Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya finished second on the Rally of Portugal today in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car after a thrilling duel on the final speed test with Tommi MÃ¤kinen. After one of the toughest FIA World Rally Championship events...
Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya finished second on the Rally of Portugal today in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car after a thrilling duel on the final speed test with Tommi Mäkinen. After one of the toughest FIA World Rally Championship events for many years, the Ford Martini duo claimed their third podium finish in as many rallies to maintain their and Ford's second position in the championship.
Torrential rain before and during this third round of the 14-event series turned the gravel special stages into a muddy quagmire. It was remarkable that after four days of competition in conditions drivers' described as the worst they had ever seen, the outcome was only decided on the final 11km stage near Ponte de Lima, close to Portugal's northern border with Spain.
Re-starting this morning just 13.0sec behind Mäkinen, the drama was intensified when the opening 23.49km test was cancelled after course checking cars became stuck in the mud. However, on the next Sainz was fastest, his sixth stage win of the rally, by a remarkable 13.3sec to lead Mäkinen by 0.3sec heading into the final test.
Although the rain had finally stopped and the fog which had blighted the rally for three days had gone, conditions were still treacherous. Mäkinen stormed through the stage almost nine seconds faster than Sainz to claim victory by 8.6sec. Their closest rivals were almost three minutes behind.
"We took many, many risks in the first stage this morning but it paid off," said 38-year-old Sainz. "In the final stage Tommi's car had kicked up a lot of big stones and several times we had to move off line to avoid them but that's all part of the sport. I enjoyed the fight and this is a great result for us and Ford.
"My biggest memory of this rally will be the weather. The fog was incredible and I've never driven on stages with so much mud and fog. It was horrendous. We had a good road position on the first leg and that helped us become established in the top three because the roads deteriorated quickly with the passage of each car," he added.
Ford Martini team-mates François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup endured a troublefree final day to finish fifth in their Focus RS. It was their third points-scoring finish of the season and they now lie fourth in the championship.
"Today was straight-forward for us," said Delecour. "We had big time gaps both in front and behind us so there was no need to push at all. I drove very carefully. The conditions made this one of the most difficult rallies of my life and I'm just happy to finish in the points again. Two cars in the top five is a good result for Ford."
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson was full of praise for the performance of both Sainz and Mäkinen. "Full credit to both of them. They were very evenly matched and nobody else came close to them in atrocious weather.
"It's a shame we finished second and not first but it's still good points on the board and it's great for the sport that after four days' competition it all came down to the final few kilometres. Pirelli did a great job for us with their tyres and it's a tribute to the strength of the Focus that it stood up to such conditions," he said.
News from our Rivals
The top 10 positions remained unchanged today. World championship contenders Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) and Richard Burns (Subaru) scored their first points of the season by finishing third and fourth respectively and Grönholm's result gave the reigning world champion team its first points also. Alister McRae (Hyundai) scored his first ever championship point in sixth and with he and team-mate Kenneth Eriksson both scoring manufacturer points, it marked a good debut for the team's new Accent car.
The FIA World Rally Championship now moves across Iberia to Spain for the Catalunya Rally, the first all-asphalt event of the season. Based in the seaside resort of Lloret de Mar, it is held from 23 - 25 March.
<pre> Final positions 1. T Mäkinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 3hr 46min 42.1sec 2. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus RS 3hr 46min 50.7sec 3. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 3hr 49min 37.7sec 4. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 3hr 50min 06.4sec 5. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Ford Focus RS 3hr 56min 48.9sec 6. A McRae/D Senior GB Hyundai Accent 3hr 58min 50.5sec 7. K Eriksson/S Parmander S Hyundai Accent 4hr 00min 14.6sec 8. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Peugeot 206 4hr 02min 50.7sec 9. T Laukkanen/K Lindström FIN Toyota Corolla 4hr 03min 18.0sec 10 P Hagström/T Gardemeister FIN Toyota Corolla 4hr 06min 14.6sec
FIA World Rally Championship (after round 3 of 14) Drivers Manufacturers 1. T Mäkinen 20pts 1. Mitsubishi 33pts 2. C Sainz 16pts 2. Ford 20pts 3. H Rovanperä 10pts 3. Hyundai 8pts 4. F Delecour 8pts 4. Subaru 7pts 5. T Rädström 6pts 5. Skoda 6pts 6. T Gardemeister 5pts 6. Peugeot 4pts