Mitsubishi’s hopes of landing a maiden World Rally Championship are on track tonight, with Tommi Mäkinen and Kenneth Eriksson running one-two at the end of the opening leg of the 1995 Network Q RAC Rally.
Any attempt to further that point with the Rugby-based Ralliart team management brought a wry smile from Andrew Cowan. The Scot’s canny enough to know just 28 of the 317 competitive miles are complete. And there’s another Scot who will spend the next three days looking to re-order the top of that table.
Sunday was all about a tour of the English midlands, taking crews out of a Chester start, across the M56 to Tatton Park, further east to Chatsworth and Clumber before a run up and down the M6 to include a couple of laps of Donington. Rother Valley on the outskirts of Sheffield and a stage in Leeds completed the day.
Arriving in service at a dark Elland Road tonight, it’s fair to say the atmosphere fell slightly short of 24 hours earlier, when a Tony Yeboah winner landed Leeds all points against Chelsea on the other side of the fence.
But the atmosphere in the city center where Britain’s round of the world championship prepared for its first ever overnight halt, the crowds were huge.
And there for one man: McRae. Colin. But recently crowned British Rally Championship Alister got a decent cheer as well.
Mäkinen was, however, the man to beat from Donington until the end of the day. The Pepsi Max-backed driver was quickest on both runs at the Leicestershire circuit, adding more time to his lead on stages six and seven.
“Good day,” said the leader. “But let’s see tomorrow. We’ll see. If there is snow and ice around, then we have to go very carefully.”
Going carefully wasn’t really an option. Eriksson was just 11s down on his team-mate with McRae a further second down in third.
There was too much water in the splash. The radiator broke and we lost all the waterCarlos Sainz on his day one troubles
Last year’s RAC winner McRae enjoyed an uneventful day. A two-wheel moment at Donington was about as lively as it got. And, while he hadn’t been quick enough to win either Donington test, he was quickest through one section where BBC’s Top Gear was offering a prize for speed and commitment.
Picking up his silverware in Leeds tonight, McRae smiled: “I hope I’m carrying a bigger bit of silverware in a few days…”
Looking at the trophy, the Subaru star added: “Tony Mason (Top Gear presenter and former RAC-winning co-driver) told me it would be a big bag of cash. You know what Tony’s like…”
McRae’s cheerful demeanor contrasted with starkly with the dark mood that sat over his team-mates earlier in the day.
The Scot’s primary title challenger Carlos Sainz had broken his radiator in the watersplash at Chatsworth. The two-time world champion explained the situation as Subaru fitted a new radiator to his Impreza 555.
“It was the same like last year,” he said, recalling precisely the same issue in the same location 12 months ago. “There was too much water in the splash. The radiator broke and we lost all the water.”
The Prodrive team had a replacement cooling system in place in no time and Sainz was able to set about chasing the eight seconds lost in SS2. He was fourth, 14s behind McRae.
The third Subaru of Richard Burns hit problems on stage earlier, when he clipped a log in Tatton Park.
“We got one of those stupid logs on the inside of the corner,” said Burns. “Basically, it bent the column and the UV joint came off on the road section afterwards. We’re lucky to be here. We drove very slowly through Chatsworth in case it happened again.”
Burns incurred 30 seconds of penalties getting the car fixed and ended the day ninth.
I’m trying to laugh and stay positive,” he said, “But this is a catastrophe for Ford.François Delecour had a difficult day for Ford
The RAS Sport Ford squad suffered the biggest loss on Sunday, with François Delecour retiring with broken transmission in Clumber Park.
The Frenchman struggled to find the words to describe this latest blow.
“I’m trying to laugh and stay positive,” he said, “But this is a catastrophe for Ford.”
It was hard to argue.
The good news for the Blue Oval came in the shape of Bruno Thiry, Malcolm Wilson, Alister McRae and Gregoire de Mevius packing out the places from fifth to eighth. Four Escort RS Cosworths in the top eight didn’t sound quite so bad.
Italian privateer Andrea Navarra rounded out the top 10 in his Toyota Celica Turbo 4WD.
Japanese Subaru Impreza driver Masao Kamioka led Dom Buckley Jr (Mitsububishi Lancer) by a single second in the Group N race, while Jarmo Kytölehto headed the Formula Two battle in a Nissan Motorsport Sunny GTi.
As the World Rally Championship beds down in Leeds for the first time tonight, it’s all eyes on Monday’s opener in Hamsterley, shortly before eight o’clock tomorrow morning.
End of day one
1 Tommi Mäkinen/Seppo Harjanne (Mitsubishi Lancer E3-RS) 30m18s
2 Kenneth Eriksson/Staffan Parmander (Mitsubishi Lancer E3-RS) 11s
3 Colin McRae/Derek Ringer (Subaru Impreza 555) +12s
4 Carlos Sainz/Luis Moya (Subaru Impreza 555) +26s
5 Bruno Thiry/Stephane Prévot (Ford Escort RS Cosworth) +47s
6 Malcolm Wilson/Bryan Thomas (Ford Escort RS Cosworth) +53s