WRC: McRae leaves Ford's rivals crying in Argentina

WRC: McRae leaves Ford's rivals crying in Argentina

Post by pr.. » Sun, 06 May 2001 14:09:31

Colin McRae and Nicky Grist destroyed the opposition during today's opening
leg of the Rally Argentina to open a comfortable lead in their Ford Focus RS
World Rally Car.  The British pair were fastest on four more speed tests to
add to their two quickest times on last night's super special stages as they
ended the longest leg of the four-day rally 41.4sec ahead of fellow
countryman Richard Burns.

Ford Martini team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya lie third in their Focus
RS, the Madrid-based driver bravely shrugging off a back injury to set one
fastest time, ensuring that a Focus was fastest on seven of the leg's eight
stages.  Fran?ois Delecour and Daniel Grataloup rolled their Focus in the
very first kilometre this morning but recovered well to hold ninth after
150.59km of competition.

After the e***ment of last night's short opening stages, thousands of fans
flocked to the hills north of the city of Cordoba to watch the world's top
drivers weave their way across the vast, open plains.  McRae and Grist did
not disappoint them despite early morning fog and fears that their lowly
running position would leave them at the mercy of poor road conditions as
the gravel tracks became churned up by previous cars.  

The 32-year-old Scottish driver shattered stage record times on three
occasions as he quickly opened up a lead in the morning and consolidated his
advantage during the afternoon tests.  Drier than expected conditions left
the road surface harder and smoother than feared and he made the most of his
good fortune.

"Conditions have been far better than we thought," said McRae.  "Before the
start I would have been overjoyed to be in the top three tonight so to be
leading is amazing.  Considering our lack of knowledge with Pirelli's tyres
on gravel in competition, they've worked very well and everything just seems
to have fallen into place.  We'll try to play safe tomorrow.  Running first
on the road shouldn't be a problem but we must take care because it's easy
to be caught out on these roads.  They're very tricky in places."

Sainz ended the day a tired man as the effects of a trapped nerve in his
back took their toll and the painkillers began to wear off.  In the
circumstances, his performance was exceptional, the 39-year-old admitting
that although he could live with the pain, it meant he was not concentrating
fully on his driving.

"I'm very pleased so far with my performance and pleased to get through the
day," said Sainz.  "I'm tired but the advice from our medical team has been
excellent.  I'm feeling confident although it took a while this morning to
get into the rhythm.  I need a good night's rest and hopefully tomorrow will
be even better for us."

Delecour and Grataloup were the victims of a slow roll in the opening
kilometre of this morning's first stage.  "It happened at the first
hairpin," said Delecour.  "There was a deep rut on the inside and we toppled
over.  Spectators pushed the car back onto its wheels but we lost more time
because the windscreen smashed and I couldn't see."

With a new windscreen fitted, Delecour fought back from 18th to ninth, the
Frenchman relishing his first real experience of the Focus on pure gravel in
competition.  "It's the best car on gravel I've ever driven," he said.  "I'm
still learning about the Focus on this surface and so there is more room for
improvement.

Ford Martin team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted with his team's
performance.  "Seven fastest times from eight stages is fantastic.  I was
confident for this rally but then I was for Spain and we didn't perform
there.  Both Colin and Carlos have driven superbly, and Carlos has been
marvellous given the pain he's suffering," he said.  

News from our Rivals

Only second-placed Richard Burns (Subaru) broke Ford's domination of stage
wins with fastest time on stage six, the Briton's only problem a spin on the
first test.  Third-placed Tommi M?kinen (Mitsubishi) had a lucky escape
after finding a spectator standing on the racing line while flat in sixth
gear.  After sliding wide and hitting a bank his car kicked up onto two
wheels but fortunately did not go over.  Team-mate Freddy Loix did not enjoy
the same luck, the Belgian rolling on stage seven.  Marcus Gr?nholm
(Peugeot) dropped time after losing power with a turbo wastegate problem on
stage four while team-mate Harri Rovanper? was the day's only major
retirement, the Finn lying fifth when he broke his suspension at a river
crossing.  Skoda team-mates Armin Schwarz and Bruno Thiry suffered early
suspension problems after each hit a rock and a lack of power was magnified
by the high altitude at which the rally is run.  Two punctures on the
penultimate stage and only one available spare forced Schwarz to start the
last stage with a flat tyre and he dropped another 30 seconds.  Hyundai
team-mates Alister McRae and Kenneth Eriksson had to endure a fiery day,
both having to stop to put out flames from the rear of their cars.  McRae
also dropped time when a faulty master switch caused the engine to stop five
times on stage five.

Tomorrow's Route

The second leg takes drivers south to smoother, more flowing but generally
shorter tests around Santa Rosa de Calamuchita.  After leaving Villa Carlos
Paz at 07.05, competitors will tackle six stages down there before heading
back for a short test on the edge of Cordoba.  They arrive back in Villa
Carlos Paz at 17.43 after 120.43km of competition.

Leaderboard after Leg 1
 1.  C McRae/N Grist            GB      Ford Focus RS           1hr 48min 18.0sec
 2.  R Burns/R Reid             GB      Subaru Impreza          1hr 48min 59.4sec
 3.  C Sainz/L Moya             E       Ford Focus RS           1hr 49min 15.3sec
 4.  T M?kinen/R Mannisenmaki   FIN     Mitsubishi Lancer       1hr 49min 18.9sec
 5.  D Auriol/D Giraudet        F       Peugeot 206             1hr 49min 53.0sec
 6.  M Gr?nholm/T Rautiainen    FIN     Peugeot 206             1hr 50min 03.3sec
 7.  P Solberg/P Mills          N       Subaru Impreza          1hr 50min 08.0sec
 8.  F Loix/S Smeets            B       Mitsubishi Carisma      1hr 51min 29.1sec
 9.  F Delecour/D Grataloup     F       Ford Focus RS           1hr 51min 52.3sec
10.  B Thiry/S Prvot           B       Skoda Octavia           1hr 52min 36.9sec

-Ford Racing

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