Rallying: McRae victory hopes raised

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The Independent Online
COLIN McRAE'S hopes of victory in the Rally of Portugal were unexpectedly boosted yesterday when officials were forced to cancel the day's last two stages because of fears for the safety of spectators.

Rally officials took the unusual decision amid concern that with tens of thousands of fans flocking to the stages, to the south of Porto, spectators might spill on to roads on which the cars would be thundering past at speeds of over 100mph.

McRae, who has survived relentless pressure from his rivals since taking the lead on Sunday - the opening day, will take a 33-second lead into the final day today as he pursues as a second successive victory in his Ford Focus. The Scot withstood the efforts of the Toyota drivers, Carlos Sainz and Didier Auriol, who chipped away at the advantage of 50 seconds he had built up.

The 30-year-old could not register a single best time on the stages yesterday in contrast to the first two days when he was quickest in six out of nine stages. The 1995 world champion is confident his lead will be enough with just four stages left, even though both Auriol and Sainz set a series of quickest times yesterday. Sainz regained second place on the last stage before the abandonment with Auriol less than two seconds further back.

Richard Burns is fourth in a Subaru, just under a minute down on McRae, having also recorded a couple of fastest times. Tommi Makinen, the world champion, benefited from a couple of retirements as he moved from ninth to fifth for Mitsubishi, but he trails the leader by almost 90 seconds.