Ford's Colin McRae has scored his third win in succession in this year's FIA World Rally Championship after a dramatic finish to the seventh round, the Acropolis Rally.
The Scot and co-driver Nicky Grist entered the final 38km stage just 7.5 seconds ahead of their team-mate Carlos Sainz, but the Spaniard's engine failed 8km into the test and he was forced to retire. With McRae's other main challenger Richard Burns losing time with an accident this morning (and subsequently retiring with propshaft failure), Norway's Petter Solberg threaded his Subaru Impreza over the rough Greek tracks to claim a career-best second place.
McRae's victory lifted his career WRC wins total to 23, equalling the record held by Sainz and Juha Kankkunen, and vaulted the 1995 champion to the joint lead of the drivers' championship with Tommi Mäkinen, who finished fourth in Greece.
At Ford today the Focus RS WRC01s of Colin McRae and François Delecour have been reliable, although Carlos Sainz's car lapsed onto three cylinders and then lost oil pressure 8km into the final stage, forcing the Spaniard into retirement.
Colin McRae admitted that he was 'relieved' to see father Jim holding out a board confirming that Carlos Sainz had retired during the last stage, for McRae had seen his overnight lead slashed by a remorseless attack from the Spaniard throughout today's tests. The double world champion took nearly seven seconds from the middle loop of three tests, setting up a grandstand finish that was eventually spoilt by his engine problems.
François Delecour was feeling further pain in his right wrist today after he had to do a test without power steering yesterday, but the Frenchman set consistently quick times and despite two punctures in the last two stages he finished fifth.
Colin McRae said: ''It's great to get three in a row and hopefully we'll make it a fourth in Kenya next month! I was fairly confident going into the last stage but then about halfway through I saw the board telling me that Carlos was out. It's unfortunate for him and it was a good fight. The championship fight is obviously very much alive now.''
Carlos Sainz noted: ''The car slowed suddenly, then it went onto three cylinders and the oil pressure dropped. This sport can be very cruel sometimes, and I'm used to these things, but it's still very hard to take. I was confident we could challenge Colin.''
Ford World Rally team principal Malcolm Wilson added: ''This is a 'bittersweet' victory, for while we're obviously delighted with Colin's performance and result, we feel for Carlos. There were no team orders and we had confidence that the car would last, but it's just one of those situations. But we have to take satisfaction from Colin's win and a good team performance.''