Colin McRae appeared to have lost his chance of winning the Acropolis Rally with three stages left, but team-mate Carlos Sainz dutifully handed the event back to its long-time leader with just yards to run.
The Spaniard had earlier received orders that the overnight 1-2 was to be held to the finish but, in actions reminiscent of McRae's in Spain two years ago, he appeared unwilling to comply. After gradually eroding the 39secs lead that McRae had built up over the opening stages of the day, Sainz promptly reduced the gap by 21, and then raced into the lead on SS17. With his Scottish team-mate then losing more time on the penultimate stage, everything appeared to have moved in Sainz's direction.
Ford maintained that McRae would still be the winner although, with the final 23km about to start, it looked an impossible task without Sainz either doing something drastic on the stage or off it. In the end, he chose the latter, pulling over just yards from the end, and waiting two minutes before resuming, thereby handing McRae a victory his performances deserved.
''I'm obviously very happy with this victory, not just the fact that we have won, but in the way Ford has controlled the event from the very start,'' said the Scot, who posted five fastest stage times on the event, ''The number of retirements shows just how tough this rally has been. The Focus has never missed a beat and I've felt very relaxed all day because I have complete trust in the team.''
''It's a great result for the Ford Martini team, although I'm sad that it was not me taking the victory,'' admitted Sainz, ''I promise you that on the next rally I'll be trying even harder. Everyone in the team has been working so hard to make this result possible but we know that we cannot relax. We must continue with our development work to ensure the improvement continues and ensure that we can reproduce this sort of result again during the rest of the season.''
Such was the Ford pair's advantage over the rest of the field, Sainz's actions had no effect on the rest of the top five. Despite dropping time, he still finished six minutes ahead of the third placed Subaru. This should, by rights, have belonged to Richard Burns but, having suffered turbo trouble on stage 13, the Englishman called it a day on the next, his engine refusing to fire and sending him OTL.
“I think we lost about two and a half minutes in SS13 when the turbo failed, Burns said, ''When the engine stopped Robert [Reid] and I did everything we could to get it going but we just ran out of time. It's obviously disappointing to have lost the opportunity for at least four more points, but with the way the points have actually gone, it just means that the drivers behind have got a bit closer to each other – not to me. So I think I've been quite lucky in that respect.''
Team-mate Juha Kankkunen thus inherited a podium spot, but had to fight off the concerted attentions of privateer Toshihiro Arai to get it. The Subaru privateer looked good value for fourth, but almost lost out as his engine began to play up. It lapsed onto three cylinders on SS14 and, while not being enough to knock him out of the event, caused enough of a delay that time penalties dropped him to fifth behind Armin Schwarz. Such was the Japanese driver's pace, however, that the deficit was regained on the very next stage, and the pressure was back on Kankkunen.
The Finn had his own problems, with his car overheating as a result of problems endured on day two, but soldiered on ensure that Subaru retained its advantage in the manufacturers' championship.