Ford driver Colin McRae has secured his second win in succession in this year's FIA World Rally Championship on the eighth round of the series, the Safari Rally, which finished in Nairobi this afternoon. The Scot and navigator Nicky Grist brought...
Ford driver Colin McRae has secured his second win in succession in this year's FIA World Rally Championship on the eighth round of the series, the Safari Rally, which finished in Nairobi this afternoon. The Scot and navigator Nicky Grist brought their Focus WRC to the finish almost three minutes ahead of Peugeot's Harri Rovanperä after more than 1000 kilometres of competitive driving on rocky, rough roads across the Kenyan plains.
McRae's victory was backed up by a fourth-placed finish for his young team-mate Markko Martin. With the third-placed Citroen of Thomas Rådström not registered for manufacturers' points, Ford narrowed Peugeot's lead at the top of that series to 14 points. McRae himself moved up to second place in the drivers' championship, seven points behind leader Marcus Grönholm. The 1995 world champion also set a new record - this was his 25th victory, taking him above Carlos Sainz and Tommi Mäkinen on the greatest number of world rally wins.
Technical: The Focus RS WRC02 of Colin McRae has been reliable today. Markko Martin's car lost its rear brakes for 80km of the opening competitive section this morning.
Sporting: Overnight leader Colin McRae expected second-placed Harri Rovanperä to charge this morning but the threat failed to materialise as the Finn was held up by slow-clearing dust in the opening, long competitive section. McRae then eased off in the closing sections, using split times to measure his pace and keep his Peugeot-mounted rival at bay and secure a record-breaking 25th world rally win. Markko Martin, meanwhile, lost some time this morning when his rear brakes failed on this morning's opening section. The Estonian was struggling in the test anyway, because navigator Michael Park had taken the wrong pacenotes into the car for the test. Martin completed the 106km driving only on what he could remember from the previous run through. He had no problems thereafter, though, and he finished in fourth overall to score third-placed manufacturers' points for Ford.
Quotes: Colin McRae said: "It's good to get another victory and it's nice to have the record, but championships are what it's all about and this has helped us to close the gap on Marcus Grönholm. I always felt quite comfortable with my pace here and that's the key to winning the Safari. Even if Harri had charged this morning, I was prepared to stay at the same speed, because I thought he'd have a problem if he pushed any harder. I'm really pleased for the whole team, because everyone's worked really hard to maintain reliability here."
Markko Martin: "I'm pleased to get to the finish and get the experience that I wanted here. It's been a tough event, and it certainly wasn't easy driving this morning's opening section without pacenotes, but I've learnt a lot about how you have to pace yourself here. The car's been great, with hardly any problems at all, so it's good to score points for the team."
Ford World Rally Team Director Malcolm Wilson said: "This has to be the most mature, controlled drive of Colin's career. He made it look quite easy, in fact. He found a good pace from the start and didn't get drawn into a battle or taking any more risks. I'm delighted for him and Nicky, and also for Markko and Michael (Park), who put in an excellent performance."
Technical: Harri Rovanperä's 206 WRC has been reliable today. Gilles Panizzi, meanwhile, suffered with dust in the car on this morning's opening section after he hit a bird and damaged his roof air scoop. Panizzi's navigator, brother Hervé, had to undo his belts on two occasions to wipe the inside of the windscreen clean of dust.
Sporting: Harri Rovanperä might have considered pushing harder this morning to close the gap on overnight leader Colin McRae, but that chance disappeared because the early-morning dust failed to clear quickly enough to guarantee him visibility in the opening section. Instead, Rovanperä settled for second overall, his best finish of the season to date. Gilles Panizzi lost time this morning when he hit a bird and damaged his roof-mounted air scoop, allowing dust to enter the car. But he recovered to set fastest time on the penultimate section of the rally and finish sixth overall.
Quotes: Harri Rovanperä said: "I'm really glad to get to the finish and with not many problems at all. Today we knew we only had a small chance to catch Colin but on the first section, we had a lot of dust and that was really the end of the fight. At least we have finished on the podium and scored some points for the team. We can look forward to Finland next month. I also think that Peugeot has showed we have a strong car."
Gilles Panizzi said: "This has been an incredible rally for me. I came here hoping to get experience of Africa and in the end, I've set my first fastest times on gravel and also finished in the points. This morning was very hard and I could see absolutely nothing in the dust. It was almost impossible."
Peugeot Sport Team Director Corrado Provera said: "We're very proud of the way that Harri and Gilles have driven, and also how hard everyone has worked to make the car stronger since we were here last year. The worst part of the season is now over for us, and we can look forward to rallies that favour us more."
Technical: The Xsara WRCs of Thomas Rådström has been reliable today, but Sebastien Loeb's car suffered from overheating rear shock absorbers in the last two competitive sections.
Sporting: Thomas Rådström started today's three competitive sections determined to reach the finish and score a podium placing on his first Safari (he failed to start through injury in 1999). The Swede achieved his goal, watching shock absorber temperatures to maintain performance. He eventually finished third. Sebastien Loeb started today in fourth, but his shock absorber sensor failed in the penultimate test and the rear shocks on his Xsara overheated. The resulting time loss dropped the young Frenchman behind Markko Martin into fifth, and although he tried to recover, a repeat of the problem near the end of the final section prevented him from mounting overhauling the Estonian.
Quotes: Thomas Rådström said: "We have to be quite pleased to get both our cars to the finish and that both Seb and I have scored points here. The car never felt quite the same as it did in the test, and we know that we still have to work hard on the suspension set-up, but we've learnt a lot from here and that was our aim."
Technical: The sole remaining Octavia WRC of Roman Kresta broke a left front wheel bearing just five kilometres into this morning's 106km opening section, and it broke a rear damper in the following test. It reached the finish without any further glitches, however.
Sporting: Roman Kresta shouldered all of Skoda's hopes today, as the young Czech tried to score manufacturers' points for the team on his first Safari Rally. Despite the occasional mechanical problem, including a broken wheel bearing and a rear damper failure, Kresta achieved his goal by finishing fifth to score three points for Skoda.
Quotes: Roman Kresta said: "I'm really glad to have finished in the points for the team. I wanted to learn about this event but we've been steady and reliable, and so many other people have had problems that we've ended up with a good result and points for the team. I'm really pleased."
Technical: Juha Kankkunen had to draw on all of his experience to bring Hyundai's sole remaining Accent to the finish. The car's engine was very sick all day, as it suffered the effects of the intercooler damage that had slowed Kankkunen yesterday evening. On the opening section, the Finn had to stop twice to put nearly eight litres of oil into the motor. His problems worsened in the penultimate test, when he suffered a left-rear damper problem that resulted in severe suspension damage and a hole ripped in the inner wheel arch. Hyundai mechanics worked hard to restore the Finn's car's suspension in time for him to continue, and his car struggled through the final test with its ailing engine to reach the finish.
Sporting: The Hyundai team was determined to reach the finish on its first Safari, but it needed Juha Kankkunen's guile and experience to achieve that goal. The four-times world champion nursed the car's sick engine all day, stopping on more than one occasion to top up its oil level in competitive sections. He then had to complete over 40km with a broken damper and badly damaged rear suspension. Although he incurred road penalties as the Hyundai team made repairs, Kankkunen's car was healthy enough for him to fend off Alister McRae's Mitsubishi in the last competitive section and score two manufacturers' points for the Korean marque.
Quotes: Juha Kankkunen said: "The team really wanted to learn about Safari and I think they know about it now! We had many problems but we had a steady pace and that was enough to get us to the finish. I'm pleased for the guys, because they worked hard to keep us in the event."
Technical: The remaining Lancer Evo WRC of Alister McRae was reliable for much of today, although he incurred 30secs of road penalties after the Ralliart team took longer than permitted to change the car's water spray during this morning's first service. The Scot also lost time in the second competitive section of the day, when a rear damper broke 30km before the end of the test.
Sporting: Alister McRae and Mitsubishi started today hoping that rivals would hit trouble or retire, because their deficit was too large to make up by speed alone. In the end, the Scot stayed in ninth on his first Safari attempt, although he would probably have inched past the ailing Hyundai of Juha Kankkunen, had he not suffered rear damper problems in the penultimate competitive section.
Quotes: Alister McRae said: "I wanted experience here and I've certainly learnt a lot about how you have to tackle this event. We tried to find a comfortable speed and it's really unfortunate that we had a big suspension problem on the first afternoon, because I'm sure we could have been in the points otherwise. But that's the Safari - it's a real challenge and I'm pleased that we managed to finish."
There was plenty of late drama in the Group N category for more standard vehicles. Marcos Ligato and Toshihiro Arai, who'd been locked in battle for the class win throughout the event, both retired in the closing kilometres. Arai's Subaru retired with clutch failure on the penultimate competitive section, and Ligato's Mitsubishi succumbed to suspension problems on the following test. Their problems handed the category spoils - and a maximum score in the FIA Production Car World Championship - to Karamjit Singh's Proton. The Malaysian driver now leads the series with three rounds remaining.