Britain's Richard Burns blasted organisers of the Rally of Portugal, claiming that spectators were being put at risk by drivers trying to cope with foggy conditions. Burns, who lies fourth overall in his Subaru despite experiencing power steering and gearbox problems, was concerned about the safety of fans as a blanket of heavy fog covered many of the morning stages.
"I'm having to guess at turning points because of the fog and mist and it wouldn't take much of a misjudgement to hit lots of people lining the roadside," insisted Burns, who posted the fastest times on two successive stages. He continued: "We shouldn't be endangering the spectators. This is the worst-organised Rally of Portugal I've ever done. There were four to five thousand people at the end of a stage and when you're in sixth gear anything can happen."
Burns finished the leg three minutes and 6.7 seconds down on the lead when the 19th stage was cancelled for safety reasons. Finland's former world champion Tommi Makinen, in a Mitsubishi Lancer, leads but has a battle on his hands with Carlos Sainz after a last-minute surge by the Spaniard in his Ford Focus reduced the gap to just 13 seconds. "I know it will be difficult to hold the lead because Sainz is very determined," said Makinen, who won four of today's eight special stages to finish in three hours 19 minutes 17.3 seconds.
Sainz warned that he was ready to fight for the title during this the third round of the World Rally Championship. "We have to continue to attack Tommi and try to win this. There was a lot of mud, water and it's easy to make a mistake," complained Sainz. "The conditions are quite terrible. But the worst is the fog. You see practically nothing. But it's the same for everyone and we're here to win," he added.
Makinen cannot afford to make the slightest mistake in the three remaining stages tomorrow if he is to succeed in achieving his 21st career win and second title here after 1997. Finland's Harri Rovanpera, the winner of the Rally of Sweden who was lying in second place overnight, pulled out in the 13th stage after engine problems due to a cracked radiator in his Peugeot 206 WRC worsened throughout the day. Belgian Freddy Loix, who had been in sixth position, was also forced out during the 15th special stage because of a problem with the clutch of his Mitsubishi Carisma.
Reigning world champion Marcus Gronholm of Finland meanwhile moved up into third place 2:12.1 behind Makinen. Surface conditions were slightly improved from the first leg but the dense fog and mist made visibility a major problem as the drivers completed stages around the Arganil region, south-east of Porto. Drivers now face a further 57.9 kilometres over three stages around Ponte de Lima before returning south to the event's Santa Maria da Feira base, where the winner will be crowned tomorrow. (PA)
Filed by Shane Murray