From Ben Mulkern [ 26/09/2001 ].
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With just four rounds of the 2001 world rally championship remaining, only eleven points separate the top four runners in the race for the driver's title. The rally circus moves into it's asphalt phase in October, as the crews tackle San Remo and Corsica, before the final battle is played out on the gravel of Australia and Great Britain.And it seems as though those last two rallies could decide the championship, as the asphalt specialists of Peugeot and Citroen will probably battle for overall honours on the black stuff, leaving McRae, Makinen and Burns to decide the title in the mud of the Rally of GB.
Colin McRae's second place in New Zealand leaves him at the head of the title race, however the Scot is under no illusions about the task ahead on Italy and France's round of the championship "In terms of the championship it's (NZ) another good step forward for us - now we just have to get the right car and tyre package for the next two asphalt rallies." said the Lanark man.
Most observers believe that the sealed surface rallies will be dominated by the French teams, with Gilles Panizzi (pictured left) in the Peugeot 206WRC and Philippe Bugalski in the Citroen Xsara WRC likely victors, and it will therefore be for McRae, Burns and Makinen to pick up points as best they can on these events. McRae has said as much, by saying that he intends to aim for points finishes rather than going for what would be an unlikely victory. The saving grace for Ford is that McRae's main challenger (which is now probably Richard Burns given that Makinen will be in a new car in San Remo) runs also on Pirelli tyres, and therefore the shortcomings compared to Michelin rubber on asphalt will not be of major consequence in terms of the title race.
It does look a real possibility that the title race will come down to the Rally of Great Britain, and the British head-to-head that spectators have wanted for many years. If that is the case, Colin will need to call a halt to Ginger's good run of victories on his home event, a task which should be well within the Scot's scope.
It might not be pretty, but the purpose of the next two events is to pick up points and achieve finishes; once Corsica is out of the way, the real battle commences, and this might prove to be the closest title race for many years, hopefully with a British world champion coming out on top. Let's hope it's McRae.