Huge crowds have been drawn by fine weather on Sunday to witness a thrilling battle between Finland's best drivers.
World Rally Championship leader Makinen and co-driver Seppo Harjanne were badly handicapped by having to run first on the road at the start of the rally, forcing them to sweep loose gravel and thus providing better grip for their opponents. They have shown just how great that handicap was by setting an unbroken string of fastest times during the second leg to build up a lead of 12 seconds with one day and 111 kilometres of stages to go.
Makinen's Lancer Evolution III has run faultlessly and he has benefitted from Michelin's expertise in conditions that were untypically warm and slippery for Finland in late August.
"I try to go as fast as possible. The championship is important, but I think we can keep our position," said Makinen, who is relishing a classic 1000 Lakes duel with four-times World Champion Juha Kankkunen.
Makinen's strong World Championship position has been improved still further by the retirement of World Champion Colin McRae, who crashed his Subaru, and mechanical problems that have kept Ford driver Carlos Sainz out of the top five places.
Team Mitsubishi Ralliart will take the lead in the World Championship for Manufacturers if it maintains current positions. Despite not having rallied since 1993, Mitsubishi test driver Lasse Lampi and fellow Finn Jyrki Stenroos have driven with admirable consistency to move up to ninth place in their Lancer Evolution III, on Lampi's 20th attempt at the 1000 Lakes.
"It's been an excellent day. Tommi has driven superbly and we have been able to demonstrate the performance of the Lancer Evolution III on a level playing field," said Team Manager Phil Short. "Lasse has done a superb job and the cars have run so well that we didn't have much work to do tonight."
As usual, Mitsubishi has dominated the Group N production car category. One of Finland's most promising young drivers, Juha Kangas (who is tipped for the top by none other than Markku Alen's former co-driver, Ilkka Kivimaki), is fighting to keep a narrow lead over fellow Mitsubishi runner Olli Harkki.
The final leg is the shortest of the three, but quite long enough to be decisive. 74 crews re-started for the second leg; the survivors will leave at 06.00 on Monday morning for another six stages to the west of Jyvaskyla, including the longest stage of the rally, Parkkola. The rally finishes at 13.00, when Makinen could become only the fourth driver to score a hat-trick of 1000 Lakes victories.
|1.T. Makinen-S. Harjanne||FIN/FIN||Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution III||3.08.01|
|2.J. Kankkunen-N. Grist||FIN/GB||Toyota Celica GT-Four||+ 0.12|
|3.M. Gronholm-T. Rautlainen||FIN/FIN||Toyota Celica GT-Four||+ 2.09||4.J. Kytolehto-A. Kapanen||FIN/FIN||Ford Escort RS Cosworth||+ 2.23|
|5.K. Eriksson-S. Parmander||S/S||Subaru Impreza 555||+ 2.39|
|6.C. Sainz-L.Moya||E/E||Ford Escort RS Cosworth||+ 3.03|
|7.T. Radstrom-L. Backman||S/S||Toyota Celica GT-Four||+ 3.06|
|8.S. Lindholm-T. Hantunen||FIN/FIN||Ford Escort RS Cosworth||+ 4.20||9.L. Lampi-J. Stenroos||FIN/FIN||Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution III||+ 9.12||10.R. Madeira-N.da Silva||P/P||TOYOTA CELICA GT FOUR||+ 12.35|