Appalling weather conditions have again played their part on the second day of the TAP Rallye de Portugal, with several leading stars being forced to retire through accidents and mechanical problems. Mitsubishi's Tommi Makinen holds the overnight lead from Carlos Sainz by 13secs, with Marcus Grönholm and Richard Burns fighting hard for the final podium position.
Tommi Mäkinen extended his advantage over this morning's first three stages, despite concerns about the amount of marshals and spectators standing on or close to the road, as he explained: ''It was really hard to push this morning because in some places, the spectators and marshals were running in front of my car, maybe only 15 metres.
Makinen, who benefited from starting first on each stage, then added: “It seems to be going well otherwise - the new rear suspension on the Lancer has worked as well as he expected it to. It's giving us more suspension travel, which allows us to soften the car up for the wet conditions and get better grip.”
Team-mate Freddy Loix moved further into the points when Harri Rovanperä retired, but the Belgian's run came to a premature end when his Lancer lost drive in the second of the three repeated stages, SS15, and the Belgian was forced to retire from the event.
After Colin McRae's retirement yesterday evening with engine failure, the Ford
challenge has continued to be lead by Carlos Sainz, who worked hard to close the gap to leader Tommi Mäkinen – but initially he lost further time in this morning's loop of stages.
The Spaniard was stunned to find a safety car in the road in SS12: “The mist has been so terrible,” Sainz explained. “I met one car in the middle of the road on today's second stage and there was so little visibility that I could have hit it. I didn't know if it was Tommi, if the stage had been blocked, if there'd been an accident or anything.''
He then slid wide twice in SS16, so the gap between the pair increased to around half a minute by early afternoon. Sainz then won SS18 to reduce the gap to 13sec.
Teammate Francois Delecour holds a lonely fifth place, too far behind Burns to challenge the Briton and easily clear of Alister McRae, although the Frenchman's day has been far from dull with the 'joystick' gearbox failing this morning, forcing him to switch to a mechanical instead of an electronic connection.
He would suffer further problems with the gearbox later in the day and also had to contend with his windscreen misting up, making visibility in the early-morning mist extremely poor. ''I don't like the poor visibility and the misting windscreen made it almost impossible,'' he said.