Three Ford Focus World Rally Cars held top 10 positions after this afternoon's spectacular opening to the Rally of Portugal at Baltar rallycross circuit. Colin McRae and Nicky Grist led the trio in their Ford Martini car, third quickest over the...
Three Ford Focus World Rally Cars held top 10 positions after this afternoon's spectacular opening to the Rally of Portugal at Baltar rallycross circuit. Colin McRae and Nicky Grist led the trio in their Ford Martini car, third quickest over the 3.20km speed test at which two cars at a time raced on the gravel track. They were just four tenths of a second slower than leader Marcus Grönholm.
Ford Martini team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya were eighth fastest, 3.1sec slower than Grönholm, with Petter Solberg and Phil Mills setting exactly the same time in a third Focus.
Cars kicked up spectacular dust clouds in the dry conditions and several drivers reported chips in their windscreens after being sprayed with gravel by the car in the adjacent lane. Indeed the windscreen on Sainz's car was marked so badly that the Ford Martini team fitted a replacement in the service park back at the Porto base.
Huge crowds gathered under blue skies and high temperatures to watch the traditional start to this fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship and the special stage also enjoyed live television coverage across Portugal.
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Swedish Rally winner Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) topped the times, two-tenths of a second faster than the private entry of Harri Rovanperä (Toyota), with McRae tucked just behind. Another non-works driver, Thomas Rådström (Toyota), was fourth with team-mates Juha Kankkunen and Richard Burns (Subaru) rounding off the top six. The competition was such that just 3.3sec covered the top 10 competitors. None of the leading drivers suffered major problems on what is regarded as a fun start to the four-day event, although championship leader Tommi Mäkinen lost a few seconds after mistaking the number of laps he had to complete and almost stopping a lap early.
Competitors will be awake bright and early in the morning as the rally begins in earnest when cars restart from Porto at 05.30. The route heads north east of the city to the sandy roads in the hills around Fafe and drivers will tackle 10 more special stages covering 155.60km before returning to Porto at 19.15. The final 5.30km test, at Lousada rallycross circuit, will be a spectators' delight as three cars race alongside each other over three laps.