Tapio Laukkanen and Kaj Lindström are battling hard to score their first ever FIA World Rally Championship points after steering their Ford Focus through today's second leg of the Rally Australia in seventh. The Finns, on only their second event in a four-wheel drive World Rally Car, displayed great maturity on the gravel covered tracks south of Perth which hosted the action.
Having started the day in sixth, 31-year-old Laukkanen enjoyed better road conditions than those drivers ahead of him on the six forest speed tests around the town of Harvey. A liberal covering of loose marble-like stones made driving difficult for the first few competitors, especially on the stages where the lack of trees ensured the roads were bone dry but gravely.
Laukkanen, whose only previous experience of this rally was in a two-wheel drive car, highlighted the difference between that and his Focus. "It's like comparing a bicycle to a motor-bike," he said. "The Focus feels well-balanced and of course it's much, much faster. It's quite easy to forget just how big the differences are so I have to be very careful, especially as today's stages were smoother than last year."
Apart from minor brake difficulties and a small water leak this morning which required a new engine cooling unit, Laukkanen had no troubles throughout the 141km of stages until this evening's final run through the floodlit riverside Langley Park super special in the heart of Perth.
"We had a minor electrical problem which caused the engine to stop twice," said Laukkanen. "But we have a good start position tomorrow and we'll be going flat out all the way to try to get into the points." The incident cost 20 seconds, dropping Laukkanen from sixth to seventh but he starts the third and final leg just 16.9sec behind Toni Gardemeister.
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Richard Burns (Subaru) grabbed the lead on the opening stage and held it until the penultimate test when tactics dictated he deliberately slowed to ensure a more favourable starting position tomorrow. He ended the day in third, just 4.2sec behind new leader Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi), who has the unenviable prospect of running first on the road. The two are split by championship leader Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot). Elsewhere Kenneth Eriksson (Hyundai) made the most of the cleaner road conditions to climb to fifth. Overnight leader Juha Kankkunen (Subaru) was the principal casualty, the four-time winner going off the road on today's penultimate stage. The only other major retirement was Alister McRae (Hyundai) who stopped after 3.5km of stage 15 with a broken track control arm.
The final leg is held entirely in the Sotico, formerly Bunnings, forest complex, south-east of Perth. Drivers leave Perth at 05.45 and tackle four stages covering 100km before the finish there at 13.44. There is more loose gravel covering these roads than any others in the rally and the 'cleaning' effect is more pronounced so drivers down the order will have an even greater advantage. The final 2.73km test, which includes the famous downhill roller-coaster jumps and watersplash, will be broadcast live across Australia on television. <pre> Leaderboard after Leg 2 1. T Mäkinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 2hr 49min 39.5sec 2. M Gronholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 2hr 49min 41.1sec 3. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 2hr 49min 43.7sec 4. F Delecour/D Grataloup F Peugeot 206 2hr 50min 19.4sec 5. K Eriksson/S Parmander S Hyundai Accent 2hr 50min 36.8sec 6. T Gardemeister/P Lukander FIN Seat Cordoba 2hr 50min 59.5sec 7. T Laukkanen/K Lindström FIN Ford Focus 2hr 51min 16.4sec 8. P Bourne/C Vincent NZ Subaru Impreza 2hr 51min 54.8sec 9. G Panizzi/H Panizzi F Peugeot 206 2hr 54min 46.5sec 10 N Bates/C Taylor AUS Toyota Corolla 2hr 55min 18.0sec