Rallying: Ice inhibits McRae and scuppers Sainz

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COLIN McRAE had some early problems yesterday in the French Alps on roads made treacherous by ice and snow as the Monte Carlo rally got underway. Over four minutes were lost to the reigning world champion, Tommi Makinen, on the opening stage, the longest at 30 miles, as the rally began in earnest after yesterday's acclimatisation drive to Gap.

"I have never seen a Monte Carlo like it," said McRae of the icy conditions which caused the early exit of Spain's three-times winner, Carlos Sainz.

McRae and co-driver Nicky Grist also had to contend with the Ford Focus's cockpit filling with smoke and fumes after the exhaust melted the paint on the floor of the car. However, he quickly got into his stride before producing the two fierce drives against the clock at the end of a day which involved 100 miles of special stages.

McRae set the fastest time by almost 30 seconds on the fourth stage and was 44 seconds quicker than his nearest rival on the final, and shortest section, of the day. The former champion finished just under two minutes down on Makinen, who was pushed back into second place when Frenchman Gilles Panizzi had a 30 second penalty lifted.

New rally regulations which have been introduced by motor sport's governing body FIA state that it is no longer illegal to push a car in a stop area, but the race organisers had applied the old rules in punishing Panizzi.

The Frenchman had made up considerable ground on Makinen after winning the third stage and also doing well in the fourth.