At the Zhengzhou overnight halt this evening, Wednesday, October 23, Finn Ari Vatanen and his French co-driver "Tilber" hold first place in their Lancer from Team Mitsubishi Ralliart team mates Richard Burns and Robert Reid of Britain. Japanese star Kenjiro Shinozuka and his Australian partner Fred Gocentas complete the Mitsubishi leading trio in their Lancer Dealer Team Lancer Evolution III.
Once again basking in warm sunshine the hundreds of thousands of mainly Chinese spectators were enthralled on today's five stages totalling 134 km as friendly rivalry developed between rally leader Vatanen and second placed Burns.
Last night, the Finn promised that he would have all the answers if Burns attacked and he was as good as his word, punishing the youngster's audacity with an amazing time on stage 18, 23 seconds faster than the British driver over 33 km. Nevertheless, by setting fastest times on three out of five stages, Burns closed the gap on the rally leader from 1m 32s last night to 1m 27s tonight.
Vatanen, confident of victory, said: "Richard was coming very fast at me and I had to respond. I really enjoyed the 18th stage. The car is fantastic and working very well with Michelin tyres, so I don't think Richard can catch me now."
Burns replied: "I tried hard to chase Ari today, but I don't think there are enough miles left in the rally to do it, so we may settle for our current positions. The Lancer has been extremely good all rally and we've had a superb choice of tyres from Michelin, so we can't complain."
Shinozuka, who had another steady, problem-free day in the Yokohama-shod Lancer Dealer Team car, reported: "We have had no problems, and I am just driving steadily to the finish."
Team Mitsubishi Ralliart Team manager Phil Short added: "Both Richard and Ari drove brilliantly today and after a fair fight, I think they will now settle down and drive carefully to the finish. Kenjiro is very satisfied and all three cars have required nothing more than routine servicing."
In Group N, the class for standard cars, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution III driver Yoshihiro Kataoka reported that his front suspension problems have been solved, but that he is now prepared to settle for second place to Proton's Karamjit Singh to clinch the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship title in the category. "I shall not be chasing Singh. I will just now drive to the finish in second place to win the championship, which is more important," said the Japanese driver who uses Yokohama tyres.
Another early start for the remaining 27 competitors in this, the final running of the Hong Kong - Beijing Rally will face yet another early start tomorrow at 05:00 from Zhengzhou before heading into some of the most spectacular countryside in China, including the famous Grand Canyon stage. They will attempt four stages totalling 59km before reaching the sixth overnight halt in Shijiachuang after a total of 576 km. The weather is now expected to change as the rally is now moving further north. Around lunchtime today the temperatures started to drop and heavy rain made an appearance as the convoy arrived at the overnight halt.
|1. A. VATANEN/"TILBER"||FIN/F||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||4.07.58|
|2. R. BURNS/R. REID||GB/GB||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||4.09.55|
|3. K. SHINOZUKA/F. GOCENTAS||J/AUS||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||4.25.55|
|4. J. SINGH/A. OH||MAL/MAL||PROTON WIRA||4.28.20(1st N）|
|5. Y. KATAOKA/S. HAYASHI||J/J||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||4.31.45|
|6.T. XIAN/X. SHAN||CN/CN||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||4.48.55|
|7.N. TAJIMA-S. VISUT||J/J||SUZUKI BALENO||4.50.44|
|8.C. CHAN-P. TANG||HK/HK||TOYOTA GT FOUR||4.51.08|
|9.Y.N.Chan-C.K.Cheng||HK/HK||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||4.54.50|
|10. T.Nakano-H.Ichino||J/J||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||4.54.53|