From Ron Salter [ 23/09/2001 ].
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The final day of the Rally New Zealand was cause to celebrate for the Martini Ford World Rally Team as the blue oval moved into the lead of the world manufacturers' championship, and Colin McRae drew level with Tommi Makinen in the drivers' series.All three Ford drivers held onto their positions from yesterday evening but it could have been even better were it not for all three spinning close to the end!McRae lay second starting today’s third and final leg south of the rally base of Auckland. With Burns forced to suffer by being first on the road today, McRae sliced his overnight deficit from 42.6sec to just 14.7sec with two speed tests remaining but he spun and stalled his Focus on the penultimate stage.
"We had backed off a little bit before the penultimate stage when we realised we couldn’t catch Richard," said McRae. “But we slid into the loose gravel and half spun. The engine wouldn’t start and we dropped about 35 seconds. It was a very quiet liaison section to the start of the final test because we knew there were now three cars just a handful of seconds behind us."
Sainz had then looked good for second place before he too spun, this time just 3 corners from the end of the rally! It was a pity as the handful of seconds lost dropped him off the podium back into 4th spot.
“We were caught out by the loose gravel,” said Sainz. “We stopped facing the wrong way and I had to find first gear and spin the car round before continuing. After Colin’s spin I thought second was possible but instead we finished fourth. That wasn’t a bad result in view of spending three days driving through loose gravel but it was a frustrating rally for us due to the conditions.”
François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup, driving a third Focus RS, finished 12th. Despite rolling during the second leg and losing four minutes, the French duo had hopes of a top 10 finish. But they ended when Delecour also spun and stalled his engine on this morning’s second test, losing another 40 seconds. “It’s good to finish after what happened but obviously I would have liked to have been higher. It’s the first time I have driven some of these stages so that’s good experience for the future,” he said.
Ford are now looking very strong for the championship with closest rivals Mitsubishi unlikely to take massive hoards of points from the next two asphalt events on the calendar. McRae too should be feeling bullish with all 4 remaining events presenting him with possibly a slightly better chance than Makinen. But anything can happen - the top 5 drivers in the championship are separated by only 13 points which is little more than awarded for one win. Watch this space!
Final results from New Zealand:
1 R.BURNS / R.REID GB SUBARU IMPREZA 188.8.131.52
2 C.McRAE / N.GRIST GB FORD FOCUS +44.6
3 H.ROVANPERA / R.PIETILAINEN FIN PEUGEOT 206 +50.1
4 C.SAINZ / L.MOYA E FORD FOCUS +52.2
5 M.GRONHOLM / T.RAUTIAINEN FIN PEUGEOT 206 +55.8
6 D.AURIOL / D.GIRAUDET F PEUGEOT 206 +1.11.3
7 P.SOLBERG / P.MILLS N/GB SUBARU IMPREZA +2.15.8
8 T.MAKINEN / R.MANNISENMAKI FIN MITSUBISHI LANCER +2.21.0
9 A.McRAE / D.SENIOR GB HYUNDAI ACCENT +3.33.8
10 K.ERIKSSON / S.PARMANDER S HYUNDAI ACCENT +4.21.9
12 F.DELECOUR / D.GRATALOUP F FORD FOCUS +5.17.1