The gloves will be off in a straight fight for the 1995 World Rally Championship between Britain's Colin McRae and Spain's Carlos Sainz in the RAC Rally, the season's finale in two weeks' time. A threat that the joint Championship leaders would be ordered home in a predetermined formation was yesterday ruled out by the 555 Subaru team, for whom both drive.
lt was the team director, David Richards, who controversially decided the outcome of the Catalonia Rally in Spain 10 days ago by imposing a "hold positions" order on Sainz and McRae. Sainz's win and McRae's second place put the pair equal at the top of the Championship, eight points ahead of the four-times champion, Juha Kankkunen.
The news that the season's climax will be decided on driver skill and mechanical reliability will come as little relief for Scotland's Colin McRae, twice British rally champion and determined to become his country's first world champion. The fiery Scot feels that he should have won in Catalonia and now be 10 points ahead of, not level pegging with the twice world champion from Madrid.
"[Catalonia] was the best rally of my career, I was beating Carlos fair and square on the last day and it was wrong of DR (David Richards) to impose team orders with the Championship at stake," McRae said. "It is considerably harder starting [the RAC] knowing that you have to win," he admitted.
The irony of the situation is not lost on McRae. Four days after losing in Spain for fear of retribution from his team, McRae found out for sure that Sainz will leave Subaru, with whom he won the World Championship in 1990 and 1992, after the RAC Rally and move back to Toyota.
"Now he has signed for Toyota, it makes the decision even more ludicrous," protested the 27-year-old from Lanark. "Why would the team director support a driver who was leaving the team? Last week we all had a good idea Carlos was leaving."
A key reason for Richards ordering McRae to concede victory was the real danger from the unpredictable Spanish fans, who have been known to throw rocks at rival drivers in an attempt to benefit their local heroes.
In Spain, when McRae stormed past Sainz (known affectionately as "El Matador") and was soon leading the rally by nine seconds, the Spanish crowd were furious. Placards berated the Scot, even though the team had made it clear that Sainz would win. A Subaru team support car even had its tyres slashed.
McRae is now worried that a foolish minority of the two million spectators on the RAC might try and take the Championship into their own hands, as allegedly happened in last year's event.
"If so-called fans can put logs in Carlos's path, as he claimed last year, then of course I worry that they might try the same again this year,' McRae said. "I would urge them not to. If that's the way the Championship will be decided, I don't want to win it."
That McRae will arrive in Chester two weeks on Sunday level with Sainz at the top of the Championship leaderboard is a miracle in itself. Half- way through the eight-round season, the Scot was winless and had virtually given up hope of winning the Championship in 1995. Two wins and two second places in the second half of the year has put him within reach of his childhood dream.
n Toyota Team Europe, for whom the current world champion Didier Auriol and four-times champion Juha Kankkunen drive, could be banned from the RAC Rally and even the World Championship for up to a year at a hearing in Paris today, if they are found guilty of deliberately breaking technical rules at the Catalonia Rally, in which both drivers were disqualified.
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