Rallying: McRae ends run without victory: Scot answers critics with impeccable drive in New Zealand

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The Independent Online
COLIN McRAE, Britain's top driver, won the Rally of New Zealand yesterday, after a year without a win, to save what appeared to be a precarious position within the 555 Subaru team.

It was the Scotsman's second world championship victory, his first having come in the same event 12 months ago.

McRae won a third of the rally's timed stages and by the finish here enjoyed a lead of more than two minutes over Toyota's Juha Kankkunen, Finland's world champion. Third was the German Armin Schwartz in a Mitsubishi.

McRae's winning margin was the largest since Kankkunen won last year's RAC rally in Britain. 'It was Juha's turn then but definitely mine today' the 25-year-old from Lanark said. 'Everything just went perfectly for me this weekend. I won't say it was easy but I was surprised how little competition I had.'

McRae led the rally from late on the first day. Only Kankkunen and Carlos Sainz, McRae's Subaru team-mate, held first place at any time. Sainz retired on Friday after blowing an engine. The Spaniard had dropped from first to second in the championship and is now level with Kankkunen. The title race is led by the Frenchman Didier Auriol in a Toyota.

On Saturday's tiring series of 11 stages, McRae was extending his lead by half a minute a stage at one point. 'It wasn't as if I was attacking or anything. I just drove as smoothly as I could and somehow the times just kept tumbling' McRae said. 'I don't know what it is about New Zealand but whatever it is it seems to work for me.'

McRae's success has broken a run of bad luck which included retiring from the Acropolis Rally while leading and dropping from second to 10th place in the Monte Carlo rally. David Richards, the Subaru's team principal, had criticised McRae's aggressive driving style in a motorsport magazine.

'I have had a lot of criticism this year, some justified, but winning here will hopefully have silenced them,' McRae said. 'There's no reason why I can't do the same again in either San Remo or the RAC. I still haven't won my home rally and maybe this year is my chance.'

The only change to the overnight placings among the leading contenders on the short final day came when the Finn Ari Vatanen, going flat out in his Ford Escort Cosworth in an effort to catch Schwarz, ran into a gully just before a fast corner.

The car took off, flew across the road and hit a tree at an estimated 100 miles an hour, but Vatanen and his Italian co-driver, Fabrizia Pons, were unharmed. 'I made an error. It was a big tree,' Vatanen said.

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