The tactics situation contributed towards a well deserved stage win for Hyundai's Kenneth Eriksson, who had been regularly (if inconsistently) pushing his way into the top five stage times, while teammate Alister McRae also turned in some very quick times.
Eriksson's day had started well when he set the second fastest time on SS2. However, this was followed by a hole in the engine sump after the Swede landed heavily on a buried rock after a jump. The resulting loss in oil pressure forced Eriksson to slow, incurring road penalties while the hole was patched up.
Luckily the damage was repaired by the team mechanics in the service area, allowing Eriksson to continue. He said, “The car feels fantastic, the traction is excellent but if we had more power, we would have been leading the rally after that first stage this morning
“The car is very good on the slower, twistier stages but we lose out a little on the faster ones. It was also a little worrying when we lost the engine oil this morning but the engine did not seem to suffer any damage - if it survives that, then hopefully, it can survive anything,” said the forty-four year old.
Teammate Alister McRae suffered a half spin on the first stage of the day, losing a minute and a half after the engine stalled and refused to re-start, dropping his overall position to 27th. However, he successfully fought back to eleventh overall - setting a series of top ten stage times, including a third fastest on stage three, in the process.
”As before, on gravel, the car feels great, the handling and balance are fantastic,” McRae remarked. “It's obviously frustrating to lose that amount of time but the encouraging thing was that my time at the split was the same as Kenneth's, so potentially we would have been on for a good time. But our road position means we can push for improved places tomorrow.”
206 WRC driver Francois Delecour suffered mechanical gremlins, but nevertheless ran competitively all day, “The gear change is not such a big problem - it's just changing not quite at the right point sometimes, but in any case, I haven't been trying so hard. I can't understand how Marcus is able to go so quickly when he's running first on the road, though - he's been doing some fantastic times. It will be difficult to be this far up the running order tomorrow.”
The main news of the leg was the retirement of World Championship contender Colin McRae after SS6 when he stopped on a road section after experiencing a loss of oil pressure.
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson suggested a damaged piston caused the problem, ''It's disappointing to lose Colin so early. He was driving exactly to plan and things were looking good.” The retirement almost certainly ruined McRae's chances of a second World Championship.
Subaru's new signing, Petter Solberg, also made an early exit from the Rally, literally in his case, when he left the road on SS8, forcing his retirement. It was unfortunate end for the Dutch driver, who had recorded two fastest stage times beforehand and been running in the top five for most of the day.