Britain's Colin McRae scored his first win of the season
McRae wins Rally of Argentina

VILLA CARLOS PAZ, Argentina, May 6 (AFP) - Britain's Colin McRae scored his first win of the season at the testing dirt track Rally of Argentina, the fifth round of the World Rally Championship, here Sunday.

The Ford Focus driver and former world champion came in 26.9 seconds ahead of England's Richard Burns of Subaru with Spaniard Carlos Sainz of Ford Focus at 1min 46.4sec.

Finland's Mitsubihsi Lancer driver Tommi Makinen holds the overall world championship lead despite finishing in fourth position a full 3min 12.6sec behind.

"I've never been so relieved in all my life," said McRae.

"Richard (Burns) attacked hard and never gave up. That makes victory even sweeter.

"This really has been a marvellous rally for me and the Ford team and the car was perfect from start of finish. I hope this success is a start for me in the title race."

The win, which gives the Scot his first points of the season, could prove vital as the season shapes up, predicted team-mate Sainz, who is now second in the overall standings behind four-time world champion Makinen.

Sainz claims that the result of this event, the first of six consecutive rallies to be run on dirt tracks, would be a good indicator of the way the season should start to take shape.

If that is true it's excellent news for the flying Scot, who has had a miserable start to the season.

But the 1995 world champion was impressive this weekend, leading from the first day Thursday despite a stiff challenge from Burns.

Burns, who won the 18th and 19th special stages Sunday, was always on the back-foot having lost 20 seconds to McRae on the third and longest special on Friday.

"The 20 seconds I lost Friday cost really heavy," said Burns. "From then I couldn't really see myself winning. Without that things would have perhaps been different.

"I'm disappointed not to have won. But I tried everything. I kept up the pressure on Colin and that's all I could do."

Neither Burns nor Sainz, who raced here with a sore back, were eventually able to overhaul the 32-year-old McRae's lead with the Scot really having done his homework.

"The last two specials are the toughest. They're narrow and stoney and it's easy to take a bad knock there," said McRae.

But to crown a superb weekend's effort McRae duly won the 20th and 21st stages.

The day's other stages went to Makinen and world champion Marcus Gronholm driving a Peugeot.

However Gronholm, was forced out of the remainder of the race with engine trouble. His French teammate Didier Auriol, who won at Catalunia, was also a late withdrawal.

The joint efforts of McRae and Sainz see the Ford team, who now have 36 points, close the gap on Makinen's Mitsubishi team who lead the constructors rankings with 44.

Makinen, who fared poorly last season, holds the overall world championship lead on 27 points. Sainz is second on 22, with Peugeot pair Finland's Harri Rovanpera and Auriol, along with McRae sharing third spot with ten points each.