Ford celebrates after podium place on Rally Finland
Ford's Juha Kankkunen today claimed his third podium position in four events when he finished third on the Rally Finland at the wheel of an Escort World Rally Car. The result further improved the reliability record of the Kankkunen/Ford partnership in this season's FIA World Rally Championship which has produced nine top 10 finishes from 10 events.
The 39-year-old Finn and co-driver Juha Repo launched a determined attack during the final leg of the three-day rally in an attempt to reel in second-placed Carlos Sainz. They beat the Spaniard on four of today's six gravel special stages but could not get past the championship leader. The final margin between the two was just 9.6 seconds after 385km of flat-out driving.
"There was only option if we wanted to beat Carlos and that was to attack from the first kilometre," said four-time world champion Kankkunen. "We seemed to spend as much time flying through the air over the big jumps as we did on the ground and although we almost halved the overnight gap there just weren't enough kilometres to complete the job.
"But we're happy to have finished in the top three once again and this has been another superb fight between myself and Carlos. I don't know why but so many times this season the final day has produced a big battle between the two of us. Next time I have to make sure it's me that finishes ahead," said Kankkunen.
Bruno Thiry, driving the second Valvoline-backed Escort World Rally Car, was happier in today's drier conditions, although early morning fog brought fresh hazards for all drivers. Thiry and co-driver Stephane Prevot stepped up their pace considerably and were rewarded by finishing on the leaderboard in 10th position.
"I'm much happier and felt more confident today in the drier conditions because the grip was more consistent and it was easier to control the car," said Thiry. "The team carried out some more modifications to the Escort's settings to help me and although the result was well below what I would have liked, at least I've gained more experience of this rally which is probably the most specialised in the entire championship."
The final day brought disappointment for Ari Vatanen, the former world champion retiring his Infogrames-backed Escort World Rally Car just three stages from the end with an overheating engine. The 46-year-old Finn and co-driver Fred Gallagher were on course for a tremendous ninth place finish in their first rally since March when the engine temperature soared to 130§C and then stopped just after the finish of the test.
"It was disappointing to retire so close to the end because I have enjoyed this rally so much," said Vatanen. "I really enjoyed driving on the Finnish stages again and I hope I achieved what was required of me. The engine began to give problems during the previous road section and by the end of the next stage it was obvious we would not be able to continue."
Ford World Rally team director Malcolm Wilson had a bird's eye view of Kankkunen's attack from the Ford World Rally team helicopter. "I have to give Juha 10 out of 10 for commitment today. He drove superbly, pushing both himself and the car to the limit, but unfortunately for us Carlos held him off and probably had a slight advantage yesterday in the wet and heavy conditions. Nevertheless it was another good, solid performance and when you look at Juha's record in the Ford Escort this season it's quite remarkable, a real model of consistency from both driver and car.
"Bruno has been much happier today in the dry and I think mentally he has now recovered from his big accident in New Zealand on the previous round. The next rally is on asphalt, his favourite surface, and I think we will see Bruno in a much more positive frame of mind for that event," added Wilson.
Following the cancellation of next month's Rally Indonesia, the next round of the FIA World Rally Championship will be the Sanremo Rally in Italy on 12-14 October, the third and final all-asphalt round of the 1998 series.
Final positions 1. T Makinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 3:16:56.1 2. C Sainz/L Moya E Toyota Corolla 3:17:31.7 3. J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Ford Escort 3:17:41.3 4. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Toyota Corolla 3:19:25.3 5. R Burns/R Reid GB Mitsubishi Carisma 3:19:52.9 6. T Radstrom/G Barth S Toyota Corolla 3:20:07.0 7. M Gronholm/T Rautiainen FIN Toyota Corolla 3:21:02.0 8. J Kytolehto/A Kapanen FIN Subaru Impreza 3:23:46.4 9. P Hagstrom/T Gardemeister FIN Toyota Celica 3:28:11.4 10. B Thiry/S Prevot B Ford Escort 3:30:05.5
1998 FIA World Rally Championship (after round 10 of 13) Drivers Manufacturers 1. C Sainz 47pts 1. Toyota 72 pts 2. C McRae 38pts 2. Mitsubishi 61 pts 3. T Makinen 38pts 3. Subaru 52 pts 4. J Kankkunen 31pts 4. Ford 40 pts 5. D Auriol 30pts 6. R Burns 23pts