Deluge fails to dampen Ford's fighting Finns Amid monsoon like conditions, Ford's Juha Kankkunen consolidated his overnight fifth position during today's second leg of the Rally New Zealand. As torrential rain caused havoc in the surrounding ...
Deluge fails to dampen Ford's fighting Finns
Amid monsoon like conditions, Ford's Juha Kankkunen consolidated his overnight fifth position during today's second leg of the Rally New Zealand. As torrential rain caused havoc in the surrounding countryside north of Auckland, the Finn displayed masterly control of his Escort World Rally Car to remain firmly on course for a points-scoring finish in this ninth round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
The weather created severe problems for the rally organisers too. Two of the day's 10 gravel special stages were cancelled this morning after a landslide blocked the route and three more tests came close to being scrapped. Landslips and floods also closed public roads as large areas of the rolling green countryside were under water, the weather showing no signs of easing during the 14 hour leg.
Although the gravel roads on the stages drained well to leave very little standing water, patches of mud made some sections treacherously slippery and drivers needed all their concentration to avoid any errors. Remarkably retirements were few.
Four-time world champion Kankkunen and co-driver Juha Repo restarted this morning in fifth after yesterday's short opening leg. They maintained their standing with a consistent pace at the wheel of the Valvoline-backed four-wheel drive Escort, which once again displayed exemplary reliability.
"It was surprising how little standing water and mud there was on the stages considering the amount of rain that fell," explained the 39-year-old Finn. "It rained, it rained again and then when it stopped, it rained once again! But there were several muddy patches ready to catch you out. Conditions often changed rapidly after our gravel crew drove the stages to check our pace notes and we always had to be ready to expect the unexpected.
"As fifth car through the stages, there was a lot of gravel and dirt dragged onto the road by the cars ahead of us cutting the corners and that added to our difficulties. It's not been an easy day and although we tried a few minor modifications to the car's set-up, we had gone back to our original settings by the end of leg," he added.
Tomorrow's final leg is the longest of the rally and the leaderboard could well change dramatically during the early morning when the near 48km Te Koraha test, the longest of the event, is used twice.
"The most important leg of the rally is still to come," said Ford World Rally team director Malcolm Wilson. "That long stage will play a prominent part in the overall results and after another troublefree day mechanically, the Escort is in perfect shape for the final leg. We're obviously suffering due to Bruno Thiry's retirement yesterday because Juha has no second car to give him support, but he's at his best during long, tough days, which is what we expect tomorrow."
The drivers leave Auckland at 05.00 tomorrow for another 14-hour day. They face another seven stages totalling 182.38km before returning to the city for the finish ceremony at 19.00.
Leaderboard after Leg 2 1 D Auriol/D Giraudet F Toyota Corolla 1hr 43min 23.6sec 2 C Sainz/L Moya E Toyota Corolla 1hr 43min 54.0sec 3 R Burns/R Reid GB Mitsubishi Carisma 1hr 44min 08.5sec 4 C McRae/N Grist GB Subaru Impreza 1hr 44min 18.0sec 5 J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Ford Escort 1hr 44min 57.4sec 6 T Makinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 1hr 44min 58.7sec 7 P Liatti/F Pons I Subaru Impreza 1hr 46min 55.8sec 8 T Radstrom/G Barth S Toyota Corolla 1hr 47min 05.3sec 9 Y Fujimoto/T Sircombe J Toyota Corolla 1hr 52min 01.8sec 10 Y Kataoka/S Hayashi J Mitsubishi Lancer 1hr 52min 47.4sec