers Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya and team-mates Colin McRae and Nicky Grist lay third and fourth respectively in their Focus RS World Rally Cars. Colleagues François Delecour...

After a bizarre opening day of the Rally New Zealand, Ford Martini drivers Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya and team-mates Colin McRae and Nicky Grist lay third and fourth respectively in their Focus RS World Rally Cars. Colleagues François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup were seventh after a day dominated by extraordinary tactics in which many of the world's top drivers deliberately slowed to ensure better driving conditions tomorrow on this 10th round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

By virtue of lying second and third in the championship, McRae and Sainz were among the first cars to tackle the smooth and flowing loose surface stages north of the rally base of Auckland. However, the recent dry weather ensured a thick layer of gravel covered the roads, forcing the first few competitors to sweep the slippery loose stones off the tracks to leave a cleaner, and faster, line for the later runners.

McRae, Sainz and Delecour were grouped together in the middle of the top 10 leaderboard until on the final classification stage of the leg, the leaders deliberately slowed to ensure a lower running position and 'cleaner' roads tomorrow. Neither McRae nor Sainz could adopt the same tactics, as the drivers behind them in the running order could respond to the times of the Ford duo.

So, ironically, neither Sainz nor McRae were happy with positions which condemn them to another day of 'road sweeping' tomorrow. Their only hope is heavy rain tonight which would bind together the loose gravel and ensure fairer conditions for all.

"Third is not a good place to start in the morning," said Sainz, who called for a rule change before the rally to prevent this situation. "Eighth or tenth would have been better but we have little choice and I fear we'll lose a lot of time. Unless something extraordinary happens we can wave goodbye to any chance of victory through no fault of ours. It doesn't help the image of rallying," added the Madrid-driver, who was fastest on both the short super special stages at Manukau which ended the day.

Despite the conditions, McRae captured fastest time on the Te Papatapu test as the leaders slowed but the 33-year-old Scot echoed Sainz's thoughts. "Our running positions will make a big difference tomorrow," he said. "Those running behind us will have a huge advantage and we've been penalised for driving quickly on previous rallies and lying second in the championship.

"The FIA (Federation Internationale de L'Automobile) should do something about this because the best drivers in the world are being forced to play silly games and the same thing is likely to happen again tomorrow night," he added.

McRae chose narrow Pirelli tyres from the start to combat the gravel, Sainz following his example after finding wider rubber did not work as well on the first stage. Neither Focus RS car missed a beat during the eight tests covering 117.17km and large crowds flocked to the stages, their enjoyment spoiled only by the odd shower.

Delecour had better, but far from ideal, conditions. Like Sainz, he quickly swapped to narrower rubber after the first test and his only problem was a sixth stage spin on a fast right-hand bend, which cost 30 seconds but ironically resulted in him gaining an ideal road position. "We're in the perfect place," he said. "I think we can make up a lot of time and our target is third place tomorrow evening. But there's several stages tomorrow which I haven't done before so it will be quite a hard day."

News from our Rivals

Kenneth Eriksson (Hyundai) took full advantage of his road position to lead tonight, the first occasion in which a Hyundai has led a world rally. Team-mate Alister McRae spent most of the day in third before slowing to lie eighth. In contrast it was a miserable time for championship leader Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi) who suffered most by leading the cars into the gravel-strewn tests. He dropped over two minutes, his cause not aided by a spin on stage 6. He lies 14th. Team-mate Toni Gardemeister was the only top driver with serious problems. The Finn hit a rock in stage 4, damaging the transmission, and the crew pushed the car for 1km to the next service park, arriving just three seconds inside exclusion. Richard Burns and Petter Solberg (both Subaru) had no real troubles, Solberg setting two fastest times, although an electrical problem stopped his radiator fan and sent the engine into 'safe' mode in the afternoon. Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) led for the first five tests but a miscalculation meant he failed to slow sufficiently on the last classification stage and must restart in second. Team-mate Didier Auriol suffered power-steering failure on the same stage but, ironically, dropped too much time in the team's confusion to lie 11th while Harri Rovanperä was content with a steady drive to 12th.

Tomorrow's Route

Saturday's action takes crews north for the longest leg of the rally, a day which begins with the longest special stage of the world championship season. The 59km Parahi / Ararua will be a daunting test to start and it is followed by seven more stages before the drivers return to Auckland after 176.29km of competition in a route of 657.39km. They leave in the morning at 06.50 and arrive back in the city at 21.30.

Leaderboard after Leg 1 1. K Eriksson/S Parmander S Hyundai Accent 1hr 16min 19.5sec 2. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 1hr 16min 36.0sec 3. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus RS 1hr 16min 40.0sec 4. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus RS 1hr 16min 49.9sec 5. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 1hr 16min 59.1sec 6. F Loix/S Smeets B Mitsubishi Carisma 1hr 17min 04.1sec 7. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Ford Focus RS 1hr 17min 06.9sec 8= A McRae/D Senior GB Hyundai Accent 1hr 17min 07.2sec 8= R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 1hr 17min 07.2sec 10 P Bourne/C Vincent NZ Subaru Impreza 1hr 17min 12.4sec

-Ford Racing-

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Colin McRae , Carlos Sainz , Richard Burns , Harri Rovanpera , Didier Auriol , Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , Daniel Grataloup , François Delecour , Alister McRae , Kenneth Eriksson , Luis Moya , Nicky Grist , Toni Gardemeister