Rallying: Test for McRae's title hopes

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The Independent Online
COLIN McRAE'S belief that he can challenge for the World Championship this year will be put to the test in Portugal this weekend. The 30-year- old Scot goes into the fourth rally of the season trailing the title-holder and early pace-setter Tommi Makinen by just 10 points, following his victory in Kenya last month.

McRae's Safari Rally triumph in only his third outing in the Ford Focus left him insisting the title is a possibility, even though this year was meant to be spent developing the new car. "I haven't ruled out winning the championship," McRae said. "Our Safari victory after excellent performances in Monte Carlo and Sweden has shown everyone that the Focus is much closer to a front-running pace than anyone thought it would be at this stage of the season."

However, McRae knows he has to be competitive in the four-day Rally of Portugal, which gets under way tomorrow, if he is to mount a serious title challenge. The event is the first gravel-type sprint rally, which forms the backbone of the championship and which will provide the first true indication of a car's competitiveness.