The Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart crew of Alister McRae and David Senior scored Mitsubishi's first point in Africa with the Lancer Evolution WRC when they finished the 50th Safari Rally in ninth position, sixth of the registered manufacturers. It...
The Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart crew of Alister McRae and David Senior scored Mitsubishi's first point in Africa with the Lancer Evolution WRC when they finished the 50th Safari Rally in ninth position, sixth of the registered manufacturers. It was a fitting reward for the British pair in their debut competitive outing here, the duo battling against the odds after losing time in the first two legs, but demonstrating that perseverance pays off in Africa.
The event was won by Britain's Colin McRae, the Scot notching up his third victory in Africa and second consecutive win of this season. Ten points elevates the Ford driver up the Championship leaderboard to second, seven points behind Marcus Gronholm. In the Manufacturers' Championship, Ford takes 14 points, Markko Martin claiming four points by finishing third of the registered manufacturer drivers. The combined points haul slashes the deficit to Peugeot and the two manufacturers are now split by 14 points, Peugeot's early season advantage being whittled away.
This year's Safari Rally has been one of the roughest in recent years, the field of 48 starters decimated to a mere 12 finishers back in Nairobi this afternoon. Today's leg was the shortest of the three, but by no means any less demanding. Crews left the Kenyan capital at 04:45 hrs for 262.85 kilometres of competition over three sections, each a repetition, before arriving back for the finish at 16:15 hrs.
Alister McRae and co-driver David Senior were third fastest through the opening 106.56 kilometre section from Ntulele to Kedong but, such was the deficit, the British pair were still reliant on the misfortune of others to move up the leaderboard. Their hopes nearly came true when Juha Kankkunen dropped 17 minutes with broken suspension in section 11, but McRae too hit problems and lost time picking his way through the section with a lack of oil in the right rear damper. He nevertheless completed the final section without problem to arrive back in Nairobi in ninth position.
"It's been quite a difficult rally, one which is extremely hard on the car and even more so this year, according to the other drivers," he said. "The conditions are quite strange; you can be flat- out in sixth gear for five or six kilometres and then have to slow right down and use first and second gears, so it's quite difficult to find the right pace for good section times that also preserve the car. But I think we managed to do that."
Adding to his comments, Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart team manager Derek Dauncey said: "It's good to finish in the Manufacturer points in what has proved to be one of the most extreme Safaris of recent years. It's always difficult for a driver to judge the pace, but Alister found a very good speed today and generally the right pace throughout the event. We're obviously very pleased with his performance."
With only 12 cars surviving the three-day rally, 2002 sits alongside just a handful of other years as the roughest and toughest event, not only in the 50 year history of the Safari Rally but also the FIA World Rally Championship. With Nairobi in sight, drivers adopted a more cautious approach today, but many were still hampered with suspension problems over the rocky roads. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) dropped to fifth with broken rear dampers in CS11 and Juha Kankkunen (Hyundai) dropped 17 minutes with similar problems. Colin McRae's victory not only rekindles his Championship aspirations, but moves him ahead of rivals Carlos Sainz and Tommi Makinen as the most successful driver in the history of the series with 25 World Championship rally wins. Behind him, Harri Rovanpera scored points for Peugeot after an almost trouble-free event. Citroen can only have dreamed of third and fifth positions in its first Safari Rally, Thomas Radstrom and Sebastien Loeb taking the plaudits. Markko Martin (Ford) split the duo in fourth position, the Estonian also contesting his first Safari and loathing the experience. Gilles Panizzi (Peugeot) rounded off the top six. The leading and only remaining Skoda was that of Roman Kresta in seventh position, the Czech driver claiming manufacturer points, as did Safari Rally veteran Juha Kankkunen (Hyundai) in eighth.
Coming next ...
The FIA World Rally Championship now returns to Europe for the high-speed gravel event, Rally Finland (8-11 August). Spectacularly fast roads, littered with jumps, ensure some of the most fantastic action in the series, but local knowledge has always been critical to success in the past. Francois Delecour has previously contested the event five times, fourth position his best result (1994), while Alister McRae has six years of experience in Finland, albeit mainly in the Formula 2 category, which he won in 1998.