Ford driver Colin McRae has scored his first victory for a year on the seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Acropolis Rally, which finished in Greece today [Sunday].
The Scot and navigator Nicky Grist, whose last win came on the same event 12 months ago, fended off a late challenge from current championship leader Marcus Grönholm to score their fifth Acropolis win in the last seven years.
The victory moved McRae into fourth in the drivers' championship race and also lifted him alongside Carlos Sainz and Tommi Mäkinen on the record number of WRC event wins (24).
After two days with relatively few retirements, the notoriously rough Greek roads fought back with a vengeance today. Four manufacturer entries, including second-placed Richard Burns and fifth-placed Freddy Loix, retired with mechanical problems. Burns's dramas lifted McRae's Ford team-mate Carlos Sainz into third overall by the finish, a result that lifted the Spaniard into second in the drivers' championship.
The Ford Focus RS WRC02s of Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz and Markko Martin have been reliable today. McRae rattled off today's four scheduled stages to claim his first WRC event win in a year. The closing kilometres weren't without drama, however - at the end of one stage, McRae had to use a rock to bend back bodywork that had been pushed into a wheel when he misheard a pacenote, slid wide and hit a tree.
Carlos Sainz, meanwhile, eased away from Harri Rovanperä and Freddy Loix and the Spaniard was promoted to third overall once Richard Burns retired on the first stage of the day. He now lies second in the drivers' championship standings.
Early event leader Markko Martin continued his recovery after his puncture yesterday [Saturday], and the young Estonian's efforts were rewarded with a single point for sixth overall at the finish.
Colin McRae said: ''It's been a full year since we won but we've been so close many times. I certainly hope it's not another year before we win again - it can't be, if we're going to have a go at the championship. The key to the win here this time was the car's strength, because we were able to keep a good pace throughout and we never had any problems. It obviously makes our championship situation better but we have to look for a similar result on the Safari Rally now to get up some momentum.''
Ford World Rally team boss Malcolm Wilson added: ''It's a great result for the whole team. We desperately needed as many points as we could get from here and it's fantastic to get first and third. Hopefully this can kick-start Colin's season now as well. I'm also very, very pleased for Markko. If he hadn't had his problems yesterday then it would have been difficult for anyone to catch him today.''