Carlos Sainz didn’t know. Luis Moya wasn’t sure. But when the front of the car filled with Spanish fans wrestling the tops from champagne bottles, they probably had a fair idea. They’d won. And won well.
After three days and, according to Subaru World Rally Team principal David Richards, the most entertaining round of the championship in the last 12 months, the Spaniard had scored a second win in three rallies. That result not only took Sainz back to the top of the table, it returned Subaru into the thick of the makes’ race following a nightmare Swedish Rally which eliminated all three factory Imprezas with the same engine failure.
Talking to Sainz and team-mate Colin McRae after the first loop of stages on the road north from Figueira da Foz towards Povoa de Varzim, both were sure there was something amiss with the flat fours ahead of them.
“It doesn’t feel right,” said Sainz, who undermined his own thinking by leading Toyota man Juha Kankkunen at the end of the opening day’s 11 stages.
That six second advantage was helped slightly after the Finn clouted a rock late in the day, bending a steering arm aboard the Celica GT-Four.
There was speculation that Subaru had turned its Imprezas down after that round two embarrassment and such a theory would have explained the upturn in the Toyota’s pace. Actually, the Cologne concern had worked extensively since Sweden and found an improvement in power and driveability via a revised electrical solution.
At one point on day one, Kankkunen and team-mate Didier Auriol were running one-two. Such pace had been nowhere to be seen through Monte Carlo and Sweden.
Asked where he thought it was coming from, Kankkunen admitted he wasn’t sure.
“Maybe it’s from here,” he said, squeezing his own bicep with a smile.
Wherever it was coming from, there was more of it on day two. Kankkunen, winner in Portugal twice in the last three years, took time out of his rival on the first stage day-two stages. The pair were briefly tied at the top of the leaderboard after the Santa Quitéria stage, but fastest time on the repeated Fafe stage was enough to put the Finn into clear air at the front of the field.
“I’m happy,” he said at the end of the day. “To go from six [seconds] down to 22 up is a good day.”
There was, however, a note of caution from his team principal Ove Andersson.
“There is some rain forecast,” said the Swede, “and we know what a nightmare Arganil can be when it rains.”
Pirelli formed a fairly big part of that nightmare, with a K66-shod Subaru a daunting prospect for any Toyota driver on even the softest boots Michelin could muster. Sainz set about clawing back the 22 seconds separating him and a repeat of his 1991 Portugal win. By SS30, the pair were tied for the second time in the rally, but the momentum was all going one way – despite Michelin’s best efforts in cutting their tyres to try to offer Kankkunen more grip.
With one stage remaining, Sainz was nine seconds ahead and surely had this one in the bag with just under seven competitive miles left. Nothing was left to chance, the Impreza sent into the stage with no spare in an effort to save weight.
There is some rain forecast, and we know what a nightmare Arganil can be when it rains.Ove Andersson, Toyota team principal
There was a final scare, however. Sainz fired the #5 Impreza through a cut only for a branch buried in the corner to cut the brake line.
“For a lot of the stage we only had the rear brakes,” said Sainz. “We did seven kilometres with only the rear brakes.”
A supreme effort from the Subaru star meant he actually gained time on Kankkunen, pulling three seconds from the Toyota. On hearing his time, Sainz smiled and shook his head. Every now and then the greats can still surprise themselves.
Moya wasn’t surprised.
He said: “Carlos told me we had no brakes. I told him: “Carlos, we are still going to win, even with our brakes.” I always believe in God and even more when we have to win and when we are going to win. We nearly went off the road, I am not lying, maybe 10 times, but we still managed. Incredible.”
With McRae third and Portugal first-timer Richard Burns seventh the reversal in Subaru’s fortunes was written all over Richards’ face.
“I don’t think you can ever make up for losing all three cars [in Sweden],” he said, “but we’ve got Carlos winning and all three cars here at the finish – and we’ve had probably the most exciting event of this year and I think probably the last 12 months.”
Kankkunen was frustrated at missing out on the win, but the Celica’s hike in pace was a big step forward for the Japanese manufacturer.
Auriol’s rally was spoiled by a Fafe roll and the loss of second gear, which left him dropping more time – and one more place to team-mate Armin Schwarz – in a final-day ditch. Schwarz was a promising fourth, with Auriol fifth.
Bruno Thiry’s Escort RS Cosworth was the first of the semi-works RAS Sport Fords home. François Delecour rolled on the opening day, then retired with what was thought to be have been an oil pressure issue related to what was admittedly a slow, first-gear accident.
Former Jolly Club driver Alex Fiorio took a third RAS car to eighth behind Burns, with top Group N Lancer RS-E2 runners Rui Madeira and Jorge Recalde rounding out the top 10 and adding to Mitsubishi’s manufacturer tally in the absence of the works Ralliart cars.
For Scotsman McRae, there was a degree of frustration that he couldn’t match the two ahead of him in third place. But that was tempered by the relief at finally putting some points down on the board and the knowledge that Prodrive had run his car with a ‘safe’ map on his third start in Portugal.
TAP Rallye de Portugal 1995 (March 8-10) Round 3/8
1 Carlos Sainz/Luis Moya (Subaru Impreza 555) 5h32m37s
2 Juha Kankkunen/Nicky Grist (Toyota Celica GT-Four) +12s
3 Colin McRae/Derek Ringer (Subaru Impreza 555) +3m14s
4 Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha (Toyota Celica GT-Four) +4m59s
5 Didier Auriol/Bernard Occelli (Toyota Celica GT-Four) +6m13s
6 Bruno Thiry/Stéphane Prevot (Ford Escort RS Cosworth) +8m46s
7 Richard Burns/Robert Reid (Subaru Impreza 555) +14m21s
8 Alex Fiorio/Vittorio Brambilla (Ford Escort RS Cosworth) +25m37s
9 Rui Maderia/Nuno Silva (Mitsubishi Lancer RS-E2 Group N) + 30m59s
10 Jorge Recalde/Martin Christie (Mitsubishi Lancer RS-E2 Group N) +34m35s
Itinerary: Wednesday March 8, Figueira da Foz-Povoa de Varzim, 11 stages (110.18 miles); Thursday March 9, Povoa de Varzim-Viseu, 10 stages (91.91 miles); Friday March 10, Viseu- Figueira da Foz, 12 stages (97.95 miles).
Leaders: SS1-10 Kankkunen; SS11-12 Sainz; SS13 Sainz/Kankkunen; SS14-29 Kankkunen; SS30 Kankkunen/Sainz; SS31-33 Sainz.
Retirements: François Delecour/Catherine François (Ford Escort RS Cosworth) SS5 engine; Marcus Grönholm/Voitto Silander (Toyota Celica Turbo 4WD) SS28 accident.
Drivers’ championship points:
1 Sainz 40
2 Kankkunen 37
3 Mäkinen 25
4 Kenneth Eriksson 20
= Thiry 20
6 Auriol 16
1 Mitsubishi 132
2 Toyota 121
3 Subaru 106
4 Ford 101
Next round: Tour de Corse (May 3-5)