Double podium for Ford on Monte Carlo Rally
Ford claimed two of the three podium places on the world famous Monte Carlo
Rally, opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship, which finished in
Monaco this afternoon. Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya drove their Ford Focus RS
World Rally Car to second and François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup
It was a superb debut for the revised Focus rally car amid constantly
changing conditions which ensured the event lived up to its label as the
most unpredictable in the 14-rally calendar. Drivers faced snow, ice and
even dry asphalt, often within a few kilometres of each other, during the
four-day, 1766km rally which ensured tyre selection was a difficult task.
Ford drivers posted fastest time on half of the 14 speed tests. Delecour
was quickest on three, Sainz on two and Ford Martini team-mates Colin McRae
and Nicky Grist also fastest on two. Sadly, long-time rally leader McRae
retired on the opening stage of today's third and final leg.
It was Sainz's ninth podium finish on this rally, the 38-year-old Madrid
driver finishing with fastest time on the final stage. "Considering the
awkward conditions, it was a good start to the season. Six points is a good
reward for our efforts, although it's a pity for Colin. When we started
this morning I was conscious that I couldn't catch Tommi or Colin and it
needed either a mistake or problem for me to move up," he said.
Delecour, winner here for Ford in 1994, made an impressive start to his
second spell with the team. "This rally is so dependent on the weather and
the changing conditions made it difficult," he said. "It's easy to make
mistakes when you experience dry asphalt, ice and snow on the same stage.
In driving a Focus for the first time I had a lot to get used to. I quickly
developed a good feeling with the car but I still have more to learn."
McRae's hopes of scoring the first British victory on the Monte Carlo Rally
since 1968 ended in disappointment early this morning. The Ford Martini
pair, overnight leaders by 3.5sec, hit problems on the famous Col de Turini
stage, high in the mountains above Monte Carlo, and were forced to retire
after the 32.72km test.
The electric motor on the fly-by-wire throttle system of McRae's Focus RS
World Rally Car failed early in the stage, just before the col where
thousands of spectators were gathered to watch the action. McRae stopped
and disconnected the throttle linkage system himself to convert the
fly-by-wire to the mechanical back-up.
However, the 32-year-old Scot was unable to remove the linkage totally and,
although he was able to complete the stage having dropped 13 minutes, part
of the linkage was fouling on the engine, causing the throttle to jam.
Although he tried to disconnect the remaining piece after the stage he was
unable to do so in the time allowed and retired.
"The problem happened about 2km from the top of the Col de Turini," said
McRae. "We made it up to the summit but the motor seized completely at the
top and we had to stop. We managed to switch to the back-up system to
finish the stage but there's no way we could have started the next test with
the throttle jamming. It's obviously very disappointing because we had
every chance of winning this one."
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson said two podium places marked a
'very satisfactory' start to the year considering the revisions to the
Focus. "All three drivers posted fastest times and I think the car is right
at the head of the field in terms of performance," he said. "It's
disappointing for Colin to retire from the lead but we've been greatly
encouraged by the display of all three Focus cars. The electric motor which
brought about Colin's retirement was a relatively low technology part. It's
been used extensively in Champ Car racing in the United States and has been
tested for more than 3,000km on the rally car. It was a rare and unexpected
News from our Rivals
Tommi Mäkinen's (Mitsubishi) victory completed only the third hat-trick in
the history of the Monte Carlo Rally, and the first since Walter Röhrl in
1982 - 1984. Armin Schwarz (Skoda) matched his team's best world
championship result in fourth while fifth for private-entrant Toni
Gardemeister was a notable achievement. Freddy Loix (Mitsubishi) took the
final drivers' point after a puncture on today's opening stage cost Alister
McRae (Hyundai) four minutes when he had to stop and change it.
More snow and ice lies in wait for drivers as the FIA World Championship
moves to Scandinavia for the Swedish Rally on 9 - 11 February. It is based