Greek tragedy avoided as Sainz lets McRae through

Controversy reigned until the dying moments of this year's Acropolis Rally, with Carlos Sainz waiting two minutes at the end of the final stage in order to allow Ford team-mate Colin McRae to take victory. Sainz's submission has handed McRae not only his second victory of the season but also second spot in the championship behind rival Richard Burns

Greek tragedy avoided as Sainz lets McRae through

Onlookers were doubtful as to whether the Spaniard would honour the team orders impressed upon both drivers on Sunday morning. The pair were instructed to hold station by team boss Malcolm Wilson, with McRae leading and Sainz second, however the Spaniard swept into the lead by over a minute and waited until the last possible gasp to let the Scot back into the lead.

The controversial finish was a mirror image of the Catalunya Rally in 1995, when Sainz and McRae were Subaru team-mates. McRae was forced to let Sainz through, but refused to do so until the final stage, where he too stopped on the road after the flying finish. This latest episode further fuels speculation that neither driver would be comfortable playing a supporting role.

The Ford team were afforded the luxury of being able to impose team orders due to the extremely high attrition rate of the rally, which claimed the majority of the manufacturer entries. Such a large number of the front-runners retired that Ford's lead was up to eight minutes early on the final day. The extremely hot and arduous conditions made this the toughest rally of the season, with only four manufacturer entries still running at the finish - the two Fords, Juha Kankkunen in his Subaru and Armin Schwarz's Skoda.

McRae, starting fifth, stormed into the lead on day one, after the front-running cars acted as road sweepers for his Ford Focus. But the first leg was somewhat less prosperous for others. The Mitsubishis did not survive, with both cars succumbing to wheel hub failures. It was a further blow to Tommi Makinen's ailing title defence and a problem the Ralliart team will wish to have pin-pointed and rectified before the next event. Neither Hyundai made it past the first day either, with suspension proving to be the Accent's Achilles' heel.

Day two saw all scepticism over the ultimate fragility of McRae's Ford disappear when the Scot increased his lead, despite running first on the road and encountering the worst of the conditions.

The rocks, gravel and searing heat of day two proved too much for the Seats and the Peugeots, with the constant pounding from debris leading to either steering or suspension failure on all four works cars, including the Peugeot 206 WRC of Marcus Gronholm, Richard Burns's closest challenger coming into the Acropolis.

Of the championship front-runners, only Burns made it into the final day, but still failed to make it all the way to the finish line. The Englishman was initially slowed by a faulty turbo, but finally stopped at the beginning of SS13 - the first of day three - after the engine died and refused to restart. Burns' retirement allowed his Subaru team-mate Juha Kankkunen to move into third place. However, his chances of spoiling a Ford one-two were minimal with McRae and Sainz some eight minutes ahead with only six stages to go.

Although Burns failed to trouble the scorers, the high attrition rate actually worked in his favour: none of his main title rivals scored points either, which means the Impreza driver heads for the New Zealand Rally in a month with his championship lead still intact. Marcus Gronholm remains Burns's nearest challenger, some 14 points behind, but he's now joined in the second spot by McRae. The Scot traditionally goes well over the flowing New Zealand stages and historically has the ability to win. A victory for McRae and another poor outing for Burns and Gronholm will see the championship thrown wide open once again.

For full results, click 'here'.

Driver Table
1 Richard Burns Subaru 38
2 Colin McRae Ford 24
3 Marcus Gronholm Peugeot 24
4 Tommi Makkinen Mitsubishi 23
5 Carlos Sainz Ford 23
6 Juha Kankkunen Subaru 18
7 Didier Auriol Seat 4
8 Freddy Loix Mitsubishi 4
9 Petter Solberg Ford 3
10 Bruno Thiry Various 2

Manufacturer Table
1 Subaru 54
2 Ford 31
3= Mitsubishi 29
3= Peugeot 29
5 Seat 7
6 Skoda 5
7 Hyundai 1

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