Ford is well placed for final challenge in Australia

Eight tough special stages on the second and longest day of the API Rally Australia ended in Perth this evening (Saturday) with the Ford World Rally team well placed to make a strong challenge for top honours tomorrow on the final day of this FIA World Championship event - the penultimate round of the 1998 series.

Despite the 30 degree temperatures and dusty conditions, Juha Kankkunen put in a highly competitive performance in his Escort World Rally Car to finish the day in equal-third place after 160 kilometres of special stages. With less than a minute separating the top-six runners tonight, four times winner in Australia Kankkunen is in striking distance of the leader and knows that on the road tomorrow, the three cars running ahead of him will be sweeping away the loose gravel before he runs down the stages.

“The Escort has been running faultlessly again today and I’m looking forward to the final day with its long stages around the logging camp in the Bunnings region,” commented Kankkunen. “It was very hot in the car today and sometimes the dust was slow to clear as there was almost no wind. These have been sensational days of rallying and tomorrow is sure to provide a dramatic finale to this enjoyable event.”

Piloting the second Valvoline-backed Escort, Bruno Thiry started well, setting the fourth fastest time on the opening stage. “It’s been a very hard rally today and I think that Stage 15 will prove to be the most difficult of the rally,” explained the Belgian ace. “It is very fast with many blind brows before difficult corners and really tests your skills.” On the day’s penultimate stage Bruno’s Escort stuck a rock an almighty blow which put a big dent in the sump guard, bent the front and rear suspension and knocked the steering out of alignment. “The Escort is clearly an immensely strong car,” commented the relieved Thiry after safely finishing final stage. All the damage will be repaired before Sunday’s restart.

“Tonight the whole rally is much closer together than it was yesterday,” commented Malcolm Wilson, Ford World Rally Team Director. “We are still in a great position for the final day - especially with Juha’s immense experience of these last stages. Juha’s Escort has been entirely trouble-free and there is certainly everything to play for tomorrow.”

For Leg 3 of the Rally Australia the cars leave Perth at 05.30 and head south east to tackle five special stages over a total of 109 kilometres - including three long stages through the famous Bunnings forests - prior to a final 2.7 km TV-special stage that will be broadcast ‘live’ by Channel 10 across the nation and which concludes the event.


Leaderboard after Leg 2

1. C Sainz/L Moya E Toyota Corolla 2hr 52min 22.2sec

2. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Toyota Corolla 2hr 52min 57.6sec

3 = R Burns/R Reid GB Mitsubishi Carisma 2hr 53min 10.1sec

3 = J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Ford Escort 2hr 53min 10.1sec

5. C McRae/N Grist GB Subaru Impreza 2hr 53min 23.0sec

6. T Mäkinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 2hr 53min 45.0sec *

7. F Loix/S Smeets B Toyota Corolla 2hr 54min 04.6sec

8. B Thiry/S Prévot B Ford Escort 2hr 55min 17.3sec

9. P Bourne/C Vincent NZ Subaru Impreza 2hr 56min 40.5sec

10 S Lindholm/J Aho FIN Ford Escort 2hr 59min 10.5sec

* after 1 minute penalty for ‘jumped start’ on final stage 19