32-year-old Makinen, co-driven by fellow countryman Seppo Harjanne, was in a class of his own on the 1,560-kilometre event, mastering the worst conditions ever seen on the Perth-based rally. Despite heavy rain that made the 23-stage rally treacherously slippery, Makinen was so far ahead of his rivals that he was able to cruise through the 8 stages of the final leg to score his fifth victory of the season.
In the process, Makinen set another record: he is the first driver ever to win more than half the World Championship rallies in a season - a fitting testimony to the unmatched effectiveness of the Lancer Evolution III and Mitsubishi's close co-operation with Michelin. Makinen used the same type of tyre - Michelin's new Z80 - throughout the rally, setting 11 fastest times.
"It's an unbelievable feeling. Of course there was a lot of pressure today. I wasn't in a hurry, but still it was a lot of pressure. It's an unbelievable car - it has been perfect all through the rally," Makinen said.
British team-mates Richard Burns and Robert Reid backed up Makinen with a fine fifth place, which has allowed Team Petronas Mitsubishi Ralliart to maintain its lead in the World Championship for Manufacturers and consolidated its position in the prestigious Asia-Pacific Rally Championship.
Burns drove superbly in exceptionally demanding conditions, despite having much less experience of the rally than the drivers ahead of him. The last day was less slippery than the first two, but frequent showers meant that conditions changed constantly.
"I'm happy. The car has been great and we nearly beat Colin McRae, which can't be bad," said Burns.
"Tommi has been completely in control and completely relaxed. It's remarkable, even to me, how easy he makes it. In 20 years, I've never seen a driver like him. His attitude and style this year have been an inspiration to everybody," said Team Petronas Mitsubishi Ralliart Director, Andrew Cowan.
"This has been a team effort, by everybody involved at Ralliart. Our Lancer Evolution IIIs have been wonderfully reliable," he added.
Germany's rising star, Uwe Nittel, scored yet another Group N triumph with Swedish co-driver Tina Thorner. The Ralliart Germany crew won a tense duel with Uruguay's Gustavo Trelles, the two swapping seconds and places until the South American Mitsubishi driver unluckily left the road on the very last stage.
"It was really hard. It was a really big fight with Gustavo. He is a good driver in muddy conditions, but the last stage was almost dry and we went maximum - we were 40 seconds faster tha in the morning. I am very happy to win such a difficult event," said Nittel.
Ralliart Germany's boss Ingolf Raiss was delighted with Nittel's performance. I was sure he knew what he was doing. He is a great driver. This is the next champion for sure," he predicted. Nittel needs only one point from the last two rallies to make sure of the World Cup for Group N.
Mitsubishis were the most popular choice of car once again, picked by 32 of the 103 starters, and it was no surprise that Lancer Evolution IIIs were also second and third in Group. Australia's Group N ace, Ed Ordynski, was a fine second, little more than a minute in front of Japan's Yoshihiro Kataoka.
Mitsubishi faces a busy end to the season. In October, it will contest both the World Championship Sanremo Rally, which starts on October 13, and the Hong Kong-Beijing Rally, the final round of the Asia-Pacific Championship, which begins on October 19.
|FIN/FIN||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||4.08.50||2. K. ERIKSSON/S. PARMANDER||S/S||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||+1.17|
|3.C. SAINZ/L. MOYA||E/E||FORD ESCORT RS COSWORTH||+1.21|
|4. C. McRAE/D. RINGER||GB/GB||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||+3.11|
|5. R. BURNS/R. REID||GB/GB||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||+3.25|
|6. B. THIRY/S. PREVOT||B/B||FORD ESCORT RS COSWORTH||+11.31|
|7. P. LIATTI/F. PON||I/I||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||+12.06|
|8. P. BOURNE/C. VINCENT||NZ/NZ||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||+12.41|
|9.Y.FUJIMOTO/A.HERTZ||J/S||TOYOTA CELICA GT FOUR||+22.84|
|10E. ORDYNSKI/M.STACEY||U/RA||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||+19.36(1st Group N)|
|11.Y.KATAOKA/S.HAYASHI||J/J||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||+20.31(2nd Group N)|