Colin McRae won the Safari Rally that finished here yesterday and, in doing so, elevated himself to a unique place in world rallying. The Scot's nerveless victory in Kenya was his 25th rally victory, making him the first driver to reach the quarter-century mark, one better than his current championship rivals Carlos Sainz and Tommi Makinen.
McRae led for two of the Kenyan event's three days and brought his Ford Focus home almost three minutes ahead of the Peugeot of the Finn Harri Rovanpera, after nearly eight hours of competitive driving across the bush. It was a masterful performance to win his third Safari, following triumphs in 1997 and 1999, and he had to control the pace from the front on the championship's most extreme event.
"I decided on a pace that I thought would be quick but which would also preserve the car," he said. "Other drivers took risks and, at times, they got quite close to me but I wasn't going to change my plan. It's a great rally to win and it's nice to be considered the best driver in the world but I'm more happy with the fact that I've now won two events this year and have closed the gap to [the championship leader] Marcus Gronholm.
"A couple of events ago he was so far ahead that he could have wrapped up the championship on the next event in Finland. Now the championship has come alive again."
He continued: "We had a big enough lead to ensure that we could win provided we kept out of trouble. The roads were rough and we had to be careful a lot of the time. But we had a steady approach since the start of the rally and driving carefully and looking after the car worked for us.
"I could have gone quicker but that would have meant taking risks and I didn't want to do that. Harri obviously eased off a little and we just did the same times as him from there."
While McRae was using his experience to control the event his Ford team-mate, the Estonian Markko Martin, was taking fourth place on his African debut. Citroën also excelled on their first appearance in Africa for 30 years, with the Swede Thomas Radstrom finishing third and the Frenchman Sebastien Loeb coming home in fifth.
Both Loeb and Radstrom were tackling this event for the first time, although Radstrom narrowly missed a debut three years ago when he fell down the steps of his hotel and broke a leg just before the start.
The World Championship now heads back to Europe for the Rally of Finland next month. The "Finnish GP" is the fastest event in the series and only two non-Scandinavians have ever won it, such is its specialist nature.
Gronholm, who is seven points ahead of McRae in the overall standings, has won the event for the past two years but is now under greater pressure than ever to make it a hat-trick of wins.
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