From Ron Salter [ 21/09/2001 ].
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The Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart crew of Tommi Makinen/Risto Mannisenmaki, leaders in the FIA World Rally Championship, have been seriously hampered in the opening leg of the Rally New Zealand. Running first on the road, the Finns have swept the stages clean of loose gravel and, as a consequence, hold 14th position overnight. Regular team-mates Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets lead the team assault in a fine sixth overall while the registered crew of Toni Gardemeister/Paavo Lukander are again failing to impress, lying 33rd after early problems. As series leader, Makinen was forced to run first on the road and the Finn has had to power his Lancer Evolution through at least an inch of loose gravel, clearing a cleaner line for the following cars. Intermittent light rain has made little difference to the conditions, or his challenge, and the Finn has just had to frustratingly accept the disadvantage.
"There is absolutely no grip at all", he stated. "The car is sliding around all over the place and it’s impossible to put the power on or brake in the right places. I’ve never seen it like this before and it is very unfair". In SS6, the only repeated stage of the leg and one where the conditions were more equal, Makinen spun and lost more time while his rivals jostled for position, no one wanting to assume the number one spot tomorrow. "We made a huge spin in stage 6 but we have already lost a lot of time", added Tommi. "Tomorrow we will be in a much better road position, assuming the weather conditions don’t change, but we’re already two minutes behind and in my opinion this is a bit too much. We will have to see, but obviously we have to push hard because anything is possible".
Team-mates Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets are nevertheless upholding team honours and the Carisma GT pairing hold sixth overnight behind Hyundai’s leader Kenneth Eriksson. They are doing a sterling job and again over-shadowing highly rated Finn, Toni Gardemeister. Early this morning the Belgians were not happy with the stability of the car in high speed sections, but changes to the differential mapping have helped the crew push harder this afternoon. "The car felt better once we had made some changes, although still not perfect, but I decided it was better to try and get the settings right for a good run tomorrow", commented Freddy. "The most difficult thing has been the camber of the road as it’s hard to get the car flowing from one side to the other because you lose a bit of traction. Our position is okay for tomorrow I think; there seems to be a big difference between running fourth and sixth, but nearly no difference between sixth and eighth position. There is also only seven seconds between the guys in fifth and ninth positions, so I think there will be a good fight for us now".
Registered points scorers Toni Gardemeister and Paavo Lukander have had a disappointing day in the Lancer Evolution, only getting a clean run in SS2. The Finn hit a rock in stage 4, holing the sump guard and losing all the transmission oil, and has had an assortment of spins, locking wheels and high tyre wear. "Today was disappointing but tomorrow is another day, so I hope we can go better and set some good times", he said. He will certainly have no means to excuse himself from loose gravel on the road - he lies in 33rd position overnight!
The second leg of Rally New Zealand takes the crews to the north of Auckland for a further 176 competitive kilometres. Special stage 9, the opener of leg two, begins at 9:53 local time.
Leading positions at end of leg one:
1 K.ERIKSSON / S.PARMANDER S HYUNDAI ACCENT 126.96.36.199
2 M.GRONHOLM / T.RAUTIAINEN FIN PEUGEOT 206 +18.5
3 C.SAINZ / L.MOYA E FORD FOCUS +25.6
4 C.McRAE / N.GRIST GB FORD FOCUS 1.14.06.8
5 P.SOLBERG / P.MILLS N/GB SUBARU IMPREZA +44.0
6 F.LOIX / S.SMEETS B MITSUBISHI CARISMA GT +46.1
7 A.McRAE / D.SENIOR GB HYUNDAI ACCENT +47.5
8 F.DELECOUR / D.GRATALOUP F FORD FOCUS +47.9
9 R.BURNS / R.REID GB SUBARU IMPREZA +48.5
10 P.BOURNE / C.VINCENT NZ SUBARU IMPREZA +50.2
14 T.MAKINEN / R.MANNISENMAKI FIN MITSUBISHI LANCER +2.18.4
33 T.GARDEMEISTER / P.LUKANDER FIN MITSUBISHI CARISMA GT +6.34.0