Four-times FIA World Rally Champion Tommi Makinen and co-driver Risto Mannisenmaki won the 2001 Safari Rally today after a convincing performance in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. In doing so Tommi shares the accolade of being the world's most...
Four-times FIA World Rally Champion Tommi Makinen and co-driver Risto Mannisenmaki won the 2001 Safari Rally today after a convincing performance in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. In doing so Tommi shares the accolade of being the world's most successful rally driver - with 23 World Championship rally victories - alongside the semi-retired Juha Kankkunen, Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz. Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart team-mates Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets finished a fine fifth, fourth of the registered drivers, after a determined drive beset with problems.
Victory in Kenya, the second in his career, means Tommi moves ahead in the FIA World Rally Championship and takes a clear 10 point advantage over Britain's Colin McRae. His points, and those consistently amassed by Freddy, give Mitsubishi the lead in the Manufacturers' Championship in what is turning into a two-horse race with Ford.
Mitsubishi Motors drivers also swept to victory in the Group N production car class. Argentina's Gabriel Pozzo extended his Group N World Championship lead with a convincing win in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution over fellow countryman and Lancer Evolution driver Marcos Ligato. It was Mitsubishi's 23rd successive Group N World Championship rally win and remarkably, the first three in Group N, all in Mitsubishis, were all amongst the top 10 finishers on a rally in which just 15 crews went the distance.
Today's final leg took 17 of the original 41 contenders south of Nairobi to the same sections contested on Friday. Dramas started early for the leading crews however as the weather closed in and the spotter helicopters, most of which were based at Lake Naivasha overnight, were grounded. Anticipating the problem, the Mitsubishi pilots had landed elsewhere last night and were able to fulfil the airborne safety role that is so unique to this event. Some drivers were however left high and dry, running only with the organiser's safety helicopter that lacks the vital communication link from the air to the rally car. As a consequence of the delays, CS11 was cancelled to get the rally back on schedule. Norway's Petter Solberg was the day's most significant retiree, the Subaru driver forced out with wheel bearing failure in the opening section. With both the registered Fords and Subarus out, two of the three entered Peugeots and one of the Skodas, Mitsubishi is the only manufacturer to get its full complement of cars to the finish of what is undoubtedly the toughest, longest and most car-breaking rally.
Tommi Makinen has driven the model Safari Rally, the reliable Lancer Evolution barely missing a beat during the marathon 1,079.81 competitive kilometre event. Development work carried out in close collaboration with Michelin, specifically for this event, ensured that both the suspension and tyres worked in harmony, neither compromising the performance of the other, and Makinen's claim that he had never had such a perfectly balanced package was evident throughout. "Michelin's new tyre has a reinforced construction, the grip and feeling was good, and we've had no problems with tyre wear whatsoever, really fantastic", said Tommi. Fastest time in the opening section extended Makinen's lead and, with the exception of a broken wheel rim sustained after hitting a rock in CS12, the Finn has run without problem today.
"I didn't push too hard in the final stage because I didn't want to risk anything", said a delighted Tommi. "It is a great victory because it was a hard rally and it puts an end to all the problems I've had here in the past. We needed a good strong car and we had it!"
In contrast, team-mates Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets have determinedly driven around a host of problems that left them sixth and nearly two hours adrift of Makinen's winning time. However, in the final section, fifth-placed Bruno Thiry crashed his Skoda, elevating Freddy to fifth. The Belgians incurred penalties at the first service this morning when the team had to change the clutch on the Carisma GT, and they then lost time in the section with a lack of turbo boost. They then incurred a puncture in CS12 when they caught two cars and were forced off the road to pass them. But for the problems incurred over three days, Freddy would undoubtedly have been higher up the leaderboard after a very measured drive.
"It's a pity I have to come fifth because Bruno had an accident", said Freddy "We stopped in the section when we saw the accident, spoke to them and signalled for the helicopter to come down and give them some assistance. Even so, I am very happy to finish this rally for the first time, it was a very tough event and we had to work hard to get here".
Gabriel Pozzo has established himself as the man to beat in Group N this year and the emerging Argentine star was never seriously threatened, as he guided his ultra-reliable Lancer Evolution to an emphatic victory.
"Today has been not too big a problem, but you have to be really careful to look after the car. It is so much tougher than any other rally and I am really happy to have won Group N", Pozzo said.
Marcos Ligato put in a brilliant performance on his first attempt at a rally in Africa, keeping his cool in the toughest conditions to score one of his best results in his Lancer Evolution.
"I had never been here before, so you can imagine it was a really special experience. The car has been fantastic and I am so pleased with this result. This is an amazing rally", Ligato commented.
Local driver Azar Anwar was third in his Lancer Evolution after a strong performance, with Austrian veteran Rudi Stohl battling home to take fourth place in a Mitsubishi Carisma GT. Ex-Ralliart Finland driver Jari Latvala was fifth in the category, also in a Carisma.
The FIA World Rally Championship now heads back to Europe for Rally Finland (24-26 August), the ninth round of series. Makinen has already amassed five wins in his home event and, if the Finn can win again this year, he will claim the outright honour of being the most successful rally driver of all time, a doubly historic moment in his own country.