Sainz thrown out of Rally Australia

The battle for the 2000 World Rally Championship looks to have narrowed down to a three-way fight after title-contender Carlos Sainz was sensationally thrown out of Rally Australia.

Sainz thrown out of Rally Australia

The Spaniard deliberately stopped his Ford Focus during Special Stage 9 in order to drop down the order and obtain good road position for Saturday's second leg of the rally. The marble-like covering on the Western Australian stages means running first on the road is a distinct disadvantage.

Stewards decided to exclude Sainz after he appeared to stop for a period of between 10 and 20 seconds between the yellow warning sign and the stop sign at the end of the stage.

The stewards listened to evidence from marshals, Sainz, his co-driver Luis Moya and Ford team boss Malcolm Wilson, as well as looking at video evidence from the event helicopter. They then decided unanimously to exclude Sainz from the event.

Ford had until 16.45 GMT on Friday to appeal, but the Cumbrian-based team has decided to accept the stewards' decision.

"It was a stupid mistake for Carlos to have made and he's paid the penalty," admitted Ford boss Malcolm Wilson. "However, I think we must now address the bigger picture of why drivers had to stop on the stage at all."

On last year's Rally Australia the overnight leader was able to chose his start position for the following day, second placed driver got second choice and so on throughout the top FIA seeds. The FIA chose not to adopt this policy for 2000 and so drivers were left to artificially sort out their placings on the final forest stage.

But now with Ford's other championship contender Colin McRae already out with mechanical problems, the fight for the title is between championship leader Marcus Gronholm in the Peugeot and Subaru's Richard Burns, plus long-shot and defending champ Tommi Makinen. Gronholm had a five-point lead coming in to Rally Australia and is currently fifth in the rally, one place behind Burns.

The second leg of the rally kicks off at 00:30GMT on Saturday morning.

To see the schedule and live timings from Rally Australia click here.

Remember, the times in our live rally table are in local time, which is eight hours ahead of GMT.

Visit the official Telstra Rally Australia website at www.rallyaustralia.com.au

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