McRae lucky to escape serious injury

Colin McRae and co-driver Nicky Grist escaped unhurt following a high-speed smash on the Australian Rally this morning.

Colin McRae and co-driver Nicky Grist escaped unhurt following a high-speed smash on the Australian Rally this morning.

The duo smacked into a tree on the opening stage south of Perth after landing heavily following a jump - seeing the front of their Ford Focus ripped off.

Scotsman McRae was originally thought to have banged his head and Welshman Grist, 38 last week, was said to have injured his ankle.

But both emerged with 'bumps and bruises', though they underwent a precautionary check-up with a rally medical officer and the Ford team doctor.

"Fortunately neither Colin nor Nicky were badly injured," said Ford's rally team director Malcolm Wilson.

"It was a heavy accident and both were shaken up, but apart from a few bumps and bruises neither were hurt.

"It is a testament to the strength of the Ford Focus that despite such a violent impact there were no injuries.

"It is especially unfortunate for Colin because he was consistently among the leading times yesterday and was firmly on target for a podium finish."

McRae was lying third overall when the accident happened some nine miles into the 11-mile long special stage in pine plantations south of the rally base.

Amid the early confusion, it seemed that the car had rolled but Ford later confirmed they had just driven smack into a tree.

The 31-year-old McRae and his co-driver will be glad to have escaped lightly from what could have been far worse injuries, though they were forced out of their seventh rally in succession.

Finland's Tommi Makinen benefited from the incident as he moved up into third place and within sight of the podium finish he needs tomorrow to be crowned champion for an unprecedented fourth year in a row.

Makinen would then equal the record number of championships won by countryman Juha Kankkuunen, though they were not in succession.

The Mitsubishi driver, whose rival Didier Auriol retired his Toyota yesterday, is well adrift of leader Richard Burns but only needs a third place finish to be certain of the title.

Burns blasted into a lead of more than eight seconds from overnight pacesetter Carlos Sainz after setting a hat-trick of best times on the opening three short stages in his Subaru.

But Sainz, who will partner McRae next year, hit-back in his Toyota on a long 21-mile section to reduce the deficit to 1.2 secs with four more stages left today.

Burns is looking for victory tomorrow and the season ending British Rally later this month to be certain of third place in the drivers' championship.

The 28-year-old Oxford-based driver is currently three points behind Sainz who is equal third with Subaru's Kankkunen who also retired yesterday.