Rally of Monte Carlo final leg

Tommi Mäkinen began his attempt to regain the FIA World Rally Championship in style by winning the opening round, the Rallye Monte Carlo, which finished in Monaco this afternoon. The Finn was handed an easier run over today's four remaining...

Tommi Mäkinen began his attempt to regain the FIA World Rally Championship in style by winning the opening round, the Rallye Monte Carlo, which finished in Monaco this afternoon. The Finn was handed an easier run over today's four remaining stages (including two passes over the famous Col de Turini) when overnight leader Colin McRae retired after the opening test. Carlos Sainz and Francois Delecour gave Ford some consolation by bringing their Focus RS WRCs home in second and third respectively, while Armin Schwarz scored a morale-boosting fourth-place finish for Skoda, equalling the marque's best ever world championship result.

Mitsubishi Tommi Mäkinen was poised to attack Colin McRae's narrow lead this morning but once he came across the Scot's Ford on the opening stage, he backed off and cruised to his third Rallye Monte Carlo victory in succession. “I nearly hit Colin,” said the four-times FIA World champion. “It was hard to stop at the hairpin and I had to reverse and then go around him. Col de Turini was the most difficult I'd ever seen it. The spectators had put snow on the road because there were some places where my ice notes said the road was just damp, and it turned out to be sheet ice or snow. It was bad luck for Colin this morning, but a win here gives us 10 important points. The revised suspension on the Mitsubishi makes it a lot easier to drive. There are a lot of bumpy sections here in Monte Carlo but I've been able to push on all of them. I think that'll carry over onto gravel as well, so I've got a lot of confidence for the rallies ahead.”

His team-mate Freddy Loix spent the final day recovering from the road penalties he incurred yesterday. The Belgian set outright fastest time (his first since Cyprus last year) on the first run over the Col de Turini, thanks to an inspired tyre choice. “I don't have so much confidence on half-stud tyres or wet racers,” said Loix, “so I chose full studs and they worked well. I was able to push a bit harder on the snowy sections. But they weren't so good for the second stage, and it was a real handful on the dry asphalt bits towards the finish.” He couldn't quite overhaul Toni Gardemeister's Peugeot but he still finished sixth, bagging three manufacturers' points for Mitsubishi.

Ford Colin McRae started today's four stages with a lead of just three and a half seconds over Tommi Mäkinen but before the mid-point of the first test, the Col de Turini, his hopes of victory were dashed when his Focus RS WRC's fly-by-wire throttle stopped working. He reset the car's electronics and the unit kicked back into life, but as he crested the Col itself, it stopped again. McRae and navigator Nicky Grist worked furiously to fit a mechanical link but the fly-by-wire motor itself had seized and hasty repairs meant that the throttle jammed open occasionally during the rest of the stage. Ford engineers tried to radio advice to McRae to allow him to fix the problem before the next stage but the Scot ran out of time. McRae said: “It was a safety issue. We'd already lost so much time and if the throttle had jammed open in the next stage, who knows what could have happened? It's a new system but it's hard to say whether or not it should be used. You have to try these things.”

McRae's two team-mates each moved up a place, even though new second placed man Carlos Sainz spun on the Col de Turini. “It was silly,” said the Spaniard. “I just slid round at a hairpin and it was difficult to find reverse. Conditions were very tricky.” He recovered to finish a comfortable second, albeit more than a minute behind Mäkinen. The remaining Focus of Francois Delecour started today's stages less than five seconds behind Armin Schwarz, and although the Frenchman inched ahead on the Col de Turini, he lost the place immediately in SS13. However, a fastest time on the second run over Turini was enough to catapult Delecour back into third, and he held the final podium place to the finish. “I had total motivation for the second time on Col de Turini,” he said. “I gave it complete attack and it worked. I'm delighted, and I know I can learn more about the car.”

Skoda Armin Schwarz was determined to stave off Ford's Francois Delecour this morning, and the battle turned into a scrap for the final podium place once McRae retired. Schwarz ceded third on the Col de Turini, but fought back on the next test to inch ahead again. However, after Delecour regained the position in SS14, Schwarz elected to settle for fourth overall and third-place manufacturer points for Skoda. “ Once I saw the Turini was drier on the second run I knew Francois would be hard to stop,” said the German. “But I'm not disappointed. The car has been excellent here and this is a great start to the year for the whole team. We've come away with a lot of points, and that'll be great for the confidence back at base.”

His team-mate Bruno Thiry suffered two broken wheel rims on the Col de Turini and was held up by the aftermath of an accident which befell Olivier Burri, but he still finished in eighth overall. His result lifted Skoda's manufacturer points haul from the opening round to five.

Hyundai Alister McRae was contesting the Rallye Monte Carlo for the first time, but the Scot looked set to score at least a couple of points before he hit trouble on today's opening stage. “I got caught out on a patch of ice,” said the 1995 British champion. “The left-rear wheel hit a wall, and it broke the centre out of the wheel completely. We'd more than half of the stage still to run so I had to stop and change the wheel, but the jack bent as we were working so we lost more time.” In the end, he lost more than three minutes and dropped to seventh, just one place away from a drivers' championship point. “ It's disappointing,” said McRae. “Perhaps my first Monte was going a bit too well and now it's taught me a lesson. The team's done a good job, though, and we can take some encouragement from how well things had been going beforehand. It's been a very good experience.”

Citroen Philippe Bugalski

Other teams Toni Gardemeister's first run with an HF Grifone-run Peugeot 206 started with a fastest time on the opening stage of the season, and ended with fifth overall. The young Finn spun on the first run over the Col de Turini but he did enough to stay ahead of Mitsubishi's Freddy Loix. Gardemeister will use a 206 again on the next FIA World Rally Championship round, the Swedish Rally. The other leading World Rally Car privateer, , crashed out on today's opening stage.

In Group N, Olivier Gillet survived damaged rear suspension to claim the category spoils ahead of reigning World Group N Champion Manfred Stohl, who was dissatisfied with his tyre choices throughout the event. Gustavo Trelles was third in the class, while Italian Gianluigi Galli's hopes of a decent finish ended with centre differential failure.


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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Tommi Makinen , Colin McRae , Carlos Sainz , Freddy Loix , François Delecour , Alister McRae , Armin Schwarz , Philippe Bugalski , Nicky Grist , Toni Gardemeister , Olivier Burri
Teams Citroën World Rally Team