WRC

Rally of GB: Final Report

----------------------------------------------------------- Mitsubishi's crew of Richard Burns and co-driver Robert Reid won today in Cheltenham the thirteenth and last event of the FIA World Rally Championship, the 54th Network Q Rally of...

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Mitsubishi's crew of Richard Burns and co-driver Robert Reid won today in Cheltenham the thirteenth and last event of the FIA World Rally Championship, the 54th Network Q Rally of Great Britain, their home rally.

Despite retiring on the first day, Finns Tommi Makinen and co-driver Risto Mannisenmaki of Mitsubishi won, for a record third consecutive time, the FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers. Mitsubishi also claimed its first ever FIA World Rally Championship for Makes.

Makinen's somewhat unexpected title came about after Spain's Carlos Sainz retired in his Toyota just 500 metres from the end of the very last stage. He was lying fourth at the time, a position that would have been enough to make him World Champion.

After two relatively mild day's of driving, competitors faced the worst conditions of the rally during the final leg in South Wales, torrential rain and dense fog affecting the first few stages at daybreak. The weather did nothing to deter the tens of thousands who lined today's 166 km of competitive stages.

Whatever the weather, this rally once again proved to be one of the toughest in the FIA World Rally Championship and only 84 of the 168 starters reached the final podium of Cheltenham.

Now the FIA World Rally Championship rests for seven weeks, before the new season starts with the classic Rallye Monte Carlo in January.

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Mitsubishi Ralliart

This has been a very rewarding event for the team, which has won at a single blow the FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers, the FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers and the Network Q Rally of Great Britain. After a cautious start, Richard Burns has scored a string of fastest times to score his second and Mitsubishi's seventh victory of 1998.

"I'm relieved and extremely happy," said a beaming Burns at the finish. "How much success can one team have? I first did this his rally in 1990 and I never thought I'd be here now. It's a great feeling."

Tommi Makinen, who had retired in the early part of Leg One, learned in his hotel room that the retirement of Spaniard Carlos Sainz had handed him his third consecutive world title.

"It is important, it is history," said the Finn. "The last few days have been very difficult for me, but it is an incredible feeling to be world champion again!"

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Toyota

Carlos Sainz was running in fourth place, a result which would have brought them the drivers' championship title, when the engine of their Toyota Corolla failed. The car coasted to a halt and the crew extinguished a small engine fire which followed. "It is impossible to put into words how I feel," said Sainz after the incident. "We had backed off earlier today because of the bad conditions and were doing all we needed for the championship. It is so difficult to comprehend what has happened, especially so close to the end of the rally."

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Subaru

In their first outing in a World Rally Car, Alister McRae drove an impressive rally in the Subaru Impreza, matching and sometime beating times set by the regular World Championship contenders. Second at the start of final leg of the rally, the young Scot went off the road in the fog of first day's stage and retired. "The fog was really thick and the stage really fast and we made a mistake and paid dearly for it," said McRae. "We rolled a couple of times, damaged the radiator and lost of water, so that it was just not realistic to continue through the stage. "It's of some consolation to know we were competitive against the top world championship drivers."

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Ford

The Ford Escort made a glorious farewell to world championship rally when Juha Kankkunen and Bruno Thiry finished second and third on the 54th Network Q Rally of Great Britain, the 13th and final round of the 1998 FIA World Rally Championship. "I would had preferred to win," said 39-year old Kankkunen, "but this is a very good result for us and for the team anyway. The only pity is that it is the last rally for the Escort and that is a sad feeling." Bruno Thiry eventually enjoyed a troublefree rally, after a season dogged by misfortune. "I have not had a lot of luck during the year," said Thiry, "so to finish on the podium in our final drive with Ford is very nice. Today's stages were beautiful to drive on in the fog, with Stephane (Prevot) telling me where to go, so I don't need to see the road!"

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Seat

The Spanish manufacturer, which next year will contest the full FIA World Rally Championship, has scored its first world championship point with sixth placed Harri Rovanpera. "I'm delighted with our result," said the Finn. "It is very satisfying to set so many competitive times and finish sixth in what is one of the hardest rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship.

Seat also claimed the FIA 2-Litre Cup for the third year running with the Ibiza Kit Car.

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Other Teams Thanks to the high rate of attrition of this tough event, several privately entered cars finished in the top ten. Subaru's DeMevius (B) and Holowczyc (PL), where fourth and eighth, while Finn Lindholm and German Schwarz drove their Ford to fifth and seventh place. Markko Martin placing ninth established the highest position ever for an Estonian driver, while the top ten was completed by young Austrian Manfred Stohl, who also won Group N in his Mitsubishi.

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1998 FIA World Rally Championship Standings for Drivers

        Makinen           58
        Sainz           56
        McRae           45
        Kankkunen          39
        Auriol           34

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1998 FIA World Rally Championship Standings for Manufacturers

        Mitsubishi         91
        Toyota           85
        Subaru           65
        Ford                   53

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dusty@dusty.com.au

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