RALLYING: McRae's pain in Spain

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The Independent Online
COLIN McRAE was on the brink of retiring from the Catalunya Rally yesterday after seeing his chances of completing a hat-trick of victories end in Spain.

McRae finished the opening day trailing by more than seven minutes after being struck by a turbo-booster problem in his Ford Focus. The 30-year- old was lying in a promising sixth place when he was forced to stop on the fifth and longest of yesterday's eight stages in Lloret de Mar.

McRae lost over five minutes to his rivals and picked up 80 seconds in time penalties over two stages before mechanics fixed the turbo failure which had left his supercharged Focus performing like the road version.

The Scot has no chance of battling back from such a deficit and the team were to decide overnight whether to quit or use the rest of the rally to give the car some competitive miles on dry asphalt roads.

"We repaired the car fully but obviously Colin has lost too much time to be in contention for a top place," said the team director, Malcolm Wilson.

McRae is set to lose ground in the championship standings when the fifth rally of the season ends tomorrow, having moved within two points of the lead with his wins in Kenya and Portugal. But McRae could be helped if the lightweight two-wheel drive Citroen Xsaras of Spain's Jesus Puras and Philippe Bugalski can maintain their first-day showing. Puras leads by seven seconds from Bugalski with the Citroens, which do not compete in every event in the championship, revelling on the dry roads.

The extra weight is proving a disadvantage to McRae's rivals, who could lose vital points. France's Didier Auriol, just three points behind McRae in the drivers' standings, is leading the challenge in third place, just 10 seconds adrift. Auriol's Toyota team-mate Carlos Sainz is fourth on his home rally with the reigning champion and current championship leader, Tommi Makinen, in fifth.

Britain's Richard Burns is seventh overall for Subaru, after struggling with a wrong tyre choice.

Standings, Digest, page 25