Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya set up a thrilling final day showdown for victory in the Rally of Portugal after a blistering performance in treacherous conditions during today's second leg. The Ford Martini pair were fastest over today's eight...
Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya set up a thrilling final day showdown for victory in the Rally of Portugal after a blistering performance in treacherous conditions during today's second leg. The Ford Martini pair were fastest over today's eight speed tests in their Focus RS World Rally Car to close in on overnight leader Tommi Mäkinen and they start the third and final leg separated by just 13.0sec.
Conditions on the classic special stages around Arganil were evil. A firmer road base ensured less thick mud and slightly better grip than yesterday but heavy rain, deep ruts and standing water made driving no easier. But worst of all was the thick fog in the hilly sections which brought visibility down to seven metres in the region and forced the closure of the nearby Porto Airport. The day's final stage was cancelled due to the weather, the third of the rally to be scrapped.
Madrid-based Sainz was fastest on two special stages, taking his tally for the rally to five but even he was caught out by the slippery tracks. He left the road twice on the 19.62km Gois test but fortunately lost little time and quickly renewed his challenge, to the delight of the huge crowds who braved the inclement weather.
"We've been pushing as hard as possible but there's just been fog and mud everywhere we go," said Sainz. "I've not seen anything like it before. This isn't a normal rally. I think we'll have a good fight with Tommi tomorrow. We can't wait to see what happens with just three stages remaining and 13 seconds between us. We'll go for the victory and see what happens."
Ford Martini team-mates François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup lie a solid fifth, the French pair adopting a safety first policy in their Focus RS World Rally Car. "I found the stages worse than yesterday because although the roads weren't as muddy, there were more rocks and it was still very slippery," said 38-year-old Delecour.
A misted windscreen cost a handful of seconds this morning but a gearbox problem late in the afternoon was more serious, Delecour having to tackle the final stage without second, fifth and sixth gears. Despite losing a minute, his position was not threatened and the team fitted a new gearbox at service.
"We obviously had to drive carefully to make sure we didn't inflict further damage. I thought we'd be slower than we were but we did OK. We've not pushed too hard today because there were big time gaps both in front and behind us and there was no need to take risks," added Delecour.
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson said Sainz had driven 'fantastically in appalling weather.' "Only two drivers have really mastered the conditions and driven consistently quickly all rally and those are the two who will battle for victory tomorrow. Tommi cannot afford to relax because Carlos will be fired up and I think the three stages tomorrow morning will be very exciting," added Wilson.
Ford Martini and Cosworth Racing engineers have traced the problem which led to Colin McRae's retirement yesterday afternoon. Wilson said a malfunction in the electronic control strategy linked to the traction control system caused the Focus' engine to overheat and stop.
News from our Rivals
Aside from retirements there has been little movement on the leaderboard. The main victim was Harri Rovanperä (Peugeot) whose car suffered a repetition of yesterday's radiator problems. Although he completed the opening three stages, the overheating became too serious to continue and he retired shortly before the first major service park. The Arganil stage has often been the graveyard for many drivers' hopes and today proved no exception. Freddy Loix (Mitsubishi) stopped with clutch failure and Markko Martin (Subaru) retired when his car became stuck on top of one of the deep ruts. Mäkinen (Mitsubishi) fended off Sainz's challenge, setting four fastest times. Following Rovanperä's demise, Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) and Richard Burns (Subaru) fought for third, the Briton reeling in the Finn but not quite able to move ahead. However, Burns fell back after an overshoot on the final stage to end the day 54.6sec behind Gronhölm. Alister McRae and Kenneth Eriksson (both Hyundai) took advantage of the retirements to climb to sixth and seventh, McRae moving ahead of his team-mate when the Swede's windscreen wipers broke in the opening stage.
The third and final leg is a short and sharp affair. After leaving Santa Maria da Feira at 06.30, drivers head north for three stages covering 57.90km based around Ponte de Lima, close to the Portuguese border with Spain. They return to Santa Maria for the finish at 12.45.
Paolo Andreucci today won the opening round of the Italian Championship, the Rallye Ciocco, at the wheel of a Ford Focus World Rally Car. <pre> Leaderboard after Leg 2 1. T Mäkinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 3hr 19min 17.3sec 2. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus RS 3hr 19min 30.3sec 3. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 3hr 21min 29.4sec 4. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 3hr 22min 24.0sec 5. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Ford Focus RS 3hr 28min 10.2sec 6. A McRae/D Senior GB Hyundai Accent 3hr 29min 56.2sec 7. K Eriksson/S Parmander S Hyundai Accent 3hr 31min 09.5sec 8. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Peugeot 206 3hr 33min 58.8sec 9. T Laukkanen/K Lindström FIN Toyota Corolla 3hr 34min 22.4sec 10 P Hagström/T Gardemeister FIN Toyota Corolla 3hr 36min 38.4sec