Rallying: McRae delivers tonic to Ford

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The Independent Online
COLIN McRAE produced a tremendous finish to claim third-place in the Monte Carlo Rally yesterday.

The Scot scored a podium finish well ahead of schedule in his first outing in the Ford Focus, but his celebrations could prove to be short-lived. He has been racing under appeal after his car's water pump was deemed illegal hours before the start of the race.

McRae will lose the four points he collected while during the race if FIA, the sport's world governing body, rule the part is illegal at a hearing next month. If that is the case, he could miss the next two rallies while the pump is replaced.

"I'll be the victim if they take the points away from me but I don't think it will come to that," McRae said. "I am sure they will get it sorted out in a reasonable way.

"It is all very technical and political, and at the end of the day it is Ford's mistake, but it doesn't give the car a performance advantage - it's just a water pump."

McRae, who equalled his highest placing in the event, added: "Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined we'd be third in the first rally. This really is a tremendous result for the whole team.

"We weren't bluffing anyone beforehand. Even after our final test in Monte Carlo I didn't feel very confident about our chances, but part of that was me having to get used to a whole new car.

"The next rally is in Sweden, where you have to give it 100 per cent so we will learn a lot more about the car there. That's going to be hard, but then comes Kenya, where I think we can challenge strongly again."

Even if the appeal does go against them - and Ford insist the pump is legal - McRae has immediately demonstrated the potential of the Focus, which many predicted would not win a point until mid-season.

McRae finished 3min 16sec behind the Mitsubishi of the defending world champion, Tommi Makinen of Finland, with another Finn, Juha Kankkunen, 1:44 behind in second place. But the Scot clocked four fastest times on the special stages as he showed why Ford paid a reported pounds 6million to lure him from Subaru.

He was briefly in trouble on the opening stage, which he started in fourth overall, when the car developed drive-shaft trouble, losing him over a minute before the problem was fixed.

But McRae established a 20-second cushion on the next stage, which he protected on the two timed sections in the mountains above Monte Carlo.

Oxford's Richard Burns, in a Subaru, finished ninth - nearly nine-and- a-half-minutes behind his former team-mate Makinen.

This year's title looks destined to head Makinen's way for a fourth consecutive time, as he claimed his team's fifth win in a row, four of them through him.

"It's about time a Finn won in Monte Carlo," he said, ending a 13-year drought for his country. "It's a great feeling, especially as the conditions were the worst I've known."

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