Kankkunen shines as Ford stays third in Finland Juha Kankkunen kept the Ford World Rally team firmly on course for a top three finish in the Rally Finland after an enthralling high-speed battle throughout today's second leg of this 10th round of...
Kankkunen shines as Ford stays third in Finland
Juha Kankkunen kept the Ford World Rally team firmly on course for a top three finish in the Rally Finland after an enthralling high-speed battle throughout today's second leg of this 10th round of the FIA World Rally Championship. The Finn, driving an Escort World Rally Car, preserved his overnight third position as the pace became fast and furious over some of the most classic special stages in the sport.
Kankkunen and co-driver Juha Repo were involved in a tremendous three-car battle for second position with old sparring partner Carlos Sainz and Marcus Grönholm, their Valvoline-backed Escort returning to the rally's Jyvaskyla base tonight 16.1 seconds behind former team-mate Sainz. The rally is still led by Tommi Makinen.
Every tenth of a second counted as the trio raced through the gravel stages, Kankkunen maintaining the pressure on his rivals by setting his second fastest time of the rally on the day's fourth test. Grönholm was the day's big loser, dropping more than three minutes after crashing off the road, leaving 39-year-old Kankkunen to prepare for yet another head-to-head battle with Sainz during tomorrow's final leg.
Heavy rain in the morning made the stages as slippery as yesterday's rain-lashed first leg. But when the weather finally relented, the roads dried and gave more consistent grip to the Michelin-shod Escorts of Kankkunen and team-mates Ari Vatanen and Bruno Thiry.
"Again it was very hard in the wet this morning but once the rain stopped the stages dried quite quickly, faster than we expected," said Kankkunen. "In fact on stage 16, the longest of the rally, we had too many cuts on our Michelin tyres, expecting the stages to be wetter than they were. We've driven flat out all day and had a great fight with Carlos and Marcus. We set fastest time on stage 13, although I must admit I know that stage pretty well. It's the road I use to visit my father-in-law!"
"Yet again it's Carlos and I fighting on the final day. Let's hope this time I can finish in front but it looks like Tommi is too far ahead for us to catch him now. The stages tomorrow suit us. They are flatter and we know them well but so does Carlos so it will be another good battle," he added.
Fellow countryman Ari Vatanen continued to enjoy his third outing this season with the Ford World Rally team, the 46-year-old increasingly gaining confidence in his Infogrames-supported Escort on the wide, flowing stages. His only problem came when the team had to disconnect the car's front differential for the final two stages, leaving Vatanen and co-driver Fred Gallagher with rear-wheel drive only. That and a spin early in the penultimate stage cost them around 90 seconds and they ended the day in ninth.
"It was just like the old days in a rear-wheel drive Escort," said Vatanen.
"The cockpit was full of arms whirling around! We had a few difficulties with the differential but that didn't get in the way of an exceptional day.
We're lacking match practice but we've been getting progressively faster and more confident and we'll continue in that vein tomorrow."
It was another difficult day for Thiry and co-driver Stephane Prevot, the Belgians still struggling to come to terms with the pace in the second Valvoline-backed Escort. They maintained their overnight 11th position as the team made constant modifications to the car in an effort to improve Thiry's confidence.
"I'm still very short of confidence and I'm losing time on every corner," said Thiry. "It's a shame because this is a superb rally. The Escort is fine and we tried altering a few things but I think I just need to find the switch in my head that will make me go faster. Tomorrow I will be driving to make sure of a finish and, given the reliability of the Escort, I'm sure we'll be able to do that."
Ford World Rally team manager Malcolm Wilson set his sights on another strong performance from Kankkunen tomorrow. "Juha is still in a position to attack Carlos. After Ari's trouble with the front differential we have changed that on Juha's car purely as a precaution but his Escort has run faultlessly today. I still want Juha to push hard as we're not thinking about finishing third. We need a podium finish but I would prefer a higher finish than third."
Six more stages remain during tomorrow's final leg before the finish in Jyvaskyla at 16.10. The drivers restart at 07.00 for almost 100km of tests to the south of the city, the day ending with a loop of two stages which is repeated before the non-competitive drive back to the finish ceremony.
Leaderboard after Leg 2
1. T Makinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 2hr 26min 36.3sec 2. C Sainz/L Moya E Toyota Corolla 2hr 27min 10.7sec 3. J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Ford Escort 2hr 27min 26.8sec 4. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Toyota Corolla 2hr 28min 35.5sec 5. R Burns/R Reid GB Mitsubishi Carisma 2hr 29min 13.6sec 6. T Radström/G Barth S Toyota Coroll 2hr 29min 21.1sec 7. M Grönholm/T Rautiainn FIN Toyota Coroll 2hr 31min 07.3sec 8. J Kytölehto/A Kapane FIN Subaru Imprez 2hr 33min 09.4sec 9. A Vatanen/F Gallagher FIN Ford Escort 2hr 33min 58.5sec 10 P Hagström/T Gardemeister FIN Toyota Celic 2hr 35min 31.5sec 11 B Thiry/S Prevot B Ford Escort 2hr 38min 03.4sec