Rallying: McRae hit by double mishap

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The Independent Online
COLIN McRAE'S hopes of victory in the Swedish Rally suffered a massive setback on yesterday's opening day.

McRae badly damaged his left rear wheel when his Ford Focus found a ditch on the sixth special stage.

The Scot was severely hampered over the last few miles of the 13-mile long stage before managing to fit a spare at the end of the timed section.

The problem lost him over a minute and although he still maintained fifth place overall he is now nearly two minutes behind the leader and world champion Tommi Makinen.

That was the second mishap for McRae. He had a new windscreen fitted in the service park after hitting a wooden snow guide on the third stage.

"I'm very happy with things so far," said McRae. "We've made a few minor adjustments at the service park to try to improve the high-speed handling but so far I've been quite cautious on the ice."

Makinen is having a tough time staying ahead of Spain's Carlos Sainz with the gap between the two just 0.2sec.

The Finn, who won the season-opener in Monte Carlo last month, used his Nordic knowledge to win two of the opening four stages of the rally, before Sainz closed the gap as the day progressed.

Local driver Thomas Radstrom, in a Ford, is in third place 14.4sec adrift with Frenchman Didier Auriol in fourth position, 25.9sec behind.

Makinen seized the lead at the halfway point of the opening leg. He won two of the opening four stages in his Mitsubishi while Sainz was second and Radstrom third.

Sainz won the opening stage of the rally on a snowy, gravel surface, but the Finn responded by finishing in first position on stages two and three.

Radstrom, competing in his home event which he won in 1994, hit a frozen tree stump on the third stage but recovered to set the second fastest time on the stage.

"We hit a frozen tree stump which damaged the car's cross- member," Radstrom said. "I think we were quite fortunate to escape more serious damage."