Tapio Laukkanen and Kaj Lindström scored their first ever FIA World Rally Championship point on the Rally Australia today. Driving a Ford Focus World Rally Car in competition for only the second time, the Finns ended the demanding four-day event, penultimate round of the series, in sixth after a thrilling final leg in the West Australian forests south of Perth.
The final day was based entirely in the Sotico, formerly known as Bunnings, forest complex, where large crowds gathered to watch the action over four speed tests, covering 100km. Dusty gravel tracks and air temperatures touching 30*C made driving conditions difficult but Laukkanen quickly set about improving his overnight seventh position.
After the opening 35.29km special stage he had closed right down on fellow countryman Toni Gardemeister and duly moved ahead on the next 36.84km test. His sights now set on fifth, the 31-year-old Andorra-based driver closed in on Kenneth Eriksson but a spin on the penultimate stage ended the chase and he settled for sixth.
"I'm delighted to finish in the points but at the same time a little disappointed not to have caught Kenneth," said Laukkanen. "It was a tough event for me but the more kilometres I complete in the Focus, the more confident I feel with the car.
"Now I'm looking forward to the Rally of Great Britain later this month. I've gathered plenty of experience of the forests there and I feel confident I can at least match this performance," said the 1999 British champion.
News from our Rivals
Once again road position dominated today's final leg with the top three drivers seeking to avoid having to run first on the road over the loose gravel covering the last four stages. Late last night it emerged that leader Tommi Mäkinen was penalised 10 seconds for a jump start on yesterday's penultimate stage, dropping him from first to third overall and also third on the road behind Marcus Grönholm and Richard Burns. Then, just before the start of today's opening stage, Burns caused a stir by changing a puncture and in the time it took to fit a new tyre, he dropped behind Mäkinen in the starting order.
Once the action did begin, a thrilling battle developed between the leading trio. Mäkinen, eight seconds faster than anyone else on the first test, moved back into a lead he was not to lose. Less than a second covered Grönholm and Burns all day until the Finn secured second on the final stage to open a seven point championship lead over the Briton. Kenneth Eriksson (Hyundai) equaled his team's best result to date with fifth. Gilles Panizzi (Peugeot) retired after the final stage with a broken gearbox but today's results mean the French manufacturer is guaranteed at least one of the two titles.
The final round of the FIA World Rally Championship is the Rally of Great Britain, which this year is based entirely in Wales for the first time. It is based in Cardiff from 23 - 26 November.
<pre> Final positions 1. T Mäkinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 3hr 43min 51.7sec 2. M Gronholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 3hr 43min 57.2sec 3. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 3hr 43min 59.9sec 4. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Peugeot 206 3hr 45min 30.1sec 5. K Eriksson/S Parmander S Hyundai Accent 3hr 46min 17.8sec 6. T Laukkanen/K Lindström FIN Ford Focus 3hr 46min 28.1sec 7. T Gardemeister/P Lukander FIN Seat Cordoba 3hr 46min 46.5sec 8. P Bourne/C Vincent NZ Subaru Impreza 3hr 48min 30.7sec 9. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Seat Cordoba 3hr 51min 51.8sec 10. N Bates/C Taylor AUS Toyota Corolla 3hr 53min 04.0sec
2000 FIA World Rally Championship (after round 13 of 14) Drivers Manufacturers 1. M Grönholm 55pts 1. Peugeot 99pts 2. R Burns 48pts 2. Ford 88pts 3. C McRae 43pts 3. Subaru 74pts C Sainz 43pts 4. Mitsubishi 49pts 5. T Mäkinen 42pts 5. Seat 9pts 6. F Delecour 22pts 6. Skoda 8pts