McRae's Focus wins Safari Rally for Ford Martini Ford Martini World Rally Team drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist today won Kenya's Safari Rally in the new Ford Focus World Rally Car. On the longest, hottest and roughest round in the FIA World...
McRae's Focus wins Safari Rally for Ford Martini
Ford Martini World Rally Team drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist today won Kenya's Safari Rally in the new Ford Focus World Rally Car. On the longest, hottest and roughest round in the FIA World Rally Championship calendar, McRae and Grist won by a huge margin of 7min 49.1sec. It was the first rally win for the Ford Focus on only its third event and Ford's first Safari Rally success since 1977.
The 2,650km four-day rally is the fastest in the championship despite being held over dusty, rocky and rutted tracks in the African bush and Ford Martini team-mates Petter Solberg and Fred Gallagher completed the team's delight by finishing sixth and securing a second haul of championship points.
The gruelling event, in which drivers had to endure cockpit temperatures of up to 60°C, took its toll on the leading competitors. Many of the Ford team's rivals hit mechanical problems but the strength and reliability of both Ford Focus cars enabled McRae and Solberg to keep clear of trouble and maintain a fast and consistent pace.
"This win means more to me than my first Safari success," said 30-year-old McRae, who won the Kenyan event in 1997. "This is a new car and a new team and for me that makes this very special.
"This is a good indicator for the rest of the season. In its first three rallies the Focus has finished third twice and won here and they're superb results for any car let alone one which is still in the relatively early stages of development. The engineers have done a fantastic job in designing the car.
"It was a controlled drive. You can't drive flat out and win the Safari but we found a good pace throughout and it worked well. Over the last few months we've experienced big highs and big lows but this is the biggest high of all," added McRae.
Solberg's performance on his debut drive in both the Focus and the rally, drew praise from experienced Safari veterans. It was only his fourth world championship start and the 24-year-old Norwegian only learned he was driving on the rally hours before practice started when team-mate Thomas Rådstrom withdrew through injury.
"I'm finding it really hard to take this in," said Solberg, whose inexperience of the unique African conditions was contrasted by the expertise of co-driver Gallagher, a three-time winner of the Safari. "We came out here firstly with the aim of trying to finish the rally and secondly of going for a top 10 place. To finish sixth and score points in both the drivers' and manufacturers' championships is a great feeling."
Ford Martini World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson was full of praise for the team's efforts. "This is an emotional moment for us. Colin's drive was that of a consummate professional. He and Nicky read the conditions superbly and their consistency in such demanding circumstances combined with the strength and reliability of the Ford Focus provided the perfect partnership. We mustn't forget Petter's performance. For a youngster competing on his first Safari it was exceptional and shows his potential.
"Everyone in the Ford Martini team worked so hard for this result. The mechanics put in some long hours in the final few days before the rally started. We had a good test here in the run-up to the event and used those results to good effect in the rally. We felt confident before the start and that confidence wasn't misplaced," he added.
News from our Rivals
After the dramas of the previous three days, the final day was relatively calm. World Championship leader Tommi Makinen (Mitsubishi), Didier Auriol (Toyota) and Carlos Sainz (Toyota) all held their positions with comfort. Only Sainz had any problems, breaking a driveshaft on the first section this morning. The only major retirement was Piero Liatti (Seat) who stopped in the 11th competitive section with no oil pressure in the engine, allowing Ian Duncan (Toyota) and Solberg to take the final drivers' points.
After three rallies on completely different surfaces, teams must now prepare for a fourth. The Rally of Portugal, which is based in Porto from 21-24 March, is the first true gravel rally of the FIA World Rally Championship season.
Final positions (provisional) 1. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus 8hr 41min 39.1sec 2. T Makinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 8hr 49min 28.2sec 3. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Toyota Corolla 8hr 56min 05.3sec 4. C Sainz/L Moya E Toyota Corolla 8hr 59min 46.3sec 5. I Duncan/D Williamson EAK Toyota Corolla 9hr 05min 35.7sec 6. P Solberg/F Gallagher N Ford Focus 9hr 26min 28.2sec 7. H Rovanpera/R Pietilainen FIN Seat WRC 9hr 40min 08.4sec 8. F Dor/K Gormley F Subaru Impreza 9hr 41min 38.2sec 9. H Al Wahaibi/T Sircombe OM Mitsubishi Carisma 10hr 05min 09.0sec 10 L Climent/A Romani E Mitsubishi Lancer 10hr 08min 24.2sec
1999 FIA World Rally Championship (after round 3 of 14, provisional) Drivers Manufacturers 1. T Makinen 26pts 1. Mitsubishi 26pts 2. D Auriol 11pts 2. Toyota 20pts 3. C McRae 10pts 3. Ford 16pts 4. C Sainz 9pts 4. Subaru 10pts 5. J Kankkunen 7pts 5. Seat 6pts 6. T Rådstrom 4pts