Sainz takes charge for Ford in Swedish snow Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya led the Swedish Rally in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car at the end of today's opening leg - a day dominated by the Ford Martini team. The Spanish duo hold a 13.2 second...
Sainz takes charge for Ford in Swedish snow
Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya led the Swedish Rally in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car at the end of today's opening leg - a day dominated by the Ford Martini team. The Spanish duo hold a 13.2 second overnight lead while team-mates Colin McRae and Nicky Grist posted fastest time on three of the day's six speed tests through the snowy Swedish countryside.
Perfect winter conditions for drivers were matched by ideal weather for the crowds of spectators as blue skies and bright sunshine created a picture postcard image in the forests for this second round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Temperatures as low as -11°C ensured the snow-covered gravel tracks remained frozen and snow banks lining the roads provided an aid for competitors on which to 'lean' their cars.
Sainz started cautiously but after gaining confidence in the best conditions on the rally for many years, he soon eased into the consistent style which is his trademark. On the day's final four stages the 38-year-old Madrid-based pilot was never outside the top three times, moving his Focus RS into the lead on the penultimate test.
"I've never known the Swedish Rally to be so nice," said Sainz. "It's been enjoyable to drive in these conditions and we've had a good day. It's not been easy running second on the road because there was a little loose snow which we were clearing away for the benefit of those behind. It's good to be first but perhaps not so good to be first on the road tomorrow although so long as it doesn't snow again tonight, conditions should be OK. The car has run well and I have a good feeling with it."
McRae and Grist started strongly and were second after the first two stages. However, the British pair clipped a snowbank in the following test and spent an agonising 5min 30sec trying to manhandle their Focus RS out of the by now soft snow. Undaunted, they went on to set fastest time on each of the last three stages, at astonishingly high average speeds of 118kph, 116kph and 118kph respectively. They returned to the rally base in Karlstad 20th, 4min 37.8sec behind Sainz.
"We ran wide on a bend and just clipped the bank," said 32-year-old McRae. "Because other cars had already hit it, the snow was quite loose and the car simply became stuck. Spectators helped push us out but it was very frustrating, especially as our times later show just what the Focus RS is capable of achieving. We've been pushing hard this afternoon and tomorrow I'll be quite happy to continue setting fastest times but I must stay out of the snowbanks," he added ruefully.
François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup, driving the third official Focus RS, are seventh after overcoming several minor difficulties. A misted windscreen on the first stage meant Delecour had to peer through a tiny gap to see the road ahead while a rock lying in the middle of the track punctured a tyre and damaged his car's suspension on the same test. A bad tyre choice also frustrated the French pair on the daunting 49.36km Granberget test.
"The car has been perfect. Apart from our bad tyre selection, nothing has really gone wrong but I don't feel I've driven well," said 38-year-old Delecour. "There's nothing I can really identify, I just haven't been fast enough. Tomorrow I'll do better!"
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson felt confident enough to ease Sainz's fears about the conditions tomorrow. "It's forecast to be very cold tonight so there shouldn't be any more snow and I don't think it will be a big disadvantage to be first on the road in the morning. Carlos has driven both carefully and well. He's finished second here four times so hopefully this is the year he can go one better," he said.
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It's been a day of problems for many of the top drivers. Apart from McRae, the opening four stages accounted for the hopes of four other front-runners. Richard Burns (Subaru) slid into a snowbank on the second stage and spent 13 minutes digging himself out while team-mate Markko Martin lost almost six minutes two stages later after hitting a rock and damaging his right rear brakes, wheel and suspension upright. Freddy Loix (Mitsubishi) also fell foul of a snowbank and lost three minutes while world champion Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) retired early for the second consecutive event, with a broken head gasket. Elsewhere, Alister McRae (Hyundai) dropped two minutes after a cracked turbo pipe left him with little boost for much of the Granberget test while Bruno Thiry and Armin Schwarz (Skoda) have driven solidly on the team's first appearance in Sweden. Perhaps the bravest performance has come from Didier Auriol (Peugeot), the Frenchman lying fourth despite suffering from 'flu so severe that he spent all yesterday confined to bed.
Drivers face a gruelling day of more than 800km and 15 hours behind the wheel. After leaving Karlstad at 07.00 the route heads north-east to Grängesberg, around which competitors will tackle six more stages covering 133.76km. The final test is a 2km super special in the ski stadium at Falun around which up to 20,000 spectators are expected to watch two cars at a time racing beneath the huge ski jump. Competitors arrive back at Karlstad at 22.00.
<pre> Leaderboard after Leg 1 1. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus 1hr 19min 08.7sec 2. H Rovanperä/R Pietilainen FIN Peugeot 206 1hr 19min 21.9sec 3. T Rädström/T Thörner S Mitsubishi Carisma 1hr 19min 28.0sec 4. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Peugeot 206 1hr 19min 41.0sec 5. T Mäkinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 1hr 19min 44.3sec 6. K Eriksson/S Parmander S Hyundai Accent 1hr 19min 50.3sec 7. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Ford Focus 1hr 19min 58.6sec 8. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 1hr 20min 20.9sec 9. T Gardemeister/P Lukander FIN Peugeot 206 1hr 20min 26.8sec 10. D Carlsson/B Melander S Toyota Corolla 1hr 20min 55.8sec