DirtFish is reliving the 1995 World Rally Championship season in real-time. And six weeks on from Rally New Zealand all are back in Oceania, this time for Rally Australia.
Colin McRae’s hat-trick New Zealand win got him right into the thick of championship contention. However his team-mate Carlos Sainz is now back in action following his mountain bike adventure. Plus it’s far from being only about the Subaru pair. Here’s what happened Down Under…
Colin McRae. It had to be. Didn’t it? The Scot doesn’t miss these opportunities. Joint leader with Mitsubishi’s Kenneth Eriksson, the accepted thinking in Perth was that the Subaru driver would finish the job and take a second consecutive world championship win down under following his Kiwi success at the end of July.
But the Swedish Lancer man’s inspired run through the second day had filled him with confidence. He was ready.
The same couldn’t be said for the opening day, when he’d struggled to get comfortable with the Mitsubishi and trailed early pacesetter Juha Kankkunen by close to half a minute after stages south of Perth around the towns of North Dandalup, Harvey and Collie.
On Friday, the Finn left everybody trailing in his dust in a demonstration of pace which went some way to explaining how he’d won four of the six Rally Australias run since the country’s WRC debut in 1989.
Fastest on six of the opening leg’s 13 stages, the Toyota star hit the front in Murray Pines and extended his advantage from there.
“Good day,” smiled Kankkunen from the right side of a 17-second lead from McRae. “There were no mistakes.”
McRae’s mood wasn’t quite so chipper.
“I can’t go any faster,” he said after a Friday night run around Langley Park. “Juha’s seems to be able to pull around three seconds per stage on us and there’s not much we can do.”
And there was no chance for McRae to relax with Tommi Mäkinen’s Lancer RS-E3 just six seconds behind and Eriksson’s sister machine a further six down in fourth.
Mitsubishi team principal Andrew Cowan knew he needed a result from this rally if his squad was going to close the gap on Toyota to remain in the makes’ race. A double retirement for Subaru looked to have ruled the Banbury-based team out.
‘Possum’ Bourne crashed on the third stage, while Carlos Sainz departed after a branch speared the flat four’s radiator ahead of him. This was, of course, the Spaniard’s first event back since a mountain bike accident ruled him out of Rally New Zealand. Sainz sported a significant scar on his right shoulder and insisted that, while tennis and squash were currently beyond him, his driving would be 95% there.
In the end, his day one departure meant he lost the lead of the championship for the first time since Rally Sweden in February.
“The branch was in the middle of the road,” said Sainz. “I couldn’t avoid it. It went straight into the radiator.”
Eriksson confirmed the two-time world champion’s story. He’d hit the same branch in Wellington Dam. But he’d missed his Lancer’s radiator by inches. The Swede smiled, happy to ride his luck.
Saturday morning was Eriksson’s moment. A month ago he’d romped away to a superb two-minute win over Mäkinen on the Rally of Malaysia. In doing so, he’d found a set-up with Öhlins which worked an absolute treat. He reached for those dampers and set about the Flynns and Beraking tests, which opened the weekend action, at some speed. Fastest on both, he was into the lead.
Out of the lead and feeling decidedly uncomfortable with the suspension aboard his Celica GT-Four was Kankkunen. He went off twice and struggled with dampers stiffening up beneath him. McRae saw his opportunity and pushed through the Bunnings stages, trading the lead and scratch times with Eriksson throughout day two.
On Saturday night, Eriksson said he was ready to take McRae on through the final day. Secretly, however, he was stressed that his softer suspension set-up offering better traction from the Lancer would be unavailable until a set of dampers could be refettled at lunchtime on the final day.
Such things usually played on Eriksson’s mind. Not this time.
Unusually for McRae, he admitted he was considering settling for second.
“I have to think about what’s best for the championship,” he said. And with Sainz and Didier Auriol both out of the picture (the Frenchman rolled his Toyota on day one), this was a golden opportunity for McRae to make some big season-long gains.
An overshoot in the final day’s first stage followed by a spin later in the morning effectively settled the matter. That and another fine day’s driving from Eriksson.
The Swede’s second win from three starts did his prospects of a full-time contract somewhere in 1996 no harm at all. And his result, allied to fourth place for Mäkinen (who dropped time when he broke the suspension on the final leg), fired Mitsubishi firmly back into the manufacturers’ race; Cowan’s Rugby-based team is just five points down on Toyota with two rounds remaining.
There was more good news for British fans with the news that McRae’s second place elevated him to second in the title race, just seven points behind Kankkunen who finished Australia on the bottom step of the Perth podium.
McRae’s second place is the best position ever held by a British driver in the world championship.
Going into the event, Ford’s François Delecour held an outside chance of playing himself into contention for this year’s crown. Dropping his Escort RS Cosworth into the trees in Bunnings West damaged the engine and forced him into retirement.
That no-score effectively ended the Frenchman’s 1995 challenge. His team-mate Bruno Thiry overcame transmission maladies to make an unspectacular sixth behind a similarly subdued fifth for Armin Schwarz’s Toyota.
With two rounds remaining, the fight at the front couldn’t be more engaging. From the ball bearing gravel of Western Australia, the crews are bound for Catalunya and the billiard table smooth asphalt north of Barcelona.
Telstra Australia Rally Australia (September 15-17) Round 6/8
1 Kenneth Eriksson/Staffan Parmander (Mitsubishi Lancer RS-E3) 4h53m59s
2 Colin McRae/Derek Ringer (Subaru Impreza 555) +19s
3 Juha Kankkunen/Nicky Grist (Toyota Celica GT-Four) +1m55s
4 Tommi Mäkinen/Seppo Harjanne (Mitsubishi Lancer RS-E3) +3m27s
5 Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha (Toyota Celica GT-Four) +4m11s
6 Bruno Thiry/Stéphane Prévot (Ford Escort RS Cosworth) +16m52s
7 Yoshi Fujimoto/Arne Hertz (Toyota Celica GT-Four) +22m37s
8 Ed Ordynski/Mark Stacey (Mitsubishi Lancer RS-E3 Gp N) +27m06s
9 Neal Bates/Coral Taylor (Toyota Celica GT-Four) +30m42s
10 Jorge Recalde/Martin Christie (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 2 Gp N) +31m54s
Friday September 15, Perth-Perth, 13 stages (128.41 miles)
Saturday September 16, Perth-Perth, 8 stages (111.22 miles)
Sunday September 17, Perth-Perth, 9 stages (73.47 miles)
François Delecour/Catherine François (Ford Escort RS Cosworth) accident SS18
Carlos Sainz/Luis Moya (Subaru Impreza 555) engine SS10
Didier Auriol/Denis Giraudet (Toyota Celica GT-Four) accident SS13
Peter ‘Possum’ Bourne/Tony Sircombe (Subaru Impreza 555) accident SS3
Drivers’ championship points
1 Kankkunen 62
2 McRae 55
3 Auriol 51
4 Sainz 50
5 Eriksson 48
6 Mäkinen 38
1 Toyota 260
2 Mitsubishi 255
3 Subaru 222
4 Ford 184
Next round: Catalunya Rally (October 23-25)