The British pair of Richard Burns and Colin McRae were forced to retire from the Safari Rally in Kenya yesterday as the world's toughest race took its toll. They were among six manufacturers' entries to fall victim in a day of shocks.
Burns retired on the opening section after the suspension collapsed on his Subaru. McRae's rally ended after SS3 when the Focus coasted to a halt with clutch failure, probably incurred while trying to regain the road after steering failure caused him to leave the road 10km before the end of the stage.
Burns must now console himself with the fact that he's off to one of his favourite events next and said: "I usually go well in Finland and hopefully this is the year when I can finally win it. I'll not give up the fight for the title until it's mathematically impossible for me to win."
McRae's disappointment was that he had been driving to a careful plan. "We'd been pacing ourselves according to the conditions and, crucially, had managed to avoid punctures. You just never know when this event is going to turn round and bite you."
Other drivers well aware of that fact included beleaguered reigning world champion Marcus Gronholm, whose Peugeot retired on the final stage when it lost a wheel, complete with its suspension arm.
Team-mate Didier Auriol rolled and watched as his car caught fire on the same stage, while Japanese ace Toshi Arai suffered front suspension failure that left the strut rammed through the bonnet.
Earlier in the day Skoda's Armin Schwarz set the fastest time on the opening stage but one of the Czech team's cars, driven by new boy Roman Kresta, was sidelined with a shattered wheel.
After Schwarz's flying start it was Tommi Makinen who took up the challenge and the Finn, who had shared the series lead with McRae before this event, held the lead throughout the day.
However, after suffering a couple of frustrating punctures early on, Ford's Carlos Sainz won the final two stages and is snapping at the Mitsubishi's heels going into today's five stages that loop back and forth across the Equator.
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