For all the heroics of day two; the time lost with a puncture, the manhandling of his Subaru’s suspension, today’s Trawscoed stage was arguably the place where Colin McRae showed his true genius on this rally.
Just as a nation of rally fans crossed their fingers and hoped for a straightforward run through Wales, the center differential on McRae’s Impreza 555 began to leak hydraulic fluid. That leak meant a drop of pressure inside the transmission and that drop in pressure meant a deterioration in the car’s handling.
Regardless, McRae tore through Dyfnant and Hafren, fastest in both to relieve Carlos Sainz of a further 18s of his 39-second advantage. Then Sainz hit back through the foggy Brechfa test.
It was only two seconds, but it stymied the McRae charge. It was the first time since Pundershaw (second stage on Monday morning) that the Spaniard had been the fastest Subaru, but was it symptomatic of a worsening problem aboard McRae’s #4 vehicle?
For the first time on the event, McRae’s mood dipped.
There was nothing to be done. The gearbox couldn’t be changed until the end of the day. McRae would just have to live with it.
The two-time British Rally Champion is nothing if not a fighter. And he wasn’t giving this one up easily.
Out of the ensuing 22-miler in Trawscoed and the wind was firmly back in the McRae sails. He was fastest by 12s.
“It’s worse,” he said, asked about the differential problem by Motoring News’ David Williams. “But that stage is less twisty. It’s a big problem when you’re going quick and you have to brake – it just locks the rear.”
He took five more seconds through Crychan and over the road in Cefn Llwydlo, meaning the pair lined up for a slightly longer second run through Hafren split by just five seconds.
The Prodrive team had tinkered with the transmission on McRae’s car; slowing the valves in the center differential wouldn’t cure the problem completely, but it would offer a slightly improvement.
That, allied to the descent of darkness on a road McRae has always enjoyed, played into the hunter’s hands. He set about the stage like a man ready to make history. And emerged 22s faster than Sainz. It was a masterful display of driving in conditions compromised by dense fog and roads rutted by the passing of the drivers hours earlier this morning.
McRae headed for service at the Brymbo steel works, just west of Wrexham, a happy man. He was 17s in the lead.
“We’ve got a good lead,” he said. “We’ll see what happens in the first couple of stages.”
I have been trying as hard as I can. I can’t say much more…Carlos Sainz
There was simply nothing for Sainz to say.
And the day got even better for Subaru, with the team’s third Impreza 555 of Richard Burns moving up to third after Kenneth Eriksson dropped his Lancer in a river in Trawscoed, all but ending Mitsubishi’s challenge for the manufacturers’ title.
And the day just kept getting better for Jimmy and Margaret McRae, with two of their boys in the top five. Alister McRae had kept his Ford Escort RS Cosworth in fifth position, behind fellow Ford driver Bruno Thiry in fifth.
Grifone’s Andrea Navarra rounded out the top six in the Toyota Celica, albeit nearly 25 minutes behind McRae.
Gwyndaf Evans continued his domination of the Formula Two category, much to the delight of today’s vast crowds up and down Wales. Such was the Escort RS2000 driver’s speed, he moved past Group N leader Rui Madeira’s Mitsubishi and into a superb seventh overall.
Leading positions after Day 3
1 Colin McRae/Derek Ringer (Subaru Impreza 555) 4h09m40s
2 Carlos Sainz/Luis Moya (Subaru Impreza 555) +17s
3 Richard Burns/Robert Reid (Subaru Impreza 555) +5m05s
4 Bruno Thiry/Stephane Prévot (Ford Escort RS Cosworth) +6m06s
5 Alister McRae/Chris Wood (Ford Escort RS Cosworth) +8m24s
6 Andrea Navarra/Renzo Casazza (Toyota Celica Turbo 4WD) +24m58s
7 Gwyndaf Evans/Howard Davies (Ford Escort RS 2000 MkV) +26m14s
8 Rui Madeira/Nuno Rodrigues da Silva (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo III) +26m59s
9 Jarmo Kytölehto/Arto Kapanen (Nissan Sunny GTi) +28m21s
10 Masao Kamioka/Kevin Gormley (Subaru Impreza WRX) +32m07s