With today's 517 km route and four stages totalling 59 km behind them, all that remains for the Mitsubishi trio is an early morning start tomorrow before the final 461 km drive to Beijing and the last two short stages at the Great Wall of China and the Ming Tombs.
Today's stages provided few problems for the Mitsubishis with Vatanen enjoying a completely trouble-free day in his Michelin-shod Lancer. Second placed Richard Burns from Britain, and his fellow countryman Robert Reid, had the propshaft on their Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution III replaced at the end of the day as a precaution, but they too enjoyed the spectacular views on the 29 km blast through the famous Grand Canyon stage.
apanese driver Kenjiro Shinozuka, co-driven by Australian Fred Gocentas, was delayed by a puncture on the final stage yesterday's, and today felt it was wise to change the rear differential on their Yokohama-shod Lancer Dealer team Lancer. Otherwise, they too were able to relax and enjoy the views as any real competition for the Lancers has long since crumbled.
"Tilber", Vatanen's amiable co-driver commented : "Now we have to rely on careful driving and good luck, otherwise there is nothing to worry about. Yes, there is always a risk that something might delay us - this is rallying! But we do not have to drive hard now."
Robert Reid, who co-drives for Burns agreed : "We have to keep our drivers calm, but the biggest risk is making sure we don't have problems on the road sections and that the paperwork and timing is kept in order."
Shinozuka, who has probably the widest experience of rallying in Asia added: "We have to be very steady and avoid mistakes now. If we can do that, we will have a fantastic victory."
Although heavy rain was encountered for the first time last night as the crews arrived at the overnight halt, today's welcome cooler temperatures presented only a few fog patches on the first stage an although the skies were overcast, the roads were dry. Once again, many hundreds of thousands of Chinese people lined the route to watch the colourful cavalcade as it wound its way north through the countryside.
A relaxed Phil Short, Team Mitsubishi Ralliart's Manager, commented: "The drivers have performed extremely well on this rally. Richard and Ari had a small battle for one day, and then agreed it was best to hold station for the finish which was very wise. Kenjiro has been reliable as ever, and as for the Lancers, well, once again they never missed a beat. I think we are all looking forward to what should be a superb welcome in Beijing."
Team Mitsubishi Ralliart only needs to get just one of its cars to the finish in Tian An Men Square tomorrow to retain the FIA Asia Pacific Manufacturers' title won by Mitsubishi on this event last year. To complete Mitsubishi's dominance in the Asia-Pacific region this year, Japanese driver Yoshihiro Kataoka, who currently lies second in the rally in his standard, Yokohama-tyred, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution III, will lift the Asia-Pacific crown from Group N providing he reaches the capital in his current position. "We were the fastest on the rally, but we had a few problems along the route. It would be nice to win the rally, but the championship is more important and second is enough, so I am happy."
The final challenge before the remaining 25 competitors in the last running of this epic rally is the early morning start tomorrow for the final leg at 03:00! From Shijiachuang, they will head for one of the seven wonders of the world, the Great Wall of China, for a short, five kilometre stage, and then on to the Ming Tombs for a last nine kilometre competitive section. Then they will head into Beijing for the finish in the heart of China, Tian An Men Square, at around 10:30 am local time.
|1. A. VATANEN/"TILBER"||FIN/F||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||4.53.48|
|2. R. BURNS/R. REID||GB/GB||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||4.54.41|
|3. K. SHINOZUKA/F. GOCENTAS||J/AUS||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||5.15.35|
|4. J. SINGH/A. OH||MAL/MAL||PROTON WIRA||5.17.07(1st Gr N)|
|5. Y. KATAOKA/S. HAYASHI||J/J||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||5.20.39|
|6.T. XIAN/X. SHAN||CN/CN||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||5.40.51|
|7.N. TAJIMA-S. VISUT||J/J||SUZUKI BALENO||5.44.27|
|8.C. CHAN-P. TANG||HK/HK||TOYOTA GT FOUR||5.44.42|
|9. T.NAKANO-H.ICHINO||J/J||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||5.45.35|
|10.P. TAM-K. LOOK||HK/HK||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||5.50.16|