With a dazzling display of skillful driving on the icy, snow-covered tracks of the Swedish Rally, Finnish pair Tommi Makinen and Seppo Harjanne took a step closer to their objective of winning the FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers by finishing leg one of the first round with a six second lead in their Team Mitsubishi Ralliart Lancer Evolution III.
With two days still remaining of Sweden's round of the world series, Makinen's task is far from completed but , after the first nine stages totalling 196 km, the ambitious young Finn was delighted to report that his Mitsubishi Lancer had coped perfectly with the slippery conditions, allowing him to exploit his unquestionable driving talent to the full, despite temperatures that dipped to minus 20 degrees Celsius in the evening.
A very relaxed Makinen arrived at the first overnight halt in Falun, around 615 km north of the rally's start venue in Karlstad, and declared: "I have been driving with plenty in reserve, and not taking any risks. The car has been perfect. I slowed down a bit on the last two stages because I wanted to be very cautious in the dark where it is so easy to make a mistake."
Makinen hardly put a wheel wrong as his Mitsubishi Lancer blasted across the snow and ice that characterise this event. He took the lead on the first stage, just outside Karlstad, capital of the Varmland region, and was headed just once before he went on to extend his lead later in day with a stunning record of four stage wins out of nine.
Team Mitsubishi Ralliart Director Andrew Cowan said: "Everything's gone according to plan today. Tommi has driven sensibly all day and he's totally in control and feeling very relaxed. The car has required nothing but routine servicing, and Tommi hasn't had a worry or concern all day."
It was a similar story of success in Group N, the class for standard cars, as Mitsubishi Lancers filled the top three positions, with local star and last year's Swedish winner Kenneth Backlund, co-driven by Tord Andersson, leading the pack into Falun in the Ralliart Sweden Lancer Evolution III. Rising German star Uwe Nittel, co-driven by Tina Thorner, held second place in his Ralliart Germany Lancer, with Swede Stig-Olov Walfridsson, partnered by Gunnar Barth, third, to make it a dominating Mitsubishi 1-2-3.
Said Backlund: "I had a spin on stage seven, but apart from that my first day on this event has been perfect. This car is superb, and suits these very difficult conditions perfectly."
Nittel added: "It is quite difficult for me to drive fast on this event, because it is so different to anything I've seen before. But I am trying my best and I am very happy with second."
The surviving cars out of 101 starters this morning will face a long and very tough day tomorrow with 13 stages totalling 186 km in a route of 619 km, including two stages on the frozen lake near Torsby. An early start time of 07:00 tomorrow will see the first competitor arrive at the second overnight halt back in Karlstad at around 21:36 tomorrow evening.
/S.HARJANNE (FIN/FIN) MITSUBISHI LANCER EV III 1.51.06
2. J.KANKKUNEN/N.GRIST (FIN/GB) TOYOTA CELICA GT FOUR +0.06
3. C.SAINZ/L.MOYA ( E/E) FORD ESCORT RS COSWORTH +0.14
4. A.VATANEN/F.PONS (FIN/I) FORD ESCORT RS COSWORTH +1.15
5. C.MCRAE/D.RINGER (GB/GB) SUBARU IMPREZA +1.35
6. K.ERIKSSON/S.PARMANDER (S/S) SUBARU IMPREZA +1.39
7. T.JANSSON/I.ALGERSTED (S/S) TOYOTA CELICA TURBO +1.53
8. M.GRONHOLM/T.RAUTIAINEN(FIN/FIN) TOYOTA CELICA TURBO 4WD +1.57
9. S.BLOMQVIST/B.OCCELLI (F/F) ESCORT RS COSWORTH +2.04
10 D.AURIOL/B.OCCELLI (F/F) SUBARU IMPREZA +2.32
15. K.BACKLUND/T.ANDERSSON (S/S) MITSUBISHI LANCER EV.III 1st N +6.40
17. U.NITTEL/T.THORNER (D/S) MITSUBISHI LANCER EV.III 2nd N +7.20
18. S.WALFRIDSON/G.BARTH (S/S) MITSUBISHI LANCER EV.III 3rd N +8.07