FIA RALLY: Delecour takes points finish on Safari Rally debut
Posted By Terry Callahan
July 22, 2001
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup overcame gruelling driving conditions and inhospitable weather to finish fourth in Kenya's Safari Rally which ended in Nairobi this evening. The three-day event is regarded as the toughest rally in the world and their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car survived almost 3000km of competition across the vast East African plains which proved too tough for over two-thirds of the starters.
Delecour's result is all the more commendable given that this was his debut on the Safari, eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, and widely regarded as the most specialised round of the series as well as the toughest. Merely to finish this event is an achievement.
Rocky tracks, competitive sections exceeding 100km, huge ruts which slowed cars from more than 200kph to walking pace and torrential rain which turned dusty tracks into a muddy morass were the ingredients of this year's Safari, already judged as rougher than normal after especially heavy rain at the start of the year removed the top soil to leave huge washaways in many places.
Frenchman Delecour, who started today's final leg in fifth, climbed to fourth on the opening section. He maintained a strong pace through the day, despite difficulties with his car's propshaft and gearbox, and posted fastest time on each of the final two speed tests. That took Ford's tally to four from the 12 sections, Carlos Sainz having also recorded two on the opening leg.
"I'm so happy to finish this rally," said 38-year-old Delecour. "I did no testing before the start which is a handicap and without previous experience here it's very difficult to judge what is a suitable speed on these roads. So I was delighted to set fastest time on two sections this afternoon. We learned all the time and the knowledge gained here will be of great use for next year's rally.
"It's an incredibly hard event but I really like the spirit of the rally. It's an adventure from the very beginning. The sheer length of the rally, the rough roads, the wild animals wandering about in the bush all combine to make it very memorable. I'm already looking forward to coming back here next year," he added.
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson was full in his praise for Delecour. "It's a great result for him on his debut here. If you drive sensibly and keep out of trouble you can finish well in Kenya and that's what François did. This was a valuable learning curve for him.
"It was disappointing to lose Carlos and Colin so early because we thought we would be strong here. We proved the Focus RS was the most competitive car with four fastest times but unfortunately speed alone doesn't win rallies in Africa. However, it does bode well for the next rally in Finland where speed is everything," said Wilson.
Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi) collected his second Safari victory and extended his lead at the head of the championship - but not without a late scare. On the penultimate section the Finn hit a stone, taking a large chunk out of the wheel rim and damaging the steering but he survived to win by 12min 37sec. Harri Rovanperä (Peugeot) repaid his team's faith in nominating him for points by taking second, despite final section transmission difficulties, with Armin Schwarz (Skoda) in third, the German collecting a first world rally podium finish for the Czech team. Team-mate Bruno Thiry was heading for fifth, despite collapsing in service after tackling most of the penultimate section with no power steering, but rolled out on the final section. Freddy Loix (Mitsubishi) must have hoped for a clear run after his problems but it was not to be. Just 2km from the start of the first section his car lost turbo boost. The Belgian stopped twice to try to make repairs but struggled to the end at just 70kph, losing 38 minutes. His fortunes did not improve after stopping to change a flat tyre on the next section when he veered off the track to pass a car. His persistence earned driver and manufacturer points. Petter Solberg's (Subaru) third place disappeared on the opening test. A right front wheel bearing failure caused the wheel to sheer and co-driver Phil Mills perched in the boot to balance the car as they tried to limp to the end. However, they eventually retired on safety grounds.
After the roughest round in the championship, competitors must next tackle the fastest. The Rally Finland, based in Jyväskylä on 24 - 26 August, was won at an average of more than 122kph last year.
Text provided by Mark Wilford