Tommi & Toni fight back

From Ron Salter [ 22/09/2001 ].
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World Rally Championship points leader Tommi Makinen has powered his way back up the leaderboard after a first leg blighted by having had to "sweep" the road of gravel for the cars starting behind him, but he still lies nearly a minute outside of a points scoring position. Team-mates Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Toni Gardemeister/Paavo Lukander hold 10th and 16th respectively, whilst Manfred Stohl has put Mitsubishi on course for a record tally of 25 wins a row for the Japanese marque in the Group N category.

The 62 remaining crews left Auckland at 06:50 hrs this morning for a further eight special stages and 176 competitive kilometres based around the northern harbour town of Ruawai, renowned for its shark fishing. While conditions remained dry with temperatures around 15 degrees for most of the day, rain fell this afternoon threatening the potential for more tactics - being first on the road would be a better position if conditions get wet for the final day of competition.

Road positions did prove critical today and Hyundai’s overnight leader Kenneth Eriksson dropped nearly two minutes to seventh position, paving the way for Subaru’s Richard Burns to take the lead, which he has retained throughout the day. Tommi Makinen has had much cleaner conditions, starting from 14th position, although the Finn lost time in this longest stage with poor visibility caused by broken wipers and dust from catching Toshi Arai’s Subaru. The Finn has however steadily climbed up the leaderboard, setting top six stage times for most of the day, and starts the final leg of this southern hemisphere event with everything to fight for.

"We have obviously benefited from our running position, but then so have a lot of other drivers and it’s difficult to regain the time we lost yesterday", said Tommi. "For me, that’s where we lost the rally and it was not our fault - that is very frustrating when you are fighting so hard. We’ve had no real problems, a few little mistakes here and there, but generally things haven’t felt like they are working quite right. We opted for softer tyres in the last three stages, but it was not as wet as we thought it would be. Now we will just have to see what happens tomorrow".

In contrast, team-mates Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets have slipped down the order to 10th, a couple of spins earlier in the day losing them time. "I was worried about tyre wear in the first long stage, but as it turned out it was fine and we were over cautious", commented Freddy. "We then had spins in stages 10 and 13 and I think there was a problem with the centre diff in the last group of three stages. I am still not entirely happy; when the camber on the road is greater, and the drop off the side of the road is bigger in the corners, the inside wheel drops down and loses contact making the car unstable, that’s why we spun. We then took the wrong line over a crest in stage 15 and the deeper gravel off-line dragged us into a concrete fence, damaging the side of the car".

Toni Gardemeister and Paavo Lukander, driving the second registered Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, have powered 17 positions through the leaderboard to finish 16th overnight. The Finns have found more and more grip throughout the day and have been maintaining a competitive pace without taking risks. "We were a bit slower in the last three stages because they were completely new to me, but otherwise we have just kept a sensible pace", said Toni. "My confidence in the car is growing and I think we can go faster tomorrow".

The final leg may only cover 89 competitive kilometres and eight stages (three of which are repeated) around Te Kauwhata in the south but, with six of them run in succession, any problems could see a significant change in fortunes.

Leading positions at end of day two:

1 R.BURNS / R.REID GB SUBARU IMPREZA 2.56.03.6
2 C.McRAE / N.GRIST GB FORD FOCUS +42.6
3 H.ROVANPERA / R.PIETILAINEN FIN PEUGEOT 206 +1.05.2
4 C.SAINZ / L.MOYA E FORD FOCUS 2.57.31.1 +1.27.5
5 M.GRONHOLM / T.RAUTIAINEN FIN PEUGEOT 206 +1.42.5
6 D.AURIOL / D.GIRAUDET F PEUGEOT 206 +1.43.0
7 T.MAKINEN / R.MANNISENMAKI FIN MITSUBISHI LANCER +2.42.8
8 P.SOLBERG / P.MILLS N/GB SUBARU IMPREZA +3.06.9
9 A.McRAE / D.SENIOR GB HYUNDAI ACCENT +3.27.4
10 F.LOIX / S.SMEETS B MITSUBISHI CARISMA GT +4.34.3
15 M.STOHL / P.MULLER A MITSUBISHI CARISMA GT +8.06.5
16 T.GARDEMEISTER / P.LUKANDER FIN MITSUBISHI LANCER +8.46.7