Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya and Ford Martini colleagues Colin McRae and Nicky Championship lead during today's second leg of Italy's Sanremo Rally. With one day remaining of this 11th round of the 14-rally series, both lie in vital point-scoring...
Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya and Ford Martini colleagues Colin McRae and Nicky Championship lead during today's second leg of Italy's Sanremo Rally. With one day remaining of this 11th round of the 14-rally series, both lie in vital point-scoring positions in the manufacturers' battle which would enable Ford to extend their 10-point advantage.
Sainz lies fifth in his Ford Focus RS World Rally Car after another demanding eight speed tests covering 142km in the mountains above the Italian Riviera. McRae is 10th in a similar Focus RS but the number of drivers ineligible to score manufacturer points above them means both lie in strong scoring positions.
The day has again been dominated by the asphalt specialists from French manufacturers Peugeot and Citroen but Sainz and McRae have persevered in their efforts through the narrow and twisty tests, most of which were run over identical roads but in the reverse direction to yesterday.
Sainz left little margin for error and again fronted the challenge to the French racers ahead. Three punctures and brake problems late in the leg cost only a handful of seconds as the 39-year-old Madrid-based driver gave his all. "We've taken lots of risks and driven right on the limit all day," he said.
"We lost the brakes in the middle of the penultimate test and punctured a right front tyre. We'd already changed the tyres around before the stage but didn't have time to check the pressure on the spare wheel before the start. As a result the car understeered and then the rubber blistered so we had to switch back to the original tyres again for the final test," added Sainz.
The mysterious electrical problems which affected the transmission on McRae's Focus RS yesterday, re-surfaced early this morning but quickly disappeared as the Ford Martini team fitted a new hydraulic control unit to the car. The 33-year-old Scot's pace rapidly improved and his times matched Sainz as he climbed onto the leaderboard, despite a puncture which cost 40 seconds on the third stage this morning.
"The car has felt much better and we've been much closer to Carlos' times this afternoon but we just can't match the pace of the French teams," said McRae. "We need to keep ahead of Tommi Mäkinen to gain as many manufacturer points for Ford as we can but a few retirements ahead of us would help. We may alter the shock absorber specification tonight to see what effect that has in the morning."
Team-mates François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup are seventh in their Focus RS, the French duo not nominated for manufacturer points by the Ford Martini squad. Softening his car's anti-roll bar settings overnight seemed to help Delecour who was third quickest on the second test. However, he lost time when he stalled the engine at the start of stage nine and gearbox problems in the last two tests also hindered him.
"There was a delay in the gearshift and it was very hard to change down into second gear especially," said Delecour. "We can't drive any faster then we are so I think that seventh will be our best position unless there are retirements ahead of us."
News from our Rivals
The morning group of three stages provided enough drama to last the day. Overnight leader Jesus Puras (Citroen) crashed into retirement on the second test while team-mate Philippe Bugalski spun on the same stage and retired on the next after hitting a wall and damaging the suspension. The car eventually stopped with no fuel pressure. Markko Martin (Subaru) lost five minutes after crashing and limping through two stages and a worse fate befell team-mate Toshihiro Arai who retired when his car inexplicably lost a wheel 3km into the opening stage. It all left Gilles Panizzi (Peugeot) ahead by 34.5sec, last year's winner troubled only by the failure of his car's automatic gearchange system in stage 10. Team-mate Didier Auriol and debutant Sebastian Loeb (Citroen) fought out a thrilling battle for second, swapping places on almost every stage before Loeb ended 7.3sec in front. He posted two fastest times, his first at world level. Petter Solberg (Subaru) slipped to eighth on the final stage after hitting the rear of his car and losing a minute. Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi) was another to complain about a bad feeling with his car, the Finn down in 11th. Hyundai's rally ended when the team withdrew Alister McRae before the final stage on safety grounds, the Briton struggling with no brakes.
FIA Super 1600 Championship
All seven Ford Pumas are still running in the junior world championship category, Belgian François Duval continuing to lead the way in fifth, despite hitting the back of his car this morning. He was second fastest on the final test. Patrick Magaud has climbed to seventh while the consistency of Norwegian Martin Stenshorne has enabled him to move onto the leaderboard in 10th.
The final leg is the shortest of the three. Starting from Sanremo at 06.00, it comprises two runs at two stages, incorporating some of the most famous roads of the rally around San Romolo and the Colle d'Oggia. Drivers cover 87.66km of competition before returning to the coastal town for the finish at 16.00. <pre>
Leaderboard after Leg 2 1. G Panizzi/H Panizzi F Peugeot 206 3hr 05min 22.8sec 2. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen Xsara 3hr 05min 57.3sec 3. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Peugeot 206 3hr 06min 04.6sec 4. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 3hr 06min 33.3sec 5. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus RS 3hr 06min 59.2sec 6. R Travaglia/F Zanella I Peugeot 206 3hr 07min 03.6sec 7. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Ford Focus RS 3hr 07min 32.6sec 8. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 3hr 08min 16.1sec 9. S Jean-Joseph/J Boyere F Peugeot 206 3hr 08min 21.5sec 10 C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus RS 3hr 08min 49.8sec