After a frantic battle through China with Subaru and then his team mates Finn Ari Vatanen was the eventual victor, fittingly becoming the only driver to win the event twice, and this time on the last ever running of the epic event.
Co-driven by his French partner "Tilber" Ari powered his Michelin-equipped Team Mitsubishi Ralliart Lancer Evolution III over the final two stages by the Great Wall of China and the Ming Tombs to finish the final 14 km of competitive driving with a winning margin of 51 seconds over his Mitsubishi team mates Richard Burns and Robert Reid from Great Britain. Third was Japanese star Kenjiro Shinozuka and his Australian co-driver Fred Gocentas in their Yokohama-shod Lancer Dealer Team Lancer Evolution III, completing Mitsubishi's total dominance of the event.
The result means that Mitsubishi now retains the FIA Asia Pacific Manufacturers' title which the Japanese car manufacturer won on this same event last year.
An ecstatic Vatanen declared: "I can't put into words what this means to me personally. And for the team, for Mitsubishi, this is a great result and I am very happy to have contributed. This is no ordinary rally - very special, and this being the last of its type makes it a very important moment for me."
Richard Burns, while slightly disappointed not to have won, added: "We all had to drive hard from the word go and keep the pressure on Subaru, and it worked. I am happy to be second, and delighted that we have once again won the Manufacturer's Championship."
Kenjiro Shinozuka had yet another trouble-free day and was equally delighted to have completed the winning Mitsubishi trio on one of his favourite events. "I knew it was important to drive carefully on such a long event and our strategy was good. I am very happy with this result for Mitsubishi," said the Japanese star.
Team Mitsubishi Ralliart Manager Phil Short commented: "It's a dream result. Our plan was to put the opposition under pressure from the start and it paid off. The cars have been perfect, requiring only routine maintenance, and our tyre choice with the Michelin Z80s and Z90s was perfect for the conditions. We couldn't have asked for a better rally."
Mitsubishi also enjoyed success in Group N, the class for standard production cars with Japanese driver Yoshihiro Kataoka finishing second in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution III, this result being enough for him to lift the FIA Asia-Pacific Group N title. He said: "It would have been nice to win the rally, but it means much more to me to win the championship so I am very happy."
With 134 points to Subaru's 128, Mitsubishi is now the Asia-Pacific Champion Manufacturer for the second year running. With the season now over in the region, Team Mitsubishi Ralliart has one remaining goal this year, to perform well on the Catalunya Rally, the next and final event in the World Rally Championship calendar which starts on November 3, 1996.
|1. A. VATANEN/"TILBER"||FIN/F||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||5.01.27|
|2. R. BURNS/R. REID||GB/GB||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||5.02.10|
|3. K. SHINOZUKA/F. GOCENTAS||J/AUS||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||5.23.55|
|4. J. SINGH/A. OH||MAL/MAL||PROTON WIRA||5.25.26(1st Gr N)|
|5. Y. KATAOKA/S. HAYASHI||J/J||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||5.29.13|
|6.T. XIAN/X. SHAN||CN/CN||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||5.49.58|
|7.N. TAJIMA-S. VISUT||J/J||SUZUKI BALENO||5.53.02|
|8.C. CHAN-P. TANG||HK/HK||TOYOTA GT FOUR||5.53.45|
|9. T.NAKANO-H.ICHINO||J/J||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||5.54.38|
|10.P. TAM-K. LOOK||HK/HK||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||5.59.49|