Rådstrom edged out of points in Rally Australia
Thomas Rådstrom and Fred Gallagher narrowly missed out on a points-scoring finish in their Ford Focus World Rally Car after a tense battle during today's third and final leg of the Rally Australia. The Ford Martini World Rally Team drivers were one of three pairings involved in the fight for the final two points positions on this 13th and penultimate round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Rådstrom and Gallagher started the final leg, containing 100km of gravel special stages, from Perth this morning in fifth but less than 10 seconds covered them and the chasing cars of Marcus Gronholm and Harri Rovanpera. The opening 35km stage in the dry and dusty Bunnings Forest complex did little to unravel the situation, less than five seconds covering the trio after the test.
However, Rådstrom slipped behind the two Finns on the next stage and in a brave attempt to regain fifth position on the penultimate stage, he twice overshot junctions, ending his hopes. Despite his disappointment the 33-year-old Swede posted third fastest time on the final stage, televised live across Australia, to finish seventh.
"This was the first time I have been to Australia so to be battling for points in those circumstances was a pretty good effort," said Rådstrom at the finish of the four-day 1424km rally. "I was surprised just how technical the event was from a driving aspect. The loose gravel which covers most of the stages here and the sight of large trees right on the edge of the track require a different driving style and it's one that takes some time to adapt to."
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson reflected on a rally during which the Focus cars of both Rådstrom and team-mate Colin McRae, who retired yesterday after a heavy accident, never missed a beat.
"Both cars ran faultlessly from a mechanical point of view and given our recent difficulties with reliability that's very encouraging," he said. "Colin set a whole string of fast times to lead the rally during the first leg and I think we've taken another step forward here in harnessing outright speed and reliability.
"Thomas drove well considering it was his first attempt at the rally. Previous experience counts for a lot on this event and that obviously worked against him. But he's driven consistently and but for a few overshoots and a couple of punctures he would have finished in the championship points. Now we must look forward to the final round. It's Colin's home event, it's my home rally and the whole team is keen to round off the year with a good result in the British forests," added Wilson.
News from our Rivals
Third position was sufficient for Finland's Tommi Makinen (Mitsubishi) to secure his fourth consecutive world drivers' crown, matching the achievement of fellow countryman Juha Kankkunen, although Kankkunen's wins were not in consecutive years. The rally itself was won by Richard Burns (Subaru) who effectively sealed victory with a crushing time on the day's second stage, eclipsing closest rival Carlos Sainz (Toyota) by almost 11 seconds over the 36km stage. However, Sainz's second place was sufficient to earn Toyota the manufacturers' crown. Behind fourth-placed Freddy Loix (Mitsubishi), Gronholm (Peugeot) did enough to ease out Rovanpera (SEAT) for the final two points positions.
After the heat of early summer in Australia, the FIA World Rally Championships ends in the British winter later this month. The Rally of Great Britain (November 21-23) is based in Cheltenham and, although both drivers' and manufacturers' titles have been decided, it should provide the scene for a fierce battle between Britons Colin McRae and Richard Burns.
Final positions 1. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 3hr 44min 31.5sec 2. C Sainz/L Moya E Toyota Corolla 3hr 44min 43.1sec 3. T Makinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lance 3hr 49min 02.9sec 4. F Loix/S Smeets B Mitsubishi Carisma 3hr 52min 04.0sec 5. M Gronholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 3hr 52min 33.4sec 6. H Rovanpera/R Pietilainen FIN Seat WRC 3hr 52min 44.3sec 7. T Rådstrom/ F Gallager S Ford Focus 3hr 53min 01.1sec 8. T Arai/R Freeman J Subaru Impreza 4hr 05min 49.8sec 9. K Eriksson/S Parmander S Hyundai Coupe 4hr 05min 58.4sec 10 M Rowe/D Ringer GB Renault Megane 4hr 06min 29.1sec
1999 FIA World Rally Championship (after round 13 of 14) Drivers Manufacturers 1. T Makinen 62pts 1. Toyota 109pts 2. D Auriol 52pts 2. Subaru 89pts 3. R Burns 45pts 3. Mitsubishi 81pts 4. C Sainz 44pts 4. Ford 36pts 5. J Kankkunen 38pts 5. Seat 19pts 6. C McRae 23pts 6. Peugeot 11pts