Tour de Corse: Ford Leg 1 notes

Satisfying start for Ford Focus squad in Corsica Ford Rallye Sport made a solid start to the Tour de Corse rally with all three drivers holding top 10 positions following today's opening leg. Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya led the team's challenge...

Satisfying start for Ford Focus squad in Corsica

Ford Rallye Sport made a solid start to the Tour de Corse rally with all three drivers holding top 10 positions following today's opening leg. Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya led the team's challenge in fifth in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car with Colin McRae and Nicky Grist seventh and Markko Martin and Michael Park ninth.

In contrast to yesterday's glorious sunshine, today was overcast. The twisty asphalt roads on the Mediterranean island were dry in the main but rain showers during the last of the day's five speed tests made conditions treacherous as drivers were forced to tackle the special stage on dry weather tyres.

Sainz was always the best of the Ford Rallye Sport trio. He claimed a top six position on the opening stage and remained there until the penultimate test when he climbed to fifth, a position he consolidated on the last stage when a strong charge in the rain was rewarded with second fastest time.

The 39-year-old Madrid driver lost a handful of seconds on the opening two stages when he had problems selecting first gear at the start. "We lost about five seconds at the start of each stage when the car jumped from first gear into neutral," he said. "When I revved the engine at the start it refused to select first and I had to reduce the revs to move from neutral to first but there were no problems in the stages."

Sainz took a chunk from his front left wheel and sliced the sidewall of the tyre after clipping something on a grass verge while cutting a corner in the third stage but lost no time. However, the weather in the final stage was more of a problem. "It started to rain lightly at the start but we had to drive the last 5km in heavy rain which wasn't easy but allowed us to make up some time. I feel happy with the car and we don't plan any changes tonight," added Sainz.

McRae found the first half of the leg difficult and lay ninth after three stages. But fifth fastest time on each of the last two tests, despite stalling the engine of his Focus RS at the start of the first of the group, enabled him to climb two places.

"Things improved in the rain and if conditions remain like this for the next two days it will be better for us," said the Scot. "We raised the suspension on both the front and rear for the final two stages and we've alternated between medium and hard compound tyres during the day but I seem to have driven hard for no great reward. Having said that, we're on the edge of the points so if we can continue to move up tomorrow then I'll be happy."

Martin spent much of the day getting used to the Focus RS on his first pure asphalt event in the car. "We had no real problems. I'm still trying to understand the car but the balance and handling feel much better than the last time I drove it," he said.

The Estonian was cautious in the wet on the final stage after a narrow escape on the very first bend. "It was on a long fourth gear corner and we had a big, big slide so I decided to ease off a little for the rest of the stage," he said.

Francois Duval and Jean-Marc Fortin, driving a 2001 specification Focus RS, are 12th after a strong performance. The 21-year-old Belgian driver lost time on the opening stage when he stalled the engine twice on the startline but excelled on the final test when he posted third fastest time - his best performance at world championship level.

"It was my fault when I stalled the engine," said Duval. "It was my first uphill stage start in a Focus and after stalling the first time the engine fired up quicker than I thought and I stalled again. Before the last stage Jean-Marc told me my driving was ragged. He said I should relax and imagine I was driving a small train. I did and was third fastest so now I'm going to be a train driver!"

News from our Rivals

French manufacturer Peugeot dominated the day. Gilles Panizzi posted fastest time on the first four tests before easing off on the wet final stage to allow team-mate Marcus Grönholm to go fastest. Team-mate Richard Burns lies third, none of the trio having any problems. Tommi Mäkinen (Subaru) was similarly untroubled en route to fourth although he had trailed team-mate Petter Solberg until the Norwegian hit a rock face on the penultimate test and broke the trailing arm on his rear left wheel. Alister McRae (Mitsubishi) had a tough day, oversteering problems costing time on the opening two stages and brake troubles adding to his woes on the remaining three. Freddy Loix (Hyundai) spent most of the day setting up his car after rolling the new Accent in yesterday's shakedown test. Team-mate Tomasz Kuchar was the only major retirement after the Pole's throttle stuck open on the first stage. His brakes caught fire 5km from the end after constant attempts to slow the car and he lost 16 minutes putting the flames out. He withdrew at the end of the test.

Tomorrow's Route

With the exception of the first test, a repeat of today's longest stage of the rally, all the competition during leg 2 is to the north of Ajaccio. After the opening 36.73km test, drivers face two groups of three stages before returning to the town following 150.23km of action. They restart in the morning at 08.00 and finish at 17.56. <pre> Leaderboard after Leg 1 1. G Panizzi/H Panizzi F Peugeot 206 1hr 02min 28.5sec 2. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 1hr 02min 31.5sec 3. R Burns/R Reid GB Peugeot 206 1hr 02min 53.6sec 4. T Mäkinen/K Lindström FIN Subaru Impreza 1hr 03min 07.8sec 5. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus RS 1hr 03min 17.9sec 6. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 1hr 03min 29.0sec 7. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus RS 1hr 03min 32.2sec 8. P Bugalski/J-P Chiaroni F Citroen Xsara 1hr 03min 41.5sec 9. M Martin/M Park EE Ford Focus RS 1hr 03min 42.3sec 10 H Rovanperä/R Pietilainen FIN Peugeot 206 1hr 03min 54.5sec


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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team