Nevertheless, Makinen managed to set quickest times on the last three stages of the first day to stem the charge of Toyota's Juha Kankkunen and make sure of second place. He received sterling support from team-mates Lasse Lampi and Jyrki Stenroos, who had moved into the top 10 on their first rally in a Lancer Evolution III.
Once Kankkunen had to run first, Makinen turned the tables to devastating effect. His Mitsubishi was fastest on ten out of 12 stages of the second leg to turn a 40-second deficit into a magnificent 12-second lead. Makinen was bubbling with confidence, convinced that the Lancer Evolution III's unmatched speed and reliability would help him clinch his fourth victory of the season. Superb times on the first two stages of the last leg proved decisive. Makinen exploited the longest and roughest stage of the rally to double his lead, making sure of Mitsubishi's third victory on the 1000 Lakes in spectacular style.
The hot weather meant that vast crowds witnessed the spectacle of the world's top drivers battling on one of the fastest event in the calendar. It posed unique strains on tyres, but Michelin rubber was quickest on every stage and played a major part in Team Mitsubishi Ralliart's success. Lampi drove with perfect consistency to make sure of eighth place, which means that the Lancer Evolution IIIs now lead the World Rally Championship for Manufacturers by six points.
Makinen's path to the world title is virtually unopposed. Whereas his Mitsubishi never missed a beat, main rival Carlos Sainz retired on the final stage when his Ford broke its gearbox and World Rally Champion Colin McRae crashed his Subaru on the first day of the rally. Minna Sillankorva and Michela Marangoni took the Ladies' Prize in their Lancer Evolution III. Mitsubishi enjoyed yet more success in the Group N production category, leading for most of the way and taking second, third and fourth places.
The four-day rally, based in Jyvaskyla, covered 1,385 kilometres over the testing roads of central Finland and included 29 stages that totaled 479 kilometres. Team Mitsubishi Ralliart's next appearance will be on the Telstra Rally Australia, a double-title event of both the World Rally Championship and Asia-Pacific Rally Championships and starts on September 13th. The ultra-successful Group A Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IIIs will be handled by Tommi Makinen and Richard Burns.
World Championship leader, Finn Tommi Makinen, is going for a personal 1000 Lakes hat trick and is the hot favourite to repeat his 1995 Mitsubishi success. Co-driven by fellow countryman Seppo Harjanne, he has already won three of this season's five World Championship rounds, often on rallies he knew far less well than his opponents.
"The 1000 Lakes will be no problem," he predicted after his victory on the Rally Argentina in July.
Team Mitsubishi Ralliart Team Manager Phil Short believes that the Lancer Evolution III is well suited to the uniquely demanding Finnish stages, famous throughout the rally world for their enormous jumps that can pitch cars into the air for metres at a time.
"A good suspension set up is vital, because of the jumpy nature of the roads and we do have that. We looked on last year's rally partly as a test for this year, because the route changed significantly, which allowed us to see the new stages that will also be used this time. Tommi learnt things from last year and we did too, so it was definitely worthwhile," he said.
"Of course we're optimistic, but we've got to guard against complacency," he added.
Makinen's success this season means that Team Mitsubishi Ralliart is having to balance the will to win against the need to make certain that it scores championship points.
"The championship is a major objective and from that point of view I'd rather have a good finish than take a big risk to secure a win, but of course, I'd like to win while the advantage rests with us," Short concluded.
Team Mitsubishi Ralliart will not rely solely on Makinen, for it is also providing team test driver Lasse Lampi with a Group A Lancer Evolution III as a reward for his tireless efforts in making the car into a winner. Lampi hasn't contested a rally since the 1993 1000 Lakes, but the Finnish veteran knows the terrain like the back of his hand.
"His test mileage in the car is very high. I've no problem about car familiarity," Phil Short stated. "He's got as good a car as we can give him and I reckon he can finish sixth or seventh, even though there is such a strong entry."
Team Mitsubishi Ralliart plans few changes to a winning formula, but there are minor suspension improvements following a test in Finland in early July. As usual, the team hopes to profit from its close relationship with Michelin.
Mitsubishi's traditional strength in the Group N production category means that there was a range of possibilities to choose from as Team Mitsubishi Ralliart's third officially nominated driver. It has selected Jouko Puhakka, one of Finland's most promising young drivers.
High average speeds often more than 110 km/h and huge jumps require centimetre perfect precision and photographic knowledge of the stages. In the old days of unlimited reconnaissance, Finnish drivers often practised much of the route alone, committing stages to memory.
Strict time and speed limits mean that such detailed practising is no longer possible, placing still higher demands on driving skill, bravery and previous experience.
This year's 1000 Lakes will be based in the central Finnish town of Jyvaskyla, as usual, but there are all kinds of minor alterations. The rally begins with a super special in the middle of the town itself on Friday evening, August 23rd, designed to attract spectators.
It will provide an overnight leader, but the meat of the rally is concentrated in the next two days. Saturday will take competitors in a long loop south west towards Tampere and includes some of the world's most testing stages, including the notorious 32 kilometres of Ouninpohja.
Sunday's leg will head south east towards Joutsa and Hartola, before the final, six stage decider packed into Monday morning. On past form, the result could be in doubt until the very last 23 kilometre stage.
Copyright 1996 by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation.
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