Kankkunen's pace in Australia boosts the Ford challenge

The Ford World Rally team enjoyed a successful first full day of the API Rally Australia today (Friday) when Juha Kankkunen set a fastest stage time early on to lead the event in his Escort World Rally car. The four-times World Champion driver then maintained a robust challenge throughout the 135 kilometres of special stages which comprised Leg 1 of this World Championship event, to end the day in a strong third place.

"I think this rally really starts after Stage 4 when we leave behind the open fields near York for the dense forests around Mundaring and the tough 28 kilometres of Stage 5 at Beraking," commented Juha Kankkunen - four times winner of this event. "The Escort has run perfectly all day, enabling me to keep among the front runners and now we are well placed for tomorrow, running third on the road after other cars have swept aside the loose gravel."

Team mate Bruno Thiry ran strongly in the second Valvoline-backed Escort until he hit a rock that an earlier car had dislodged onto Stage 7. "We were going hard in 6th gear," explained the Belgian ace, "when the left front tyre hit the rock with an enormous bang. The car withstood the impact very well but the steering was knocked out of line and that slowed us a little in the next 34 kilometre long stage, so we lost some time."

Bruno's troubles continued when he had to tackle the day's final stage - a re-run of the 2.2 kilometre super-special in Perth's Langley Park - without power steering after a minor problem which will be rectified before the start of Leg 2 tomorrow morning.

"I am particularly pleased that Juha has performed so well today," enthused Malcolm Wilson, Ford World Rally Team Director. "The Escort's pace proves that it is still a very competitive rally car at this level. We led the event and set a fastest stage time. The unique gravel surface in this region also means that position on the road is especially important to the final outcome of the event. Nobody wants to run first on these loose pebbles and Juha is ideally placed go well again tomorrow."

For Leg 2 of the Rally Australia the surviving cars leave Perth at 06.00 and head south for 250 kilometres to tackle eight special stages over a total of 160 kilometres - including the longest of the event, the 45 km Wellington Dam stage. The cars return to Perth at 19.30 for a third and final super-special stage around Langley Park.


Leaderboard after Leg 1

1. R Burns/R Reid GB Mitsubishi Carisma 1hr 17min 31.1sec

2. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Toyota Corolla 1hr 18min 37.4sec

3. J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Ford Escort 1hr 18min 53.3sec

4. F Loix/S Smeets B Toyota Corolla 1hr 18min 56.1sec

5. C Sainz/L Moya E Toyota Corolla 1hr 18min 57.6sec

6. C McRae/N Grist GB Subaru Impreza 1hr 19min 07.2sec

7. B Thiry/S Prevot B Ford Escort 1hr 19min 47.7sec

8. T Makinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 1hr 19min 53.3sec

9. P Bourne/C Vincent NZ Subaru Impreza 1hr 20min 10.3sec

10 S Lindholm/J Aho FIN Ford Escort 1hr 21min 24.4sec