13 July 2002
Colin McRae takes advantage as Kenya bites.
Ford driver Colin McRae has taken over the lead of the Safari Rally, as he and navigator Nicky Grist grabbed top spot from Tommi Mäkinen when the Finn hit problems in this morning's opening stage, and consolidated their advantage ever since.
Mäkinen was one of many leading drivers to hit trouble on the demanding African event. McRae's Ford team-mate Carlos Sainz retired with engine problems, Mäkinen himself succumbed to suspension damage and reigning world champion Richard Burns was forced out within sight of his own service trucks when he got his damaged Peugeot stuck in the entry to the Suswa service area.
The Focus RS WRC02s of McRae and Markko Martin were generally reliable all day, although Martin complained of excessive oversteer in the day's opening section. McRae was held up by Mäkinen's dust for around 20km of the day's opening competitive section, but the Scot still set a fast time to move into the lead. Having moved ahead, he then built up an advantage throughout the rest of the day to arrive back in Nairobi this evening with a cushion of nearly two and a half minutes.
“We're running at what I'd call a comfortable pace, not taking any big risks,'' the Scot said, ''But it's far from over yet - Harri's going well too, so there's still pressure. We're not going to try to retaliate to his pace - this speed has worked well so far so we'll just keep it tomorrow. I think if Harri keeps pushing he might easily have problems.”
Carlos Sainz lost time when he had to stop and change a puncture in CS7, but the Spaniard benefited from Mäkinen's problems as he moved into a battle with Harri Rovanperä for second overall. His hopes were dashed, however, by a terminal loss of oil pressure in his engine halfway through CS8., and he was forced to retire on the spot.
Martin again concentrated on building up experience of the Kenyan stages, but the Estonian's steady pace kept him comfortably inside the top six. The retirements of Mäkinen and Sainz helped him into third by the end of the day, before road penalties incurred because of complications during an oil pump belt change dropped him to fifth overnight.
The Peugeot 206 WRCs of Harri Rovanperä and Gilles Panizzi have also been reliable today, but team-mate Richard Burns broke a crossmember near the end of CS8. Although he reached service with the left-front wheel tucked up into the arch, the reigning world champion then got stuck in the deep sand at the entrance to the service area and he was forced to retire.
Both Rovanperä and Burns upped their pace early in the day, with the Finn benefiting from the problems that hit Kenneth Eriksson and Tommi Mäkinen, as he charged further into the top three. He soon became embroiled in a battle with Sainz for second overall, before the Spaniard's retirement handed the place to the Peugeot man, and left him to close the gap to leader McRae to just under two and a half minutes by the end of the day.
“It's been a hard day,'' Rovanpera said, ''I've been pushing a bit harder but we can't really take too many risks tomorrow. I think the aim has to be to get back to the finish.”
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