RALLY: Kankkunen shines as Ford stays third in Finland
23 August 1998Juha Kankkunen kept the Ford World Rally team firmly on course for a top three finish in the Rally Finland after an enthralling high-speed battle throughout todays second leg of this 10th round of the FIA World Rally Championship. The Finn, driving an Escort World Rally Car, preserved his overnight third position as the pace became fast and furious over some of the most classic special stages in the sport.
Kankkunen and co-driver Juha Repo were involved in a tremendous three-car battle for second position with old sparring partner Carlos Sainz and Marcus Grnholm, their Valvoline-backed Escort returning to the rallys Jyvskyl base tonight 16.1 seconds behind former team-mate Sainz. The rally is still led by Tommi Mkinen.
Every tenth of a second counted as the trio raced through the gravel stages, Kankkunen maintaining the pressure on his rivals by setting his second fastest time of the rally on the days fourth test. Grnholm was the days big loser, dropping more than three minutes after crashing off the road, leaving 39-year-old Kankkunen to prepare for yet another head-to-head battle with Sainz during tomorrows final leg.
Heavy rain in the morning made the stages as slippery as yesterdays rain-lashed first leg. But when the weather finally relented, the roads dried and gave more consistent grip to the Michelin-shod Escorts of Kankkunen and team-mates Ari Vatanen and Bruno Thiry.
"Again it was very hard in the wet this morning but once the rain stopped the stages dried quite quickly, faster than we expected," said Kankkunen. "In fact on stage 16, the longest of the rally, we had too many cuts on our Michelin tyres, expecting the stages to be wetter than they were. Weve driven flat out all day and had a great fight with Carlos and Marcus. We set fastest time on stage 13, although I must admit I know that stage pretty well. Its the road I use to visit my father-in-law!"
"Yet again its Carlos and I fighting on the final day. Lets hope this time I can finish in front but it looks like Tommi is too far ahead for us to catch him now. The stages tomorrow suit us. They are flatter and we know them well but so does Carlos so it will be another good battle," he added.
Fellow countryman Ari Vatanen continued to enjoy his third outing this season with the Ford World Rally team, the 46-year-old increasingly gaining confidence in his Infogrames-supported Escort on the wide, flowing stages. His only problem came when the team had to disconnect the cars front differential for the final two stages, leaving Vatanen and co-driver Fred Gallagher with rear-wheel drive only. That and a spin early in the penultimate stage cost them around 90 seconds and they ended the day in ninth.
"It was just like the old days in a rear-wheel drive Escort," said Vatanen. "The cockpit was full of arms whirling around! We had a few difficulties with the differential but that didnt get in the way of an exceptional day. Were lacking match practice but weve been getting progressively faster and more confident and well continue in that vein tomorrow."
It was another difficult day for Thiry and co-driver Stphane Prvot, the Belgians still struggling to come to terms with the pace in the second Valvoline-backed Escort. They maintained their overnight 11th position as the team made constant modifications to the car in an effort to improve Thirys confidence.
"Im still very short of confidence and Im losing time on every corner," said Thiry. "Its a shame because this is a superb rally. The Escort is fine and we tried altering a few things but I think I just need to find the switch in my head that will make me go faster. Tomorrow I will be driving to make sure of a finish and, given the reliability of the Escort, Im sure well be able to do that."
Ford World Rally team manager Malcolm Wilson set his sights on another strong performance from Kankkunen tomorrow. "Juha is still in a position to attack Carlos. After Aris trouble with the front differential we have changed that on Juhas car purely as a precaution but his Escort has run faultlessly today. I still want Juha to push hard as were not thinking about finishing third. We need a podium finish but I would prefer a higher finish than third."
Six more stages remain during tomorrows final leg before the finish in Jyvskyl at 16.10. The drivers restart at 07.00 for almost 100km of tests to the south of the city, the day ending with a loop of two stages which is repeated before the non-competitive drive back to the finish ceremony.