THRILLING FINAL DAY SHOWDOWN IN STORE FOR RALLY OF SCOTLAND FANS
Finland's Juho Hanninen and Norway's Andreas Mikkelsen will go into tomorrow's (Sunday) deciding final four stages of the 2010 RACMSA Rally of Scotland separated by a matter of seconds at the top of the leaderboard.
Newly crowned Intercontinental Rally Challenge Champion Hanninen (pictured above) had been fastest on four of the day's five stages in his Skoda Fabia, but Mikkelsen, also consistently fast throughout, hit back on the last test, Errochty 2, to go into the overnight halt at Perth Airport just 11.1s adrift of his fellow Scandinavian.
Tomorrow's action moves into the forests of Stirlingshire for two runs each through the newly-designed Clashmore and much vaunted, 30km Loch Ard stages before the winner is crowned at Stirling Castle (see below for locations and times).
Hanninen, aged 29, said: "I can't relax as Mikkelsen is going very well. We had one moment early this morning, but otherwise everything's gone to plan. But we have to keep up the momentum tomorrow."
Mikkelsen, just 21, added: "It's been an incredible day, even though I hit a deer on the first stage this morning! The stages here are so nice and I'm feeling very confident but I have mixed emotions about tomorrow. I'd like to try to win; however it's very important for the team to score a podium because they haven't had one yet. There are still four long stages to go and of course lots can happen."
Hanninen and Mikkelsen were left in a race of their own after fancied British drivers Alister McRae, Guy Wilks and Kris Meeke all hit problems. Northern Irishman Meeke, in his Peugeot, and North Yorkshireman Wilks, in his Skoda, both took turns in the lead during this morning's stages through Craigvinean, Drummond Hill and Errochty but both also had their share of problems. Wilks was delayed by a spin that damaged his car's bodywork and then Meeke lost time with a puncture.
Before the end of the day, Wilks was forced out of the running with more car problems while Meeke lost further time as his brakes failed and he fell to fourth some 1m40s behind leader Hanninen - although, with overnight repairs, still remains a hot tip to take the final podium spot.
Meeke commented: "Things were looking up briefly this morning but since then it's been down, down, down and very disappointing. It should be easy enough to get back third but the way my luck is going nothing is likely to be simple. I'd like to get a podium on my final drive for Peugeot."
Having seen his hopes of adding to his 2009 win dashed, Wilks said: "We were leading and managing the position very well and the plan for this afternoon was to maintain our rhythm and keep a gap on Juho. So I'm really disappointed for everyone in the team and everyone who has come out to support us. It's never nice to retire from a rally, but it's gut-wrenching to retire from your home event."
Lanarkshire's McRae, meanwhile, was forced to stop when his Proton broke down. However, under the 'Superally' rules, both he and Wilks will be permitted to return to the action tomorrow to put on a show for the crowds. So, too, will McRae's Northern Irish team-mate Keith Cronin who suffered a catalogue of disasters today: first his steering wheel came away in his hands; then his bonnet flipped up and smashed the windscreen; then he lost his official time card required by marshals at the end of each stage.
Their demise has enabled 'junior' Proton driver Tom Cave, just 18 years old, to move up into an excellent fifth overall. Duns' Euan Thorburn is the highest-placed of the drivers in 'showroom specification' Group N machinery in sixth. He took over the spot at the very end of the day as Dumfries' David Bogie, who'd held the position, had to stop to change a puncture half way through Errochty 2 and fell to ninth as a consequence.
2010 Rally of Scotland, leading overnight positions (Saturday): 1. Juho Hanninen/Mikko Markkula (FIN), Skoda Fabia S2000, 1hr03m02.1s 2. Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Fleune (NOR), Ford Fiesta S2000, +11.1s 3. Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Klinger (BEL), Peugeot 207 S2000, +1m30.4s 4. Kris Meeke/Phil Pugh (GBR), Peugeot 207 S2000, +1m40.7s 5. Tom Cave/Craig Parry (GBR), Proton Satria Neo S2000, 4m20.3s 6. Euan Thorburn/Paul Beaton (GBR), Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, +5m08.5s 7. Jonathan Greer/Dai Roberts (GBR), Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, +5m51.8s 8. Daniel Oliviera/Armando Miranda (BRA), Peugeot 207 S2000, +6m59.2s 9. David Bogie/Kevin Rae (GBR), Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, +8m00.9s 10. Siim Plangi/Marek Sarapuu (EST), Honda Civic Type R, +8m22.5s
Picturedesks: hi-res imagery throughout Rally of Scotland can be downloaded from the www.rally-photo.com website using the following log-in
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Remaining schedule, Sunday 17 October, 2010 Rally of Scotland Central Service, Perth Airport: leave 6.50am SS9, Clashmore 1, nr Cobleland (Loch Ard Forest), Starts 8.40am SS10, Loch Ard 1, nr Milton (Loch Ard Forest), Starts 10.10am SS11, Clashmore 2, nr Cobleland (Loch Ard Forest), Starts 11.40am Remote Service: Aberfoyle, 11.00am SS12, Loch Ard 2, nr Milton (Loch Ard Forest), Starts 1.10pm Ceremonial Finish, Stirling Castle, 3.00pm and National B at 4.30pm