McRaeâ€™s Focus leads Safari Rally for Ford Martini Colin McRae and Nicky Grist lead Kenyaâ€™s Safari Rally in the new Ford Focus World Rally Car after todayâ€™s gruelling second leg. In blistering temperatures around the Equator and on tracks...
McRae’s Focus leads Safari Rally for Ford Martini
Colin McRae and Nicky Grist lead Kenya’s Safari Rally in the new Ford Focus World Rally Car after today’s gruelling second leg. In blistering temperatures around the Equator and on tracks littered with rocks and deep pot-holes, the Focus, competing on only its third rally, was a model of reliability. The Ford Martini World Rally Team pairing ended the day with an incredible lead of 14min 46.4sec over Tommi Mäkinen.
The Safari, third round of the FIA World Rally Championship, is the longest, roughest and toughest event in the calendar. But apart from two punctures and a spin on the day’s second competitive section, McRae has required only routine maintenance to keep his Focus in good health over the 1255km route.
“We took a big gamble with our tyre selection on the final section,” said the 30-year-old Scot. “We used tyres fitted with Michelin’s puncture resistant mousse, despite worries that it would be too hot for the mousse. Even though we lost time with a puncture, I think it was the right choice and I’m sure we would have had more punctures if it hadn’t been for the mousse tyres. We just had to drive carefully so as not to overheat them.
“It’s still too early to start talking about victory. We’ve got a good lead but we’ve seen on many occasions on this rally how easy it is to lose 10 or 15 minutes in a section. We’re feeling confident about tomorrow but this rally is so unpredictable that I’m sure there are more shocks and surprises in store,” he added.
Ford Martini World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson could not contain his happiness. “It’s an unbelievable feeling to be leading. We always knew that the reliability of the suspension would be crucial on this rally and the combination of the strength of the Focus, Colin’s driving and the car’s suspension have been brilliant.
“We were confident when we came out to Kenya but we had never tested the engine and transmission in temperatures above 20°C. So far we’ve had no major problems and we must all hope that we can continue in the same fashion tomorrow,” he added.
Petter Solberg and Fred Gallagher, in the second Ford Martini Focus, are seventh after another impressive display by the 24-year-old Norwegian driver on his first Safari Rally. Two punctures, one which the crew stopped to change, and a small misfire have been their only troubles.
“I’m really getting to know how the car behaves now,” said Solberg, making his debut in a Focus. “We lost time on the final section when we slowed to let Carlos Sainz go by but we’ve driven sensibly and carefully, easing off when it got rough and attacking hard on the smoother sections. I’m looking forward to being at the finish tomorrow.”
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Yesterday’s frontrunners both hit trouble today. Leader Richard Burns retired on the seventh section after a sheared bolt caused his Subaru’s track control arm to fall out. Carlos Sainz (Toyota), second overnight, lost over eight minutes on the opening section after puncturing three tyres, twice stopping to fit new rubber and driving the following 92km liaison section on three wheels. On the penultimate section he hit a large bump and broke a front left wheel rim. That damaged the shock absorber and he had to limp out, losing 20 minutes. Team-mate Didier Auriol enjoyed a troublefree day until the final section when three punctures cost 14 minutes and second place. A broken front driveshaft only 7km into the 87km seventh section, followed by a puncture near the end cost Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi) five minutes, additional time penalties as mechanics fought to keep him in the rally adding to the Finn’s frustrations. Team-mate Freddy Loix was released from hospital this morning after yesterday’s heavy accident, the Belgian suffering from no more than severe bruising. Piero Liatti’s (Seat) only problem was no brakes on the day’s second section but team-mate Harri Rovanpera dropped more than 20 minutes with broken steering on the final section.
Once again there’s little respite for the drivers. They restart at 05.50 tomorrow to head south towards the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. Once there they face three more tough sections, two of which are more than 112km long and all of which they tackled during yesterday’s first leg. Before the finish back in Nairobi at 15.20, the survivors will repeat the short super competitive section on the edge of the city which began the rally on Thursday. Once again two cars at a time will tackle the section. The day’s total route is 615km long with more than 277km on competitive sections.
Nicky Grist: “The penultimate stage tomorrow is the shortest of the three normal sections but could be the most crucial. It’s so rocky and twisty that there’s a real danger of punctures so we must be extra careful. It’s a real sting in the tail.”
Leaderboard after Leg 2 1. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus 6hr 18min 45.5sec 2. T Mäkinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 6hr 33min 31.9sec 3. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Toyota Corolla 6hr 37min 54.5sec 4. C Sainz/L Moya E Toyota Corolla 6hr 42min 20.7sec 5. P Liatti/C Cassina I Seat WRC 6hr 45min 15.6sec 6. I Duncan/D Williamson EAK Toyota Corolla 6hr 46min 14.3sec 7. P Solberg/F Gallagher N Ford Focus 6hr 56min 23.9sec 8. F Dor/K Gormley F Subaru Impreza 7hr 07min 55.3sec 9. H Rovanpera/R Pietilainen FIN Seat WRC 7hr 12min 55.8sec 10 H Al Wahaibi/T Sircombe OM Mitsubishi Carisma 7hr 32min 18.5sec