While Team Mitsubishi Ralliart enjoyed a fourth day of success, its main rivals Subaru and Toyota ended the leg in disaster. Both Kenneth Eriksson (Subaru) and Yoshiro Fujimoto (Toyota) retired on the 12th stage, Eriksson with a crash and Fujimoto with reported mechanical problems. Providing Team Mitsubishi Ralliart and the Lancer Dealer Team can get one of their three Mitsubishi Lancers to the finish, Mitsubishi is almost certain of lifting the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship for Manufacturers award for 1996.
Mitsubishi didn't have an entirely smooth run on today's five stages totalling around 110 km in length. On the 12th stage at Nan Chiang Bridge, the scene of Toyota's and Subaru's demise, Richard Burns and Robert Reid lost the lead when they hit a tree in their Mitsubishi Lancer. They lost around two and a half minutes and drove slowly to the finish of the stage, allowing Mitsubishi team mate Vatanen to pass them en route. Fortunately, the damage was superficial, and they are continuing to attack, still in second place, as the event reaches its half way point.
Burns reported: "It was a second gear corner, and I just kept my foot down and we hit the tree. We drove slowly on, just checking the gauges, and Ari caught us four kilometres before the finish and we pulled over and let him past. We are now a minute and a half behind, but I think it's retrievable. Remember, last night I was one minute ahead!"
The new rally leader Vatanen said: "This is pure fun! The stages are fantastic! There are no team orders, so if Richard wants to try and catch me I will still have an answer! The car is working perfectly and my Michelin tyres are a good match for the Lancer, so everything is going well."
Japanese driver Kenjiro Shinozuka, co-driven by Australian Fred Gocentas in the Yokohama-shod Lancer Dealer Team Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution III, moved from fifth to third place with another consistent drive. Kenjiro commented: "We drove quickly and carefully today, which, as Eriksson and Fujimoto proved, was the right approach. I am quite happy with my position now."
Team Mitsubishi Ralliart Director Andrew Cowan said: "We came here to do a proper job with three good drivers and three years experience and it is working perfectly. Our opposition has not stood up to the pressure."
Overnight leader in Group N, the class for standard production vehicles, Japan's Yoshihiro Kataoka lost the lead today in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution III, giving way to Malaysian driver Karamjit Singh in the near-identical Proton Wira 4wd. The Japanese Mitsubishi driver lost time with front, left-hand suspension problems.
Kataoka reported: "The car is repaired now, and even in second place I can still win the Championship, but I would much rather win the rally, too."
The competitors in the last running of the Hong Kong - Beijing Rally enjoyed continued warm, sunny weather today with dust being an occasional problem. However, the weather is gradually becoming cooler as they head north, and by the time they reach Beijing they can expect much cooler temperatures and thick mist as cool air blasts down from Siberia - a complete contrast to the tropical heat and humidity of Hong Kong!
After the fourth leg's catalogue of casualties, the field has now been whittled down to just 32 cars as they arrive at the overnight halt in Wuhan. Tomorrow promises an equally tough day with five stages totalling 134 km in length in an overall route of a massive 888 km.before the end of the leg in Zhengzhou.
|1. A. VATANEN/"TILBER"||FIN/F||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||2.51.50|
|2. R. BURNS/R. REID||GB/GB||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||2.53.22|
|3. K. SHINOZUKA/F. GOCENTAS||J/AUS||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||3.03.32|
|4. J. SINGH/A. OH||MAL/MAL||PROTON WIRA||3.05.46(1st N）|
|5. Y. KATAOKA/S. HAYASHI||J/J||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||3.07.57|
|6.T. XIAN/X. SHAN||CN/CN||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||3.19.57|
|7.Y.N.Chan-C.K.Cheng||HK/HK||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||3.23.16|
|8.C. CHAN-P. TANG||HK/HK||TOYOTA GT FOUR||3.23.35|
|9. N. LU-J. DING||CN/CN||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||3.23.41|
|10.N. TAJIMA-S. VISUT||J/J||SUZUKI BALENO||3.23.50|