Safari Rally: Win No. 25 for McRae

Colin McRae has claimed his third Safari rally, racking up his 25th career victory in the world rally championship, establishing him at the head of the leaderboard for wins ahead of Carlos Sainz and Tommi Makinen.

Safari Rally: Win No. 25 for McRae

McRae's Safari victory was a hard-fought affair and he had to lead from the front for two days, watching for the unexpected hazards that are part and parcel of the Safari and keeping an eye on his tail to see if Peugeot's Harri Rovanpera was going to mount a serious challenge.

In the end it never materialised and McRae was able to stick to his game plan and not push the Focus too hard. "It was quite hard at times to follow the plan," he admitted. "When you can see Tommi pulling away from you and Harri taking 30 seconds a stage off you, it tests your resolve somewhat!"

Torrential rain a few weeks before the event washed away many of the roads, and even the re-routed Safari proved a car breaker with only a quarter of the competitors actually surviving the course. Among the title contenders, only McRae made it to the finish. Series leader Marcus Gronholm was out of Africa on only the first stage when his Peugeot blew its engine and team mate Richard Burns made a tearful exit yesterday when his car became beached on the thick dust on the approach to what has to have been the championship's most ludicrous service area. Burns' team manager Corrado Provera said, understandably, "It is crazy that a car can survive these stages but not be able to cross the service area."

Reigning champions Subaru failed to reach the finish with either of their Imprezas, Petter Solberg and long-time leg one leader Tommi Makinen retiring on Friday and Saturday respectively. Mitsubishi, meanwhile, enjoyed better forture, Alister McRae making up for Francois Delecour's retirement with overheating problems by finishing a solid ninth.

At Hyundai, Juha Kankkunen managed to coax home a very sick Accent to finish eighth, keeping the Koreans in touch at the foot of the manufacturers' table, while Roman Kresta's seventh place pushed Skoda past Mitsubishi in the makes series.

Unfortunately, Kenneth Eriksson was another victim of the approach to the service area and was denied a possible podium finish for the Czech team for the second Safari running.

McRae's victory leaves him only seven points shy of championship leader Marcus Gronholm, the 2000 World Rally Champion, in what is an incredible turnaround from the first part of the season during which a string of retirements and low points-scoring places left him seemingly out of contention.

You can't ever be over-confident in this game but we're pretty happy with the way things are going," said McRae of his championship chances. "Of course it's not going to be easy taking on Marcus in Finland next month."

Thomas Radstrom and Sebastien Loeb, in third and sixth respectively, impressed for Citroen, while unrewarded Acropolis Rally hero Markko Martin again underlined his great potential with fourth place in his Ford Focus. The final driver's point was claimed by tarmac specialist Gilles Panizzi, continuing to improve his gravel performances on the toughest event of the year.

The World Rally Championship now heads to Finland, where McRae and the rest will have to be at the top of their game if they are to beat Marcus Gronholm.

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