Makinen and co-driver Seppo Harjanne, the winners of three World Championship rallies already this year, have strong support from a second official Lancer Evolution III driven by another Finnish crew, Lasse Lampi/Jyrki Stenroos. Lampi is Team Mitsubishi Ralliart's test driver and knows the car as well as any of the team drivers. He is just as familiar with the 1000 Lakes terrain, since he is attempting the rally for the 20th time. Mitsubishi's dominance of the Gp N production class enables it to call on one of Finland's most talented new stars, Jouko Puhakka and co-driver Keijo Eerola. In total 23 Mitsubishis will start - more than any other make.
The 116 crews starting the rally face just over three days of furious competition. The famous Jyvaskyla-based event covers 1,452 kilometres, with 29 stages totalling 478 kilometres on the fast, treacherous forest roads of central Finland.
Conditions have been made more difficult than usual by exceptionally warm and dry weather, which is forecast to remain for the rally. Finnish roads are unusual in that they normally give more grip when slightly wet. The dry spell has allowed a layer of slippery gravel to form on the surface, which may handicap the first few cars.
Makinen reckons that he will have to use harder than usual Michelin tyres to cope with the warm weather, but hopes that dust may hang in the air, thus turning the unusual conditions to his his advantage.
Sixty cars share the lead after the first stage, Harju, which was halted after an accident involving a privateer, Karsten Richardt. A number of spectators were injured, two seriously.
The first leg re-starts on Saturday morning and heads south-west towards Tampere, concentrating on the wide, hard-based roads for which the rally is famous. The 10 remaining stages of the leg cover 192 kilometres.
|1.J. Kankkunen-N. Grist||FIN/GB||Toyota Celica GT-Four||1.39.18|
|2.T. Makinen-S. Harjanne||FIN/FIN||Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution III||+42|
|3.M. Gronholm-T. Rautlainen||FIN/FIN||Toyota Celica GT-Four||+ 1.19||4.J. Kytolehto-A. Kapanen||FIN/FIN||Ford Escort RS Cosworth||+ 1.36||5.T. Radstrom-L. Backman||S/S||Toyota Celica GT-Four||+ 1.48|
|6.K. Eriksson-S. Parmander||S/S||Subaru Impreza 555||+2.02|
|7.H. Rovanpera- J. Repo||FIN/FIN||Ford Escort RS Cosworth||+2.11|
|8.C. Sainz-L.Moya||E/E||Ford Escort RS Cosworth||+3.00||9.S. Lindholm-T. Hantunen||FIN/FIN||Ford Escort RS Cosworth||+3.48||10.L. Lampi-J. Stenroos||FIN/FIN||Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution III||+5.23|