McRae clears the way for Ford victory in Portugal Ford Martini World Rally Team drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist will start tomorrow's third and final leg of the Rally of Portugal with a 33 second lead in their Ford Focus World Rally Car.
McRae clears the way for Ford victory in Portugal
Ford Martini World Rally Team drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist will start tomorrow's third and final leg of the Rally of Portugal with a 33 second lead in their Ford Focus World Rally Car. The duo, chasing their second consecutive FIA World Rally Championship victory for Ford after success on Kenya's Safari Rally last month, have been in front from the very first kilometre and never looked like surrendering their hard-earned advantage on today's gravel roads south of Porto.
McRae coped superbly with the disadvantage of tackling the special stages at the head of the field. Many of the roads were covered with loose gravel and the Ford Focus acted as an unwilling pathfinder, clearing the gravel from the tracks and leaving the drivers behind to enjoy cleaner conditions.
"We've lost around 18 seconds of our lead today and that was entirely down to the difficulties of running first on the road," said 30-year-old McRae. "We expected to lose time but we haven't lost as much as we feared. Our lead is good but not enough to be able to ease off tomorrow and we must still attack hard in the morning.
"Position on the road tomorrow will be just as vital as it has been today. The roads have a covering of dust and gravel which will affect traction and benefit those behind us and I hope we have enough time in hand. Based on calculations today, we should have sufficient but I think it will all go down to the final stage," he added.
Spectators turned out in their thousands to watch their heroes in action in the sun. Indeed the numbers flocking to the last two stages were such that both were cancelled for safety reasons, reducing today's scheduled 180km of competition by over 40km.
Ford Martini World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson described McRae's performance today as 'remarkable'. "It's been a very mature, very sensible drive from Colin. The time loss suffered by being first on the road has not been as significant today as in previous years, when conditions have been very similar. Last night we calculated how much time our rivals might take back today and the actual figure is far less than we anticipated. I said that we needed to have a lead of 30 seconds tonight and Colin is 33 seconds in front so we're happy," he said.
Petter Solberg and Philip Mills, driving the second Martini-backed Ford Focus, have moved steadily up the order to 10th and are now in a points-scoring position for Ford in the manufacturers' championship. "We're learning more about this rally with every stage but we still have a lot more to discover about Portugal," said the 24-year-old Norwegian driver. "The car has been perfect today and my confidence has been improving steadily. Tomorrow I must concentrate on holding my position."
News from our Rivals
Carlos Sainz and Didier Auriol (both Toyota) have been almost inseparable, only a handful of seconds dividing them throughout. Sainz edged in front of his French colleague on the final stage, ending just 1.9 seconds ahead. Richard Burns (Subaru), who collected an additional 10 second time penalty late last night, maintained fourth all day with a rejuvenated Tommi Makinen (Mitsubishi) having put yesterday's transmission problems behind him to climb to fifth. Bruno Thiry (Subaru) rounded off the top six, despite rolling on today's fourth stage. The stages around the town of Arganil traditionally play a crucial part and this year was no exception with three frontrunners sidelined in just two tests. Juha Kankkunen (Subaru) retired with engine problems after stage 15, Marcus Gronholm (Mitsubishi) stopped with clutch problems on the next stage and Harri Rovanpera (Seat) tore the front left wheel from his car after hitting a rock. Seat team-mate Piero Liatti rolled out on today's opening stage.
After today's long and demanding route, tomorrow's schedule offers a final day respite for weary competitors. They leave Porto at 08.00 to tackle four stages to the south of the town of Fafe, over roads close to those used on the opening leg. Just under 60km of stages lie in wait in a total route of 338km before the successful drivers return to Porto for the finish celebrations at 15.10.
Nicky Grist: "With the position we're in, every stage tomorrow will be critical! But I think stage 21, Fridao, will be the most important. The road surface is hard with a covering of loose gravel on top whereas the base of the roads on the other stages is very sandy. Once the gravel has been swept away from the hard surface the following cars will enjoy much better conditions and as first car on the road, we'll be at a disadvantage."
Leaderboard after Leg 2
1. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus 3hr 23min 22.6sec 2. C Sainz/L Moya E Toyota Corolla 3hr 23min 55.6sec 3. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Toyota Corolla 3hr 23min 57.5sec 4. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 3hr 24min 20.3sec 5. T Makinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 3hr 24min 51.1sec 6. B Thiry/S Prevot B Subaru Impreza 3hr 29min 42.2sec 7. V Isik/E Bodur TR Toyota Corolla 3hr 31min 33.7sec 8. M Kahle/D Schneppenheim D Toyota Corolla 3hr 31min 46.5sec 9. R Madeira/N Da Silva P Subaru Impreza 3hr 32min 14.0sec 10 P Solberg/P Mills N Ford Focus 3hr 32min 45.4sec