MAKINEN ON THE PODIUM FOR MARLBORO MITSUBISHI RALLIART The Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart crew of Tommi Makinen/Risto Mannisenmaki finished the 2000 Rally Argentina on the podium in third position in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. Team-mates...
MAKINEN ON THE PODIUM FOR MARLBORO MITSUBISHI RALLIART
The Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart crew of Tommi Makinen/Risto Mannisenmaki finished the 2000 Rally Argentina on the podium in third position in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. Team-mates Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets, in only their second competitive outing in South America, brought their Carisma GT back to Cordoba's World Cup soccer stadium this evening in a fine fifth position. Mitsubishi also scored a resounding victory in the Group N production category. Uruguay's World Champion, Gustavo Trelles, took his second consecutive victory in Argentina, narrowly finishing ahead of another Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution driver, Gabriel Pozzo.
Having finished second in controversial circumstances last year, Richard Burns sought his revenge and brought the Impreza home in first position to maintain both his and Subaru's lead in the Championship. Tommi Makinen's four points means he retains third in the Drivers' Championship, just one point behind Marcus Gronholm, and his and Freddy Loix's tally puts Mitsubishi in equal third position, with Peugeot, in the World Rally Championship for Manufacturers.
Today's third leg to the west of Cordoba, in the mountain region of Traslasierra, is considered to be one of the toughest in the 2000 FIA World Rally Championship and Colin McRae proved to be the first victim of the day. The Scot was forced to retire his Ford Focus with engine failure just 11 kilometres into the first test. Narrow roads littered with jagged rocks and boulders are a constant threat and this, combined with slippery conditions after overnight rain, have conspired to make it a hazardous final day of competition. Despite damp weather, the fanatical Argentineans have remained undeterred, arriving in their thousands on all forms of transport, setting up camp fires and bar-b-ques as they waited for the fast and furious action.
Mixing caution with speed, Tommi Makinen pushed hard over the closing six stages, setting fastest time on SS21, but the competition has been fierce and the Finn was simply unable to slash the deficit to win his fourth Rally Argentina. Points, at this time in the season, are vital and ultimately Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart was not prepared to risk its position in such a notoriously rough event.
"It's been a difficult rally and quite muddy today", said Tommi. "We could have done a bit better if we'd made a better tyre choice this morning. I would have preferred to use the narrower Michelin tyre and maybe then we could have fought a little bit more with Marcus. But I'm pleased to be back on the podium and we now have to work hard and concentrate for the Championship".
Team-mates Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets picked up points for themselves and Mitsubishi for the third time this season. The Carisma GT crew were however hampered by a lack of competitive knowledge of the stages and drove for a finish today.
"With Tommi and Juha (Kankkunen) too far in front, and with a big gap to the guys behind, I was just driving for a finish today", commented Freddy. "It's not been so easy, especially as this is only my second time here in Argentina, and we still have some work to do, but I enjoyed it".
Adding to his drivers' comments, team director Andrew Cowan said: "It is an excellent result for the team to get both drivers in the points, and it's great for Tommi to be back on the podium. But this business seems to be getting more and more competitive and we have to work hard for the rest of the season".
Trelles, celebrating his first win of the season, was determined to press hard for victory and another flawless performance from the man who has already been Group N World Champion four times was rewarded with a richly deserved success and ninth place overall, well ahead of plenty of much more heavily modified cars.
"Beating the local drivers was not easy, so this is really satisfying", said Trelles. "It's nice for my co-driver Jorge Del Buono as well, as he is from Argentina, and it gives us a real chance now in the World Championship".
Rising Argentinean star Gabriel Pozzo was the leader at the beginning of the last leg, but he got a puncture on the first stage of the day and lost too much time to have a real chance of catching Trelles. He had put in a fine drive nonetheless and finished 10th overall.
"Of course I am a bit disappointed. I really wanted to beat Gustavo, but this is still the best result of my career and it shows we can do something good in the future", Pozzo stated.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions and Carisma GTs are the most popular choice for privateers at World Championship level and they filled four of the top five places in Group N, with Peru's Ramon Ferreyros and local driver Oscar Chiaramello both scoring well in fourth and fifth positions respectively.
Austria's Manfred Stohl continues to lead the Group N World Championship in his Lancer Evolution, despite technical difficulties in Argentina.
The FIA World Rally Championship contenders now head back to Europe for the seventh round of the series. The Acropolis Rally (8-11 June) is however another rough gravel event, this time mixed with mid-summer scorching temperatures, and is always a tough test for man and machinery. But, after a successful test on representative Greek roads in April, Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart is aiming for victory in one of only two events it has yet to win. Following the recent cancellation of the Rally of China, the FIA has also announced that this Asian gravel event will be replaced by the Rally of Cyprus (7-10 September), ensuring the Championship retains 14 events in the 2000 series.