Finnish star Makinen holds joint second place, only a second behind leader Carlos Sainz's Ford, while Burns played himself in gently on the spectator stage before a large crowd at Langley Park in Perth, finishing two seconds further back.
Once the event turns to the notoriously demanding forests of Western Australia, Team Petronas Mitsubishi Ralliart is confident that the odds will swing in its favour. The team spent a week testing for the event and believes that it will have the optimum choice of Michelin rubber on a rally on which tyres - particularly the cut of the tread pattern - play a vital role. The new Z-type Michelin, in both soft and hard compounds, has proved best in all conditions.
"We're not taking anything for granted. We're taking Rally Australia very seriously indeed," promised Team Manager Phil Short. There are four championships at stake (the drivers' and manufacturers' titles in the World and Asia-Pacific contests), and thorough testing is vital to ensure that 1996 is the best season yet for Team Mitsubishi Ralliart.
Knowing that so much is at stake, World Championship leader Tommi Makinen said: "It's very important to win, but of course, I have to think about my personal World Championship too." If Carlos Sainz and Kenneth Eriksson fail to finish, sixth place will be enough to make the Finn World Champion and his rivals accept that it is almost impossible to catch him now.
Victory for Richard Burns would suit Team Petronas Mitsubishi Ralliart perfectly! The rising British star can still grab the Asia-Pacific crown, but needs a good result to overhaul the vastly experienced Eriksson.
"I think this is going to be the most difficult rally of the year for me. The roads are so fast and difficult to remember, and I've only been here once before. I'll be happy to be in the top four," he declared.
The Lancer Evolution III is widely regarded as the best Group N car, proving the worth of Mitsubishi's production technology. Team Mitsubishi Ralliart can draw on a host of talented Group N drivers and one of the best - Australia's Ed Ordynski - is the third official driver in Australia.
Ordynski's amazing record includes six Group N wins at home, including the last five in a row. It is no surprise that he does not mind stepping down from the Group A Lancer Evolution III in which he leads the Australian Championship to return to Group N.
"I think to win Group N here is the most important thing apart from winning outright. I've done more kilometres probably in a Group N Mitsubishi than any other driver in the world, so it's just like putting on a good set of old clothes," he commented.
All drivers face a daunting challenge. Traditionally, the Rally Australia is one of the most difficult rounds of the World Championship, because the roads are fast, narrow and slippery. Heavy rain has made it rough and muddy this year, and conditions were so bad in practice that Carlos Sainz got stuck for half an hour, as reservoirs were filled to bursting point. Changeable weather is forecast for the event.
Extensive media coverage, thanks in part to the spectacular Langley Park super special on the banks of the Swan River, have made Australia one of the most popular rounds of the World Championship. No fewer than eight manufacturers have entered teams, with a record total of 103 crews taking part.
The first leg continues on Saturday, with another 10 stages, totalling 182 kilometres, to the south of Perth.
|1.C. SAINZ/L. MOYA||E/E||FORD ESCORT RS COSWORTH||1.35|
|2.T. MAKINEN/S. HARJANNE||FIN/FIN||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||1.36|
|2. C. McRAE/D. RINGER||GB/GB||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||1.36|
|2. K. ERIKSSON/S. PARMANDER||S/S||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||1.36|
|2. P. LIATTI/F. PON||I/I||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||1.36|
|2. B. THIRY/S. PREVOT||B/B||FORD ESCORT RS COSWORTH||1.36|
|7. P. BOURNE/C. VINCENT||NZ/NZ||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||1.37|
|7. N. BATES/C. TAYLOR||AUS/AUS||TOYOTA CELICA GT FOUR||1.37|
|9. R. BURNS/R. REID||GB/GB||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||1.38|
|10.J. RECALDE/M. CHRISTIE||RA/RA||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||1.40(1st Group N)|
|10.D.WEST/T.BEST||AUS/AUS||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||1.40(1st Group N)|
|10.Y.FUJIMOTO/A.HERTZ||J/S||TOYOTA CELICA GT FOUR||1.40|