Although Makinen started the rally under considerable pressure, with his first world title at stake, he took the lead almost from the start and set the bulk of the fastest stage times in atrocious conditions that would have daunted a lesser man.
His fifth victory of the season not only gave him the world title with two events in hand, but also made him the first driver to win more than half the World Championship rallies in one year.
"It's an unbelievable feeling. I wasn't in a hurry on the last day, but still there was a lot of pressure. The car has been unbelievably good. It has been easier than I thought," said a delighted Makinen.
The Finn grabbed the lead early in the first leg of the 4-day, 1,560-kilometre rally, adapting swiftly to damp, muddy stages and levels of grip that varied constantly. Michelin Z80 tyres proved ideal throughout, in the worst conditions ever seen on the event. Torrential rain turned the stages of the second leg into a sea of mud and four cars stopped in a swollen river crossing on one of the Bunnings stages.
Makinen had built up a comfortable lead of more than half a minute after the first leg, but he continued to extend his lead the following day, adding more than 20 seconds to his advantage on one stage alone. His lead had grown to well over a minute after the second leg and his rivals acknowledged that he was uncatchable.
While Kenneth Eriksson and Carlos Sainz pushed their cars to the limit in a flat-out duel for second place,they had no answer to the flying Makinen, whose concentration never slacked on his way to a resounding victory for Team Petronas Mitsubsihi Ralliart.
Mitsubishi's British crew, Richard Burns/Robert Reid, backed up Makinen strongly with fifth in their Lancer Evolution III. Like Makinen's, their car ran faultlessly and they even led 1995 World Champion Colin McRae for a time in the early stages. They kept the pressure on McRae to the end, eating into his buffer during the last leg and finishing only 14 seconds behind.
"I'm thrilled. We've had a good run in really bad conditions and the car has been totally dependable," said a contented Burns, who had much less experience of the demanding stages of Western Australia than any of his rivals. The result confirmed his burgeoning confident in his car, in a run of strong finishes that have included victory in the rally New Zealand.
"Both cars have run like clockwork and the drivers have done everything we could have asked for in the worst conditions we've ever seen in Australia," said Team Petronas Mitsubishi Ralliart's Director, Andrew Cowan.
"Winning the World Championship for Tommi has been a team effort. I've never seen anybody as relaxed as Tommi and I think it's the whole package - the team and the car - that allows him to relax," Cowan added.
Mitsubishi's excellent result has ensured that it keeps the lead in the World Championship for Manufacturers and it is also challenging strongly for the prestigious Asia-Pacific series.
Once Again, the Lancers were the most popular choice of car on a World Championship Rally and Evolution IIIs brushed aside all opposition to take an impressive one-two in Group N. Australia's Ed Ordynski notched up an amaziing 7th Group N victory on home soil, beating the rapidly-improving Japanese, Yoshihiro Kataoka.
Team Mitsubishi Ralliart's busy season continues next month, when the team tackles the World Championship Sanremo Rally, which starts in Italy on October 13, and the final round of the Asia-Pacific Championship, the Hong Kong-Beijing Rally, which commences 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)|
Finland's Tommi Makinen can become the 1996 World Rally Champion if he wins and his only realistic rival, Carlos Sainz, is no higher than third. Sainz must finish to retain even the most slender chance of depriving Makinen of his first world title. If he retires and Kenneth Eriksson finishes no higher than third, Makinen can afford to finish fifth and still take the championship.
Makinen will not be thinking in terms of fifth place. Mitsubishi won in Australia last year and the Finn, guided by fellow-countryman Seppo Harjanne, has already won four of this year's six World Championship rallies in the all-conquering Lancer Evolution III, making him a clear favourite for the Perth-based rally.
A second Group A Lancer Evolution III will be driven by promising British crew Richard Burns and Robert Reid, fresh from a brilliant victory on the Smokefree Rally New Zealand. While they will play a vital role in Mitsubishi's bid for the World Championship for Manufacturers, they are aiming primarily to improve their position in the prestigious Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, of which the Rally Australia is the penultimate round. A good result would allow them to press home their title bid on the final round, the Hong Kong-Beijing Rally.
Team Manager Phil Short is confident that the Petronas-backed Lancer Evolution IIIs will do well.
"The biggest difficulty with Australia is the tyre cutting, because of the nature of the roads. You have to be very careful to open up the tyre enough to make use of the 'marbles' without losing stability. The other problem is the proximity of the scenery: the drivers have to be very precise.
"Tommi can certainly win the rally and I think Richard is capable of finishing in the top five. He's now done three rallies full-distance and that's starting to show in his confidence with the car. The Lancer worked very well last year."
Team Petronas Mitsubishi Ralliart will be well-prepared. Intensive tyre testing with Michelin at the beginning of August means that the Lancer Evolution IIIs will be perfectly attuned to the uniquely slippery surface of the forest roads of Western Australia. Dauntingly fast, they are one of the greatest challenges on the World Rally Championship calendar.
As usual, Mitsubishi's global strength will boost the team's chances. A third official Lancer Evolution III Group N will be driven by the Australian Ed Ordynski and Mark Stacey.
The four-day rally has a reputation as one of the best-organised and most popular rounds of the World Championship. It starts on September 13 with the first visit to the spectacular Langley Park super-special, a guaranteed crowd-pleaser on the banks of the Swan River. Competitors face three days of hectic action in the forests to the south and east before the finish on September 16. All told, they will cover 1,561 kilometres. There will be 27 special stages, comprising 485 of the total. It's a blend that should ideally suit the Lancer Evolution III's exceptional speed and reliability.
Copyright 1996 by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation.
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