Driving the Team Mitsubishi Ralliart Lancer Evolution III. Tommi Makinen and Seppo Harjanne strengthened their grip on the 2nd round of FIA World Rally championship with a convincing victory on the three-day, 3000km Safari Rally which finished in Nairobi, Kenya on April 7,1996,A second consecutive victory in the WRC. Makinen now lead the driver's championship by 17 points, while Mitsubishi leads the manufacturers' series by four points.
Despite the fact they had never competed together in Africa before, Makinen and Harjanne dominated the Safari Rally, regarded as the longest and toughest in the World series, over the final two legs, and were in close contension for the lead from the start.
Driving the Mitsubishi Lancer Dealer Team entry, Japanese driver Kenjiro Shinozuka, co-driven by Finn Pentti Kuukkala,finished a respectable 6th overall in theMitsubishi Lancer Evolution III.
It was one of the mostly closely fought competitive section on leg 1 with a driveshaft problem, makinen's Mitsubishi never missed a beat as he powered his way to the front, finishing the leg in second place to Eriksson, just 27 seconds behind.
Shinozuka ended the day in seventh place after difficulties with his intercom on the first competitive section.
Heavy rain and flooding caused chaos on the first day, with many sections shortend and the final competitive section cancelled, but the second leg presented a different callenge, with strong sunshine and temperatures over 30 degrees Celsius creating abrasive, dry road which tested Makinen's Michelin tyres to the full.
Makinen immediately struck out into the lead in his Lancer on the first of the five competitive sections covering a total of 725 km, and kept on increasing it until he dropped back behind Eriksson on the fourth after two consecutive punctures, But with a dramatic dash to the finish on the final section, Makinen regained the lead and finished the second day in the lead, with a 2m 15s advantage over Eriksson.
Shinozuka was not as fortunate in the Mitsubishi Lancer Dealer Team car. He left the roed on the second section after a pace note error, and damaged his suspention and two tyres. Repairs were effected on the stage, and he finished the leg at Nairobi holding sixth place.
The heavy rain and flooding returned on the final 959 km causing the first two competitive sections to be cancelled, leadving just three high-speed sections in the afternoon, including the longest of the rally at 214 km over the Mau Escarpment, It was here that the event would be won or lost.
Makinen was fasted over the first,and then with another impressive display of skill and strength, Makinen stormed ahead on the long section,beating Eriksson by over six and a half minutes. The Subaru driver had no reply, and Makinen compleated the last 88 km with ease to win the event by 14m 16s.
A delighted Makinen said of his victory on his first visit to this unque and challenging event: "I am very, very happy. I knew before the start what i had to do, and everything worked perfectly. The car was so reliable and the team worked so well toghther. I had good imformation about the raed conditions and everything combined so well, Our win in Sweden and this make a perfect atart to the season."
His co-driver, Seppo Harjanne reported: It was hard work - such a long rally - but we were never under bad pressure because everything worked so well."
Shinozuka arrived back at Nairobi in sixth position which, combined with Makinen's victory, was enough to help Mitsubishi keep the championship lead. " It was a very tough event, but we are pleased to get to the finish with a good result. I am very happy for our team and for Tommi and Seppo with a great result," commented Shinozuka.
Team Mitsubishi Ralliart Team Director Andrew Cowan added: " This is the one we wanted to win. When you consider our inexperience here and that of Tommi, you can see how good planning, careful management and good team work with the engineers, machanics and Michelin can bring success, Tommi was brilliant. When we talked to him before the event he responded like never before and did everything he promised, As for the team, we never lost a single minute in roadpenalties in service. And we had a superb of information from Richard Burns, IIkka Kivimaki and Lasse Lampi who Tommi trusts so much. It was a great team effort,"
After their 2nd trimphart victory, the team is ready to take on the 3rd round of the series, the Rally of Indonesia also the second round of the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship on May 9-12, Two Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution III will be driven by Tommi Makinen, and Richard Burns.
Copyright 1996 by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation.
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