Kankkunen Portugal Leg One Review

Kankkunen flies through Portuguese dust for Ford (23 March 1998) Ford's Juha Kankkunen finished today's opening leg of the Rally of Portugal in a superb second position in his Ford Escort World Rally Car after a long, hot and...

Kankkunen flies through Portuguese dust for Ford (23 March 1998) Ford's Juha Kankkunen finished today's opening leg of the Rally of Portugal in a superb second position in his Ford Escort World Rally Car after a long, hot and dusty day's action. The 38-year-old Finn set fastest time on the day's toughest and longest special stage to set the seal on a charging drive over the Portuguese gravel roads. Both Kankkunen and Ford World Rally team-mate Ari Vatanen, who ended the day in ninth, enjoyed an entirely troublefree leg in their Valvoline-backed Escorts as the team bids to extend a remarkable reliability record which has seen both cars finish each of the opening three rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship. Ford is the only team which can boast such a record. Kankkunen and co-driver Juha Repo restarted this morning in seventh position after yesterday's spectacular head-to-head racing at the Lousada rallycross circuit. They powered their Valvoline-backed Escort up to second during the early morning stages. They were never to loose that position during the remainder of the day's nine stages and were the only drivers to break a long sequence of fastest times posted by rally leader Colin McRae when they won the 22.42km Viseu test. The Finns reached the overnight halt in the town of Viseu 44.2 seconds behind McRae and 5.4 seconds ahead of Carlos Sainz, with whom they share the lead in the drivers' world championship. "Today has been superb in every respect apart from one - the speed of Colin!" joked Kankkunen. "If it hadn't been for him we would have been in control of this rally. But we've driven well, without problems. The Escort has existed for 30 years now so we can usually assume that it's not going to give us any problems to worry about," he added. We set fastest time on stage 8, the one test today when the road surface was hard rather than loose and sandy. Many of tomorrow's stages are hard like that one so that could benefit us. Colin was running sixth car through the stages which was a good position for him. If he can still drive that fast tomorrow when he will be the first car to drive the stages, I will be surprised," he added. Ford World Rally team-mate Ari Vatanen, replacing the injured Bruno Thiry for a second event, drove sensibly through the opening leg's stages, covering 134.66km. His aim was to ensure the second Valvoline-backed Escort held a top 10 place and 45-year-old Vatanen, co-driven by Fred Gallagher, was relaxed and happy. "I'm driving fast in places but I would really like to finish this event and I don't feel like taking any chances," he said. "We must not under-estimate the fact that I've been absent from regular stage rallying for some time. Most of my rivals are competing on this type of event once or twice a month and that makes a big difference. Team director Malcolm Wilson asked his mechanics to make a precautionary gearbox change on Kankkunen's Escort at the final service park this evening and insisted Juha's all-out attack would continue tomorrow. 'It's a real bonus for us to have Juha lying second at this point of the rally," he said. "I would have been happy for him to have been lying in wait in third and fourth so today gives us real encouragement of the rest of the event. Only Colin has driven faster and from a performance perspective that's just as encouraging bearing in mind that we have an improved engine to use in the Escort from the next rally onwards. Juha will drive flat out again tomorrow. We haven't had any work to do on either car today and that reliability gives us the confidence to order Juha to continue driving at maximum pace." "Ari has driven exactly to plan. We said we would be happy so long as he was in the top 10 tonight and Ari has achieved that even though there have been no major retirements. He will continue to drive in this way tomorrow morning and we will review the situation then before deciding whether to ask him to increase his pace," added Wilson. After more than 15 hours on the road today, drivers face an equally demanding leg tomorrow. After leaving Viseu at 07.15, competitors head further south to tackle 10 more gravel stages totalling 144.94km. They then face a long drive back north to the host city of Porto, arriving at the overnight halt at 21.40. In terms of distance, tomorrow's leg is the longest of the four-day event. Leaderboard after Leg 1 1 C McRae/N Grist GB Subaru Impreza 1hr 33min 25.5sec 2 J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Ford Escort l hr 34min 09.7sec 3 A Vatanen/F Gallagher E Toyota Corolla l hr 34min 15.1sec 4 T Makinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 1hr 34min 21.8sec 5 F Loix/S Smeets B Toyota Corolla l hr 34m 37.1 sec 6 R Burns/R Reid GB Mitsubishi Carisma l hr 34min 39.0sec 7 P Liattl/F Pons I Subaru Impreza 1 hr 34min 46.4sec 8 T Radstrom/L Backman FIN Toyota Corolla 1hr 35min 02.6sec 9 A Vatanen/F Gallagher FIN Ford Escort 1hr 35min 28.7sec 10 G de Mevius/J-M Fortin B Subaru Impreza 1hr 35min 59.4sec

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Series WRC
Drivers Colin McRae , Carlos Sainz , Juha Kankkunen , Ari Vatanen , Juha Repo , Malcolm Wilson