Rally of Portugal Frod Final Report

Vintage McRae delivers victory for Ford in Portugal Colin McRae and Nicky Grist today won the Rally of Portugal in their Ford Focus World Rally Car, their second consecutive FIA World Rally Championship victory. The Ford Martini World Rally...

Vintage McRae delivers victory for Ford in Portugal

Colin McRae and Nicky Grist today won the Rally of Portugal in their Ford Focus World Rally Car, their second consecutive FIA World Rally Championship victory. The Ford Martini World Rally Team pairing led from the first of the rally’s 21 special stages and ended the four-day event 12.3 seconds ahead of Carlos Sainz after 360km of gruelling gravel roads in northern and central Portugal.

The win, the team’s second success in a month after victory on Kenya’s Safari Rally, lifted Ford into second in the manufacturers’ championship and enabled McRae to climb to second in the drivers’ standings, just two points behind Tommi Mäkinen. The Ford Focus has now won two of its first four rallies, within two months of its rally debut.

“This is a great victory for the Focus on its first real gravel rally,” said 30-year-old McRae, for whom this was his 18th world championship triumph. “We really won the rally during the first leg when we knew we had to make the most of the good conditions. We drove hard through those fast stages as we knew the technical stages later in the rally, where the road conditions were not so good, would be more difficult.

“It’s been much harder than many of my other victories but the Focus has performed faultlessly. For the car to be this quick on gravel means it can also be this good on asphalt so I think the rest of the season could be well worth waiting for. It’s incredible for a car to be so successful so early in its lifetime and with further development it can only improve,” added the 1995 world champion.

The Rally of Portugal, the first of the sprint-type gravel events which make up so much of the world championship, is regarded as a yardstick for the season ahead, a fact recognised by Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson. “To win in Kenya was marvellous but to win here, on a gravel event where pure outright speed counts for everything, is very, very special. Colin led from the first stage to the last. He opened up a big advantage early on the first leg and controlled it from the front without ever being under pressure. The Focus ran like clockwork and that’s so encouraging for us.

“We’ll now look at restructuring our strategy for the next four rallies. We’ll run only two cars on those events and put everything into helping Colin’s chances of winning the drivers’ series before assessing things after the Acropolis Rally in June,” he added.

Petter Solberg, competing in Portugal for the first time and on only his fifth world championship event, added to the joy of the Ford Martini team by collecting the final manufacturers’ point en route to 11th overall. The 24-year-old Norwegian, co-driven by Philip Mills, grew in confidence as the event progressed and he became more accustomed to the pace and conditions.

“This has been a hard rally for me but also a very enjoyable one,” said Solberg. “Once again it was important for me to finish and learn as much about the event as possible. The first two legs were difficult and my spirits were a little low but my times have improved today and my confidence has increased. I was delighted to score a point for the Ford Martini team but annoyed that I missed out on a top 10 position after flipping the car on its side on the final stage. The damage was not great but the time loss meant I missed out on 10th by less than four seconds.”

News from our Rivals

Today’s short final leg caused few problems for any of the leading competitors. Carlos Sainz and Didier Auriol (both Toyota) maintained their overnight podium positions although Auriol had a scare on the final stage when he hit a bank which flung the Frenchman’s car high onto two wheels. Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi) made a determined effort to catch Richard Burns (Subaru) for fourth but the Finn was nine seconds short and had to settle for fifth, with Bruno Thiry (Subaru) taking the final drivers’ point in sixth, despite yesterday’s roll.

Next Round

Drivers return to asphalt for round five of the FIA World Rally Championship, Spain’s Catalunya Rally. Based in the seaside resort of Lloret de Mar, close to Barcelona, the rally is the first genuine all-asphalt event of the season and runs from 19 - 21 April.

Final positions 1. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus 4hr 05min 41.7sec 2. C Sainz/L Moya E Toyota Corolla 4hr 05min 54.0sec 3. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Toyota Corolla 4hr 05min 58.2sec 4. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 4hr 06min 37.1sec 5. T Mäkinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 4hr 06min 46.1sec 6. B Thiry/S Prévot B Subaru Impreza 4hr 13min 11.4sec 7. V Isik/E Bodur TR Toyota Corolla 4hr 15min 07.5sec 8. M Kahle/D Schneppenheim D Toyota Corolla 4hr 15min 15.9sec 9. R Madeira/N Da Silva P Subaru Impreza 4hr 15min 51.5sec 10 L Climent/A Romani E Subaru Impreza 4hr 17min 10.3sec 11 P Solberg/P Mills N Ford Focus 4hr 17min 14.2sec

1999 FIA World Rally Championship (after round 4 of 14) Drivers Manufacturers 1. T Mäkinen 22pts 1. Toyota 33pts 2. C McRae 20pts 2. Ford 28pts 3. D Auriol 17pts 3. Mitsubishi 22pts 4. C Sainz 16pts 4. Subaru 13pts 5. J Kankkunen 7pts 5. Seat 7pts 6. R Burns 5pts 7. T Rådström 4pts

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Series WRC
Drivers Tommi Makinen , Colin McRae , Carlos Sainz , Richard Burns , Didier Auriol , Petter Solberg , Philip Mills , Nicky Grist