Finn Ari Vatanen and his French co-driver "Tilber" hold second, also in a Lancer, while Japanese crew Yoshihiro Kataoka and Satoshi Hayashi lead Group N in a standard version of the world-beating Mitsubishi Lancer. Driving the Lancer Dealer Team Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution III, Japan's Kenjiro Shinozuka and Australian Fred Gocentas slipped to fifth after the day's three stages.
Four stages totalling 72 km were planned for the third leg but the third was cancelled for safety reasons due to overcrowding by spectators. Hundreds of thousands of local people lined the route for today's leg, wilder estimates ranging up to two million, standing 10 or more deep to watch the action. After the early morning fog lifted, they enjoyed a day of fine, sunny weather which again created dust problems for some of the drivers. Temperatures were slightly lower today, however; as the rally heads north towards Beijing and starts moving out of the tropics, the weather will become fresher. Additionally, the early starts each day mean that the rally can be affected by morning fog.
Richard Burns admitted: "I clipped a rock on stage eight and bent the suspension slightly, but the car is fine now. I didn't lose too much time and I am happy to have increased my lead. With my one minute buffer, I should be able to reduce my speed now and not drive so hard. The stages were good today, very consistent, and I had good grip from my Michelin tyres."
Ari Vatanen reported: "I did not do the recce and the stages today were new, so I couldn't drive with full commitment. But considering my handicap, I am really quite pleased with my times. I did not lose much time so I am very happy and satisfied. Tomorrow will be better because I have done these stages before, so I don't think Kenneth Eriksson will have an advantage on me like he did today. I have no complaints at all about the car; everything is perfect. I'm very relaxed and our morale is high."
Shinozuka was overtaken by Fujimoto after the second stage of the day after the Japanese driver slowed with tyre wear problems. He reported: "We had no service between stages seven and eight, so I had to use the same tyres which were worn out half way through the eighth stage. But I am looking forward to the next two days, which are the hardest and toughest of the rally, and I hope to be able to catch Fujimoto again."
The battle for Group N, the class for standard production cars became even more fierce today as Kataoka and Singh fought not only for rally victory, but the Asia-Pacific Championship crown as well. Driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution III on Yokohama tyres, Kataoka saw his lead cut to just six seconds after a slow time on the last stage of the day.
Kataoka reported: "I had a rear differential problem after the car grounded on a rock and the differential developed an oil leak. For much of the stage I had front-wheel drive only. I am still in the lead and very happy, but I will have to attack again tomorrow to build up a big lead again."
Phil Short, the Team Mitsubishi Ralliart Manager, commented: "Once again we are happy to report that the three Group A cars only needed routine service again tonight. We had to change the geometry on Richard's car after he hit the rock, but otherwise the cars are running perfectly. This event is taking its toll on our mechanics, though; they have to work and travel for very long hours on this rally, but their spirits are good and they are working very well."
Tomorrow, October 22, will present the remaining 41 competitors with another early start at 05:00 before heading to five special stages totalling 110 km in an overall route of 502 km to complete the fourth leg to Wuhan.
|1. R. BURNS/R. REID||GB/GB||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||1.45.34|
|2. A. VATANEN/"TILBER"||FIN/F||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||1.46.34|
|3. K. ERIKSSON/S. PARMANDER||S/S||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||1.46.56|
|4. Y. FUJIMOTO/A. HERTZ||J/S||TOYOTA CELICA GT FOUR||1.51.10|
|5. K. SHINOZUKA/F. GOCENTAS||J/AUS||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||1.51.42|
|6. Y. KATAOKA/S. HAYASHI||J/J||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||1.54.53(1st N）|
|7. J. SINGH/A. OH||MAL/MAL||PROTON WIRA||1.54.59|
|8.N. TAJIMA/S. VISUT||J/J||SUZUKI BALENO||1.59.23|
|9.T. XIAN/X. SHAN||CN/CN||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||2.01.22|
|10Y. WONG/P. LOU||HK/HK||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||2.04.02|