Tactics prevail over speed as first day ends
Today's opening leg of the Rally Australia was dominated by tactics as Ford
Martini drivers Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya were just one of several leading
pairings who spent the final kilometres jockeying for the most favourable
re-start position tomorrow morning.
The overnight seeding positions were based on the placings after the
penultimate speed test along a 4.42km forest road. In almost surreal
circumstances for a world championship rally, Sainz and Moya were among four
top pairings who deliberately lost time to guarantee they begin the second
leg further down the order but with better road conditions.
In so doing, they allow the early cars to sweep the liberal covering of
loose gravel from the roads, ensuring a much cleaner and therefore faster
run through the stages.
As a result of the tactical manoeuvres, Sainz ended the leg in eighth in his
Ford Focus World Rally Car, the last of those in contention for the drivers'
world title and the one likely to benefit most from the cleaner roads. The
38-year-old Madrid-based driver spent much of the day in third, comfortable
with his pace over the slippery gravel tracks east of Perth.
However, he was unhappy at having to adopt such tactics. "It's strange that
on a world championship rally we find ourselves in the position of
deliberately losing time to gain a better running position tomorrow. The
fastest drivers are being penalised. Last year on this rally the quickest
drivers were able to choose their re-start positions for the following day.
It worked well then but the idea is not being used this year," he said.
Ford Martini team-mates Colin McRae and Nicky Grist made a good start, the
British pair settling into a comfortable fifth after five stages. They were
happy to keep in close touch with the cars ahead, without wishing to move
higher so as to benefit from the conditions lying in wait down the order
However, 7km from the finish of the 20km Flynns Short stage, the engine of
their Focus lost oil pressure. They dropped two minutes nursing the car to
the finish but the engine stopped for good during the liaison section to
"The engine went tight going into a corner but immediately afterwards it
felt OK," said 32-year-old McRae. "But 200m later it dropped onto three
cylinders and there was nothing we could do. We had no warning it was going
to happen and it was the last thing we expected as the car had been so
"We've worked so hard this year and were determined to have a good run in
Australia to set up a great finish to the year on the final round of the
series in Britain. Now, in championship terms, it's not looking too good
for us, so we must wait and see what happens here," he added.
Tapio Laukkanen and Kaj Lindström, driving a third Focus World Rally Car,
ended the day in sixth. The Finns excelled to post second fastest time on
the sixth stage on only their second world championship rally in a
four-wheel drive car. Apart from a couple of half spins, one which damaged
his car's gearbox after he missed a gear while re-starting, Laukkanen has been most impressive.
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson said early investigation suggested
a damaged piston caused the problem with McRae's engine but the reason for
the damage would not be known until a more detailed inspection had taken
"It's disappointing to lose Colin so early," he added. "He was driving
exactly to plan and things were looking good. Carlos has enjoyed a
trouble free day, driving at a pace which was comfortable and which suited
him. Road position is the most crucial factor on this rally and the tactics
we saw today will be repeated again towards the end of the second leg
tomorrow evening. It's probably fair to say the serious competition on this
rally will start for real on the final morning."
News from our Rivals
It was a bad day for birthday boys Freddy Loix (Mitsubishi) and Markko
Martin (Subaru). Loix, 30 today, retired on stage three with broken
transmission. Martin, celebrating his 25th birthday and on his debut for
the team, retired in the previous test with drive failure following a fire
en route to the stage. Team-mate Petter Solberg was the only other major
retirement after going off the road.
Series leader Marcus Grönholm
(Peugeot) led until tactics came into play with team-mate Francois Delecour
always in the top five. The main beneficiary, at least on paper, of the
tactics was Juha Kankkunen (Subaru) who led Delecour by 9.6sec while
team-mate Richard Burns held back in the lower regions of the top 10 until
the 'games' began.
Drivers face a long journey south to Harvey around which all but one of the
day's seven stages are based. The leg ends with a final run around Perth's
riverside Langley Park. After re-starting at 06.00, competitors will tackle
141km of stages in a route of almost 700km before arriving back in Perth at
20.21. Features of the day are the 45.42km Wellington Dam, the longest of
the rally, and the 35.48km Stirling East.
Colin McRae Rally 2.0 Official Game Website