The expected tussle between Colin McRae and Tommi Makinen on the final day of this year's Monte Carlo Rally lasted less than 20 kilometres as the Scot's miserable luck on the event continued, when he struck terminal problems on the very first stage of the day, allowing Makinen to cruise home to an unchallenged victory.
With just four special stages making up the timetable for the final day of what has been the most compact Rally of Monte Carlo ever, nearly everyone believed that the battle for honours between Ford's Colin McRae and Mitsubishi's Tommi Makinen would go right down to the wire seeing as though the pair were separated by a mere three and a half seconds going into the first stage of the day at Sospel.
However as McRae negotiated the 32-kilometre test, the fly-by-wire throttle on his Ford Focus packed up and even though McRae and co-driver Nicky Grist were able to fix the problem, the duo lost more than 13 minutes and McRae was forced to retire before the start of SS13 as the throttle began to stick open.
“It was a safety issue,” said a bitterly disappointed McRae, who has now seen victory slip from his grasp in the last two Monte's. “We'd already lost so much time and if the throttle had jammed open in the next stage, who knows what could have happened.”
Despite having to slow as he negotiated the stricken Focus, Makinen still managed to post second fastest time on the stage behind team-mate Freddy Loix, who found his tyre choice well suited to the slippery, icy conditions. The Belgian driver's time actually vaulted him from eighth to fifth in the overall standings after SS12 for Colin was not the only McRae family member to hit trouble on the opening stage.
“I got caught out on a patch of ice,” explained Hyundai's Alister McRae. “The left rear wheel hit a wall and it broke the centre out of the wheel completely.” Luckily no damage was sustained to the suspension assembly although the resulting delay to change the tyre cost McRae nearly four minutes and virtually all hopes of a points scoring finish.
Others to fall foul of the treacherous conditions included Carlos Sainz and Olivier Burri, the former indulging in a quick spin in what was now the leading Ford while the latter left the road at slightly higher speed in his Toyota Corolla and was forced to retire after what had been a very encouraging performance.
The leaderboard had a very different look to it as the cars rolled up to the start of the 24-kilometre Loda-Luceram stage with Makinen now leading Sainz by more than a minute with Francois Delecour third another minute plus in arrears followed by the consistent Armin Schwarz who now had his eyes firmly set on Skoda's first ever podium finish on a WRC event.
Schwarz's dream moved a little closer on SS13 as he posted third quickest time behind Makinen and Sainz, who were separated by less than a second despite the Finn's decision to cruise through the final three stages. Delecour gave up just three seconds to the German Skoda driver but it was enough to cost him his podium spot temporarily such was the difference between the two.