Leg 1 round-up: Tommi toughs it out

The Safari Rally has more than lived up to its well-earned reputation as The World's Toughest Rally. On Friday's opening leg, no less than six manufacturer entries retired, including British pair Richard Burns and joint world championship-leader Colin McRae

Leg 1 round-up: Tommi toughs it out

Burns retired on the opening section - itself as long as a whole day on a 'normal' European round of the championship - when the suspension collapsed on his Subaru.

McRae's rally ended after SS3 when the Focus coasted to a halt with clutch failure, incurred while trying to regain the road within just hundreds of metres of the flying finish. Ten kilometres earlier, steering failure caused a first foray off the road, but his repair couldn't cope with more pounding.

Burns must now console himself with the fact that he's off to one of his favourite events next, saying: "I usually go well in Finland and, hopefully, this is the year when I can finally win it. I'll not give up the fight for the title until it's mathematically impossible for me to win."

McRae's disappointment was that he'd been driving to a careful plan.

"We'd been pacing ourselves according to the conditions and, crucially, had managed to avoid punctures. You just never know when this event is going to turn round and bite you."

Other drivers well aware of that fact include beleagured reigning World
Champion Marcus Gronholm, whose Peugeot retired on today's fourth and final stage when it lost a wheel, complete with its suspension arm. Team mate Didier Auriol rolled and watched as his car caught fire on the same stage, while Japanese ace Toshi Arai suffered front suspension failure that left the strut rammed through the bonnet.

Earlier in the day, Skoda's Armin Schwarz set the fastest time on the opening stage, but one of the Czech team's cars, driven by new boy Roman Kresta, was sidelined with a shattered wheel.

After Schwarz's flying start it was Tommi Makinen who took up the challenge and the Finn, who had shared the series lead with McRae before this event, has held the lead throughout the day in his Mitsubishi.

However, after suffering a couple of frustrating punctures early in the rally, Ford's Carlos Sainz won the final two stages and is snapping at the Lancer's heels going into tomorrow's five timed sections that loop back and forth across the Equator, including one on the private estate of Lord and Lady Delamere.

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