Despite fresh falls of snow in the Varmland and Dalarna regions of Sweden, north of Karlstad, Tommi Makinen and Seppo Harjanne have managed to maintain their lead in the Swedish Rally in their Team Mitsubishi Ralliart Lancer Evolution III.
At the end of the second day, the Finnish pair arrived at the overnight halt in Karlstad with a 15 second lead over Ford's Carlos Sainz, who in turn was 36 seconds in front of Toyota's Juha Kankkunen.
The determined Makinen faced a difficult task today; the heavy snow falls put the leading car at a disadvantage as the Mitsubishi acted as a snowplough for the rest of the field.
Said Makinen: "It was very difficult to stay in front. The snow was over 10 cm deep in places, and I had to be very careful. The cars behind me had a much easier time because they could follow my tracks. I am pleased I'm still leading, but tomorrow will also be very difficult."
Once again, the Mitsubishi Lancer ran without fault throughout the 13 stages totalling 186 km in length in a route of 620 km. In his efforts to stay ahead of his rivals, Makinen drove with spectacular skill, thrilling thousands of spectators who thronged the town of Torsby to watch two stages held on the nearby frozen lake.
Despite the punishment handed out by the harsh conditions, Makinen's Lancer required only routine servicing and a scheduled transmission change at the final service halt at Karlstad tonight.
Team Mitsubishi Ralliart Director Andrew Cowan praised his leading driver, commenting: "It's not been easy for Tommi because of the added pressure of being first on the road in this snow. But he has hung in there and did enough to avoid losing too much time. He did all that was asked of him and performed a great job. Our Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution III has been perfect, and it clearly is the best car for these difficult conditions."
Group N, the class for standard cars, has again been dominated by Mitsubishi, last year's winner Kenneth Backlund stretching his lead over fellow Swede Stig-Olov Walfridsson who snatched second place today from German Uwe Nittel who finished the leg in third place. All are driving Mitsubishi Lancers.
Backlund reported: "Everything has run very smoothly today. I am driving carefully and not taking any risks, but Walfridsson is attacking so I must watch out for him."
Only five stages remain tomorrow, covering 114 km in an overall route distance of 442 km, before the Swedish Rally finishes back in Karlstad at around 13:00. Out of the original 95 starters, 73 left Falun this morning, but many more retirements are expected tomorrow with more snow and extreme temperatures predicted for the stages north of Karlstad. The remaining competitors are expected to restart from Karlstad tomorrow at 06:00.
/S.HARJANNE (FIN/FIN) MITSUBISHI LANCER EV.III 3.34.42
2. C.SAINZ/L.MOYA (E/E) FORD ESCORT RS COSWORTH +0.15
3. J.KANKKUNEN/N.GRIST (FIN/GB) TOYOTA CELICA GT FOUR +0.36
4. C.MCRAE/D.RINGER (GB/GB) SUBARU IMPREZA +1.16
5. A.VATANEN/F.PONS (FIN/I) FORD ESCORT RS COSWORTH +2.02
6. K.ERIKSSON/S.PARMANDER (S/S) SUBARU IMPREZA +2.08
7. T.RADSTROM/L.BACKMAN (S/S) TOYOTA CELICA GT FOUR +2.54
8. M.GRONHOLM/T.RAUTIAINEN (FIN/FIN) TOYOTA CELICA TURBO 4 WD +3.37
9. S.BLOMQVIST/B.MELANDER (S/S) FORD ESCORT RS COSWORTH +5.10
10 T.JANSSON/I.ALGERSTEDT (S/S) TOYOTA CELICA GT FOUR +5.33
15.K.BACKLUND/T.ANDERSSON (S/S) MITSUBISHI LANCER EV.III 1st N +11.45
16.S.WALFRIDSSON/G.BARTH (S/S) MITSUBISHI LANCER EV.III 2nd N +13.18
17.U.NITTELT.THORNER (D/S) MITSUBISHI LANCER EV.III 3rd N +13.56