Ford driver Colin McRae has scored his second consecutive victory in this year's FIA World Rally Championship by winning the sixth round, the Cyprus Rally, which finished in Limassol this evening.
The Scot, navigated by Nicky Grist, moved ahead of British rival Richard Burns during this morning's first loop of four stages and he eventually finished nearly 20 seconds clear of the Subaru driver. Spain's Carlos Sainz finished third, closing the gap between him and current World Championship leader Tommi Mäkinen to just a single point. McRae's victory places him third in the series, seven points behind Mäkinen, and moves Ford to the top of the World Championship for Manufacturers.
Intense heat and the notoriously dusty tracks again put cars and drivers through a stern test today, and the stages claimed two more works drivers. Reigning FIA World Champion Marcus Grönholm was forced out with a fuel feed problem, while suspension damage accounted for Mitsubishi driver Katsuhiko Taguchi late this afternoon.
At Ford the two remaining Focus RS WRC01s of Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz have been reliable today. Sainz's only problems were two punctures on the penultimate stage, since the Spaniard then had to complete the last test with them as well.
Colin McRae scored his second victory in succession to boost his world championship chances. He moved clear of Richard Burns by setting fastest times on two of this morning's four stages, and even though the roads had cleaned for everyone by the time crews revisited them this afternoon McRae made sure of his success by posting further scratch times in SS19 and SS21. Carlos Sainz closed in on Marcus Grönholm this morning prior to the Finn's retirement, and then targeted Richard Burns during this afternoon's stages. But he was forced to complete the final stage with two punctures and had to settle for third.
Colin McRae said: ''It's a fantastic result that puts us right back into the championship. If we can get another good result now in Greece later this month then we'll be right up there. It's another British one-two as well - maybe the days of the Finns are finally over! It was actually easier than I thought it would be today - it's still close, of course, but I really expected it to be decided by just a couple of seconds and we won by nearly 20. We've shown before that when the car's reliable we can win almost anywhere and this proves it again. I'd like more of the same on the Acropolis.''
Carlos Sainz added: ''It's a good result for us in the drivers' championship and a great one for Ford in the manufacturers' series. I would have liked to have finished higher, of course, but it was a hard rally. I wasn't able to do much sport between Argentina and here because of my sore leg, so I'm quite tired.''
Ford World Rally boss Malcolm Wilson said: ''You can't take anything away from the way Colin's driven but there was a psychological battle last night over who would run first on the road today and we won it. He and Carlos have both driven superbly and it's great that this result moves them both into the thick of the championship fight. These types of events really seem to suit our car, because it's strong and the suspension is good. I'm delighted.''
At Subaru Richard Burns's Subaru was generally reliable during today's final leg, although the Englishman had to cope with two punctures on the fifth stage of the day. Team-mate Toshihiro Arai, meanwhile, continued to suffer from overheating on his Impreza, but the Japanese driver saw no repetition of the 'safe mapping mode' problem which cost him time over the opening couple of days.