Colin McRae and Nicky Grist today won the Rally Argentina after dominating this gruelling fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. They led from the very first kilometre of the 1337km, four-day...
Colin McRae and Nicky Grist today won the Rally Argentina after dominating this gruelling fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. They led from the very first kilometre of the 1337km, four-day gravel rally and were joined on the podium at the Cordoba finish by Ford Martini team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya, who were third in their Focus RS.
The British pair completed the rally 26.9sec ahead of Richard Burns, their dominance emphasised by posting 10 fastest times from 21 speed tests. Sainz overcame severe back pain from a trapped nerve to record his fifth points finish and fourth podium in five rallies this season. The Spaniard was 1min 46.4sec behind McRae.
McRae and Grist paced themselves through today's final six special stages, the 32-year-old Scottish driver again able to drive at a speed which suited him while keeping a wary eye on the times of Burns behind. He completed the rally in style by setting fastest time on the final two stages, the feared Giulio Cesare and El Condor, two of the toughest tests in the entire 14-round championship.
"I've never been so relieved in my life," said McRae, whose win ended a dismal run this season. "It's been a marvellous rally for me and the Ford team and the car ran perfectly throughout. Richard was pushing hard all the time and we couldn't relax but that makes the win more worthwhile. I would have liked to have driven a little easier over the final two stages, which were rough, but I couldn't with Richard so close.
"I hope this is the start of a title challenge. The next two rallies are very important and we must score well again. The car is quick enough, as we've proved here. A win was what we wanted and a win was what we got. A few more would be nice," he added.
Sainz was in constant pain and required painkillers and plenty of bravery to make it through the rally. "Physically, these are the hardest points I've ever had to work for," said the 39-year-old Madrid-based driver, who flew out of Cordoba within two hours of the finish for an appointment with his specialist in Spain.
"We have enough problems to cope with on rallies without having to put up with the pain I've had," said Sainz. "There was nothing I could do apart from continue to take painkillers and get on with driving as fast as I could. The reward is good points for both myself and the team and now all I want to do is have my back treated so I can be at full fitness for the Cyprus Rally."
François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup, driving a third Focus RS, finished seventh, the French driver one of only two competitors to finish every rally this season. Team-mate Sainz is the other. Delecour appeared on course for a remarkable sixth place despite rolling his car early on the first full day of the rally. But a problem this morning with his car's high-technology fly-by-wire throttle system ended his hopes of an 11th consecutive points finish, a championship record dating back to August last year.
"When I saw Marcus Grönholm off the road I thought we could take sixth but it wasn't to be," said Delecour. "Although, after the accident on the first day we're lucky to have finished the rally. I was very impressed with the Focus on gravel and I can't wait for the next two rallies in Cyprus and Greece, both of which are tough and will suit the car."
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted with the result. "Colin put great pressure on us and himself by leading from the start and I haven't felt so tense for a long time as I was during the final stage. It's a fantastic result because we've closed the gap at the top of the manufacturers' table and put points on the board for Colin. Carlos did a superb job. When I saw him at the first service yesterday I didn't think he would be able to climb back into his car so third place is a great reward for his efforts," added Wilson.
News from our Rivals
Today's leg, the toughest of all, took its toll on the leading drivers. World champion Marcus Grönholm's (Peugeot) miserable season continued when the Finn went off the road on the third stage and broke his clutch trying to regain the track. Retirement was instant. Team-mate Didier Auriol had no better luck, hitting a rock on the penultimate Giulio Cesare test and breaking the front suspension. He too retired. That stage also claimed Kenneth Eriksson (Hyundai), who lost his left front wheel after a wheel stub sheared. Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi) claimed fourth, despite a spin and a leaking radiator, while team-mate Freddy Loix took the final point, despite a first leg roll. Norwegian Petter Solberg (Subaru) was the sandwich between the two.
The championship returns to Europe for round six, Limassol hosting the Cyprus Rally on 1 - 3 June. Last year Ford Martini enjoyed double glory when Sainz won from McRae. <pre> Final positions 1. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus RS 4hr 18min 25.3sec 2. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 4hr 18min 52.2sec 3. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus RS 4hr 20min 11.7sec 4. T Mäkinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 4hr 21min 37.9sec 5. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 4hr 22min 12.3sec 6. F Loix/S Smeets B Mitsubishi Carisma 4hr 24min 05.4sec 7. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Ford Focus RS 4hr 24min 36.2sec 8. T Arai/G MacNeall J Subaru Impreza 4hr 29min 21.0sec 9. A McRae/D Senior GB Hyundai Accent 4hr 32min 24.2sec 10 G Pozzo/D Stillo RA Mitsubishi Lancer 4hr 38min 40.4sec
FIA World Rally Championship (after round 5 of 14) Drivers Manufacturers 1. T Mäkinen 27pts 1. Mitsubishi 44pts 2. C Sainz 22pts 2. Ford 36pts 3= C McRae 10pts 3. Peugeot 20pts 4= D Auriol 10pts 4. Subaru 16pts 5= H Rovanperä 10pts 5. Hyundai 8pts 6. F Delecour 9pts 6. Skoda 6pts