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Telstra Rally Australia
Round 12 of the FIA World Rally Championship 9 - 12th November

Monday, 13th November 2000
Tommi Makinen has been excluded due to the turbo on his car not complying with FIA homolgations. The FIA Technical delegate examined the turbo after the rally and found it did not comply with homologation rules. An FIA representative this morning said it appeared that the turbo's non-compliance was a genuine mistake rather than deliberate.

The change in the rally results, and the extra points for Peugeot, mena that it has now won the Manufacturers Championship (even if Ford equalled Peugeot's Championship points by coming first and second in the Rally of Great Britain - which it theoretically could - Peugeot would win the Championship on a countback). The Telstra Rally Australia results also puts Gronholm in a nearly unbeatable position to clinch the Drivers championship to ensure a double triumph for Peugeot.

End of Leg 3, Final
Sunday, 12th November 2000
Extract from Official FIA Press Release

The FIA World Rally Championship moved a step closer to being decided, but all the major title contenders will have to wait until the final event before they can celebrate. Tommi Makinen took his second win of the season here, but is now facing his first day without the champion's crown in four years. Telstra Rally Australia has been a strange event this year with tactics playing a part as big as outright performance for most of the rally. However today's final four stages provided a heart-stopping finale and has set up an all-out blast on the 14th and final event in Great Britain later this month.

Late last night Tommi Makinen was handed a 10s penalty for jumping the start of the order-defining SS16, Murray Pines. Normally this would automatically bring about a rush of appeals to have the penalty removed but, not surprisingly, Mitsubishi accepted the punishment without question as it dropped Makinen from the lead and into third on the road for today's four stages. After being shunted back into second by Burns' puncture swap, Makinen then proved that he was in no way disadvantaged and was fastest on the first two stages. „There's not so much difference being second on the road and I couldn't drive any faster. Near the end of SS19 I took a crest flat out and nearly landed in the forest! I'm using the sand banks here to bounce the car off, just I do with the snow banks in Sweden.š Makinen was able to hold on to, and indeed extend, his lead in the event today but victory served only to sweeten the blow of knowing that his four-year reign as FIA World Champion is now over. „It's been an incredible four years,š he admitted. „I really can't remember what it's like not to be champion.š

Hampered by running first on the road, Marcus Gronholm inevitably dropped time today but will go to the final round of the Drivers' Championship as a clear favourite for victory, holding a seven point advantage over Richard Burns. Team mate Francois Delecour's hopes of reeling in Richard Burns were always slim, but disappeared completely after he gained a further 20s penalty replacing a broken spark plug (discovered as he was due to leave) at this morning's first service. He nearly rolled the 206 on the big Sotico jump but recovered to finish fourth. Gilles Panizzi completed the final stage with a damaged gearbox and was unable to reach the final control. Peugeot is at least guaranteed one FIA title this season. If Burns beats Gronholm for the drivers' title the result will automatically prevent Ford from denying Peugeot the manufacturers' crown!

Tapio Laukkanen stalled on last night's Langley Park superstage and so dropped a place in the running order. However, this proved to be helpful to his cause and after two of today's stages in the Sotico plantation the Finn was back into a points-scoring position. With no drivers now left in the Drivers Championship Ford must now aim for a major points haul on Rally GB if it is to stop Peugeot winning the Manufacturers' Championship. Ironically, had Richard Burns passed Marcus Gronholm on the final stage, Colin McRae would have rejoined the title race.

The latest bizarre twist in this mobile game of chess came when Richard Burns had to change a wheel in the start control for SS18, Bannister West. The manoeuvre cost him no time penalty but dropped him again behind Tommi Makinen to run third on the road and partially wiped out the advantage the Finn had gained from his jump-start penalty! You wouldn't want to be in the car with us today,š quipped Burns. „It's been balls-out, pedal to the metal stuff all the way.š Going into the penultimate stage, the final long test of the event prior to the Michelin TV stage that concluded the event, Burns added, „Unless Tommi has a problem then I don't think I can catch him. My target now is to get past Marcus to give me the best chance to win the title on the final round.š Unfortunately for Burns it wasn't to be and Gronholm now holds a strong hand for the final round.

Hyundai lost the second of its three cars this morning when Michael Guest was unable to restart from service after SS18. The cause of his retirement remains a mystery as the engine would turn over but not fire. Meanwhile Kenneth Eriksson continued his fine drive to fifth, equalling the team's best result of the season. Had he not picked up one minute of road penalties during the event the Swede would have taken fourth place! "I'm really happy with this result," said veteran Swede. "It shows the good potential of our car and it is a good omen for the future."

The SEAT team completed the event with both cars in the top 10, one of the Spanish team's best overall performances in what has been a difficult final season for the factory team.

Other teams
Despite a late charge today, Manfred Stohl was unable to overhaul Group N leader Gustavo Trelles and so the battle for the FIA Championship that centres on these two drivers alone will be resolved in two weeks' time on the Rally GB. Splitting the Mitsubishi pair was Toshihiro Arai's Group N Subaru that was also contesting the FIA Teams Cup on this event, representing Spike Subaru. Arai was facing an unequal struggle this time against Teams Cup rival Sercan Yazici (Team Atakan). The Spike team now leads the series by four points from Toyota Team Saudi Arabia and this is another contest that will go to the season's finale in Britain. Mathematically Spike can not be beaten but needs to start the final round to complete the minimum number of event starts required to qualify. Top Southern Hemisphere driver was the reigning five-time Australian Champion, New Zealander Possum Bourne (who has recently added the FIA Asia-Pacific title to his trophy cabinet) while top Aussie crew was again Neal Bates and Coral Taylor. Bourne's performance has secured the Australian manufacturers' championship.

Tyre facts:
After the tactical competition seen on Legs 1 and 2 during which tended to lessen the importance of tyres, the fast and furious final shoot-out required products that were adapted to and competitive over the marbles of the last day. Despite the recognised handicap of running first on the road, Michelin's Tommi Makinen (1st) and Marcus Gronholm (2nd) shared the fastest times on the day's four stages using the specially-developed Michelin ZE, q tyre that made its debut in Australia in 1999. The result of Rally Australia 2000 means that Michelin is now sure of collecting its third consecutive Manufacturers' title (with either Peugeot or Ford), its fifteenth in the history of the series.

The bizarre circumstances that saw tactics playing a too-large part in this rally may have conspired against Richard Burns today as Pirelli's lead driver narrowly failed in his bid to overhaul title rival Marcus Gronholm. The final stages were in better condition than expected and so the tactical efforts came to nought. Burns remains in contention for the Drivers' title on his home event, however. Throughout the event Pirelli used both the K and KM pattern tyres to set fastest times but, in general, this year's Rally Australia was as much about tactics as about outright performance.

Updated Final Results
1 Gronholm Peugeot 206 WRC 3:43:57,2
2 Burns Subaru Impreza WRC 3:43:59,9
3 Delecour Peugeot 206 WRC 3:45:30,1
4 Eriksson Hyundai Accent WRC 3:46:17,8
5 Laukkanen Ford Focus WRC 3:46:28,1
6 Gardemeister Seat Cordoba WRC 3:46:46,5
7 Bourne Subaru Impreza WRC 3:48:30,7
8 Auriol Seat Cordoba WRC 3:51:51,8
9 Bates Toyota Corolla WRC 3:53:04,0
10 Taguchi Mitsubishi Lancer 3:57:43,8

Group N
1 Trelles Mitsu Lancer Evo VI 4:01:36.1
2 Arai Mitsu Lancer Evo VI 4:02:18.4
3 Stohl Mitsu Lancer Evo VI 4:03:27.8

Teams Cup
1 Yazici Toyota Corolla WRC 3:59:54.7 Team Atakan
2 Arai Toyota Corolla WRC 4:02:18.4 Spike Subaru Team

FIA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (provisional standings after 13 of 14 rounds):
FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers:
Gronholm (FIN) 55
Burns (GB) 48
McRae (GB) 43
Sainz (E) 43
Makinen (FIN) 42
Delecour (F) 22
Panizzi (F) 21
Kankkunen (FIN) 18

FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers:
Gronholm (FIN) 59
Burns (GB) 50
McRae (GB) 43
Sainz (E) 43
Makinen (FIN) 32
Delecour (F) 23
Panizzi (F) 21
Kankkunen (FIN) 18

FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers:
Peugeot 104
Ford 88
Subaru 76
Mitsubishi 39
Skoda 8
Hyundai 8

FIA Teams Cup:
Spike Subaru Team 42
Toyota Team Saudi Arabia 38
Team Atakan 33
F.Dor Rally Team 26
Arab World Team 20
Wisja TV Turning Point Rally Team 10

End of Leg 2
Saturday, 11th November 2000
Extract from Official FIA Press Release

After a day of frantic action that saw Richard Burns capitalise on his overnight fourth place (and fifth on the road starting position) to race into a comfortable lead of Telstra Rally Australia, tactics again came to the fore on the final forest stage. Once again drivers adjusted their pace to try and determine their start slots for tomorrow's third and final leg. The Sotico plantation (formerly known as Bunnings) is where the cleaning effect of the 'ball-bearing' road surface is at its most extreme and it is therefore crucial that drivers give themselves the best possible chance to win the event, even from a seemingly low starting position. Although flat-out driving is the essence of the FIA World Rally Championship, tactical decisions are as much a part of top flight motorsport and the winner of this event will be the driver who has demonstrated both skills to the best effect over the three legs.

With both Fords now out of the event, Tommi Makinen has a golden opportunity to extend his title hopes into the final event of the year. However the Finn says he's not thinking that far ahead just yet. „We're just trying to win this rally,š he said. „We've got to get our tactics just right. Obviously my championship chances have improved over the past 24 hours but I still need Richard and Marcus to have problems if I'm really going to have any hope.š Makinen's biggest problem was the fact that his road position today left him unable to react to other drivers' actions. „I've got to try and guess what they're going to do,š he admitted. He had planned to pace himself against Juha Kankkunen but that idea was scotched when his fellow Finn crashed out of the event and left Makinen to run first tomorrow!

FIA World Championship leader Marcus Gronholm tried a little too hard on Wellington Dam today and overshot a junction but that was the Finn's only real mistake. „Tactics are ultimately going to decide this rally,š he said. Team mate Francois Delecour was finding that running second on the road was no great advantage but was still happy with his overall performance. „A lot of these stages are ones I last drove in 1993,š he said, „so I'm fairly satisfied.š Team mate Gilles Panizzi is still a long way off the lead but has been getting closer to the pace all day.

Richard Burns' juggling of positions to put himself fifth on the road today, paid off handsomely when he set fastest time on the first stage and immediately took the rally lead. However he then had to play the game for the second day in succession to ensure that he could again reap the benefit of clear roads in Sotico tomorrow, where the 'cleaning' effect will be more dramatic than on any of the days held so far. Throughout the day Burns has been trying to open up a sufficient advantage to avoid having to adopt a tactical approach on the final stage. It was believed that a minimum of two minutes' lead would be required and that was clearly out of reach as the day progressed. Overnight rally leader Juha Kankkunen crashed out of the event on the final forest stage today. He was quizzed earlier about his feelings that he may have just two more chances to add to his World Championship rally win tally before possibly retiring. In reply he said, „I'll be making a decision about my future after the Rally of Great Britain.š

Late last night Ford lost the second of its registered cars when the event stewards excluded Carlos Sainz for stopping between the warning board and the flying finish at the end of SS9. The Spaniard admitted that his mistake had been embarrassing but, along with team manager Malcolm Wilson, again expressed his belief that something needs to be done about the situation that forced crews to play the tactical game so obviously. With both Martini cars out, Ford's third car, that of Tapio Laukkanen, became the focus of the team's attention. At today's first service the young Finn shook hands with all the mechanics and thanked them for coming out to help him!

Didier Auriol attempted to solve the Cordoba's handling problems with a gearbox switch after SS12. As the centre differential is part of the package it was hoped that this would see an improvement but his time on SS13 seemed to indicate otherwise. „We're trying hard but the differential mapping problems are making the car very hard to drive,š he said. By contrast Toni Gardemeister has continued to impress with some solid driving that has kept him in the top 10 throughout the day. „This morning's grip was better than we expected and we could have pushed harder. We had hoped to do that on Wellington Dam but we had a vibration from the front wheel that prevented us going flat out and we just concentrated on finishing the stage.š

The Hyundai team has continued to enjoy one of its best events of the year with both Kenneth Eriksson and Alister McRae again setting top times that kept both in the top 10 places. Indeed, early this afternoon McRae's performance took him past five-time Australian Champion Possum Bourne. Sadly his joy was short-lived as on the next stage, Stirling West, it hit something with the Accent WRC, broke a suspension arm and was forced to retire.

Other teams
The battle for Group N supremacy has seemingly swung decisively in favour of reigning FIA Champion Gustavo Trelles over the Spike Subaru FIA Teams Cup entry for Toshihiro Arai and current championship leader Manfred Stohl. Arai (who is driving a Group N car instead of his preferred Group A example) and Stohl are locked in a close battle for second but Trelles is seemingly comfortably clear. The FIA Teams Cup competition itself is naturally favouring the Team Atakan entry of Sercan Yazici although the Turkish driver is not so far ahead of Arai.

Tyre Facts
As the pace at the sharp end has quickened, Michelin's partners have continued to use the ZA-style pattern in either the 9 or 10 compound, according to the stage length and temperatures which peaked today at around 30degC air and 38degC ground. Scoring four additional scratch times today, Michelin has increased its stage wins to 11 from the 16 stages run so far.

This morning's stages were still damp after overnight rain and so a more conservative tyre choice was possible, Richard Burns taking a K-pattern cover to set fastest time on the opening stage and take the rally lead. For the second group of stages Burns took a hand cut version of the tyre and again extended his advantage. After six of today's seven stages, Pirelli had been fastest on two occasions.

Unofficial Results at the end of Leg 2
1 Makinen Mitsubishi Lancer 2:49:39,5
2 Gronholm Peugeot 206 WRC 2:49:41,1
3 Burns Subaru Impreza WRC 2:49:43,7
4 Delecour Peugeot 206 WRC 2:50:18,9
5 Eriksson Hyundai Accent WRC 2:50:36,8
6 Gardemeister Seat Cordoba WRC 2:50:59,5
7 Laukkanen Ford Focus WRC 2:51:16,4
8 Bourne Subaru Impreza WRC 2:51:54,8
9 Panizzi Peugeot 206 WRC 2:54:46,5
10 Bates Toyota Corolla WRC 2:55:18,0

Group N
1 Trelles Mitsu Lancer Evo VI 3:01:08,2
2 Arai Mitsu Lancer Evo VI 3:02:33,2
3 Stohl Mitsu Lancer Evo VI 3:03:23,8

Teams Cup
1 Yazici Toyota Corolla WRC 3:00:26,9 Team Atakan
2 Arai Toyota Corolla WRC 3:02:33,2 Spike Subaru Team

End of Leg 1
Friday, 10 November 2000
Extract from Official FIA Press Release

The importance of start positions into tomorrow's second leg was proved today when many of the leading crews slowed or stopped on the final forest stage in a desperate bid to enhance their advantage for the southern loop of stages. The manoeuvres turned the leaderboard upside down with Marcus Gronholm slipping from first to fourth but potentially still not as well placed as title rival Richard Burns. It highlighted the drivers' comments before the event when they were angry that last year's seeding system, where the leading drivers were able to take first pick of their chosen start slots for the following day, has been abandoned for this year's event. A similar situation can reasonably be expected tomorrow on SS16.

Markko Martin became the event's first retirement when his Subaru lost drive during today's opening stage, leaving the Estonian no choice but to withdraw from his first rally with the team and begin his 25th birthday celebrations rather earlier than scheduled. An underbody fire (probably caused either by hydraulic fluid or gearbox oil) had caused the eventual transmission failure by damaging the propshaft. Richard Burns' slow times over the first few stages can be attributed to a mysterious brake problem that could not be fixed at service after SS3 although the Englishman has also been playing a tactical game to ensure he is not running at the head of the field tomorrow. „The brakes have been a bit spongy all morning,š he said. „ It's not very easy to give full commitment when you're not sure if you can stop the car for the corners. Overall though I'm not too unhappy with tenth place although sixth would have been better.š Team mate Juha Kankkunen said that his two event lay-off had given him a chance to recharge his batteries but had also taken the edge off his ultimate performance. „It dulls your reactions a bit at first,š he admitted. On the final forest stage several crews stopped to deliberately gain time penalties that would determine their start positions for tomorrow. Neither Burns nor Kankkunen did this and Burns was furious that the scrapping of last year's seeding arrangements had forced such tactics. If this is what we have to do to win the championship then I don't want to win it,š he said. Petter Solberg's second drive for the team ended on the Atkins stage when he slid off the road and beached the car a few metres from the track but unable to regain the road.

The perceived wisdom is that the first car on the road is going to suffer badly from the road conditions here but Marcus Gronholm clearly hadn't read the script. „I can't believe that I was fastest on the first stage,š he admitted. „It felt very slow. I'm pushing hard and I'll decide later if I can start to play tactics. I need a bigger lead than 10 seconds to be comfortable leading into tomorrow.š Winner of the last two events, Gilles Panizzi, was nowhere after the first handful of stages today. „I'm so slow and I can't understand why,š he said. „I have no feeling for the car or the road. It can't go on like this, it's not acceptable.š By contrast team mate Francois Delecour was much happier to be ahead of his team mate after their controversial San Remo Rally.

In a bizarre twist of fate, Freddy Loix found himself celebrating his 30th birthday in much the same fashion as Markko Martin, sidelined with transmission failure on today's second stage. Tommi Makinen had to steer a careful path round a tree stump amid a series of hairpins on SS6, but has otherwise had a fairly uneventful day. „As far as tactics are concerned we'd like to be as far back as possible but still in touch with the leaders,š he said. However, with Marcus Gronholm able to set fast times from the front there has been some concern in Makinen's mind. „It seems to be easier for the first car this year,š he added. „Last year there was no chance for the first car on the road to make fast times. I know I've got to win here to have a chance of the title again.š

Didier Auriol needed a switch of gearbox after today's second stage. I can't drive the car,š he said after completing Helena South. „There is understeer and oversteer and also clutch trouble so I had to drive fairly steadily.š The mechanics switched the gearbox inside the time permitted, but the 1984 World Champion could still not get the car to his liking over then next trio of stages. Meanwhile Toni Gardemeister was able to run consistently in the top 10 on only his second visit to this event with a four-wheel drive car.

„The plan today is to keep in touch with Marcus but not to get too close to the front so that we can enjoy the best of the road conditions tomorrow,š said Colin McRae after the first couple of stages. However the plan, and possibly his championship chances, went awry at the end of SS6 when the Focus completed the stage with oil pouring from the engine having lost pressure at half distance. Although McRae began the road section to service, the car ground to a halt soon afterwards and he was forced to abandon the rally. „The first we knew was when oil started to appear on Nicky's side of the screen. It was the last thing we expected,š he said. „Everything was going to plan but now the championship is out of my hands. We need Marcus not to score here.š Team mate Carlos Sainz said that he was driving at a pace to suit himself. „Others prefer to drive quicker or slower but I'm to be doing what I think is good for me. Obviously it's a shame that Colin has retired and the engineers have checked my engine to make sure that the same thing doesn't happen to me.š Team boss Malcolm Wilson said of McRae's retirement, „Obviously it's disappointing to lose Colin so early as everything was going to plan. It's still early in the event and we've got Carlos going strongly at the front so we must oncentrate all our efforts on him now.š The third Ford, that of Tapio Laukkanen, was also able to get among the top places with second fastest on SS6 giving him a top 10 position.

A spin for Alister McRae on SS2 taught the Scot that the roads were still slippery for some of the later cars but, with a third fastest time on the next test, he was quickly back into the swing of things. Team mate Kenneth Eriksson had a lucky escape on SS3. He holed the sump of the Accent WRC but, as it was close to the end of the stage, he survived with little time loss. However he gained a 30second penalty for late arrival at service after plugging the hole with T-shirts. Co-driver Staffan Parmander's overalls were liberally coated with oil during the repair and had to change into a spare pair of David Senior's. Observers will note that Alister McRae's co-driver is not so slim as his Swedish counterpart∑ Amid the Atkins stage tactical driving, Eriksson recorded his first fastest time of the event to claim a place in the top 10 tonight.

Other teams
Among the early retirements was Australian Group N Champion Cody Crocker. The Subaru driver lost third gear on last night's Langley Park opener and then ditched his Impreza on today's first stage. In Group N the overall battle, and indeed the battle for the FIA Championship, has swung back and forth between reigning quadruple champion Gustavo Trelles and the current series leader Manfred Stohl with FIA Teams Cup entry Toshihiro Arai (Spike Subaru) getting in between the pair.

Facts Michelin
Although we have not been in a situation today where there are as many marblesš as there will be on Sunday, it has been a question of brushing clear the top layer of loose gravel to look for grip and traction on the harder base underneath. To achieve this, Michelin's partners have used a „ZA-styleš pattern throughout the day and, for the record, have scored 5 fastest stage times from the 8 stages run so far today (one is still be run.)

An indication of the problems facing tyre companies on this event can clearly be seen by the fact that Pirelli's 3 fastest times on the first seven of today's eight stages have been set using very different tyre options. Juha Kankkunen was fastest on SS3 using the latest evolution open-pattern KM2 tyre while Petter Solberg then set scratch times using a heavily hand cut K2 evolution cover. The KM forces the stones to bind against each other while the K is designed to cut through the loose surface to the harder ground beneath.

Unofficial Results at the end of Leg 1
1 Kankkunen Subaru Impreza WRC 1:27:17.2
2 Delecour Peugeot 206 WRC 1:27:26.8
3 Makinen Mitsubishi Lancer 1:27:30.9
4 Burns Subaru Impreza WRC 1:27:38.7
5 Gronholm Peugeot 206 WRC 1:27:40.7
6 Laukkanen Ford Focus WRC 1:27:52.2
7 Gardemeister Seat Cordoba WRC 1:28:01.0
8 Sainz Ford Focus WRC 1:28:12.6
9 Bourne Subaru Impreza WRC 1:28:19.1
10 Eriksson Hyundai Accent WRC 1:28:24.7

Group N
3 Trelles Mitsu Lancer Evo VI 1:33:03.7
2 Stohl Mitsu Lancer Evo VI 1:33:21.5
2 Arai Mitsu Lancer Evo VI 1:33:42.3

Teams Cup
1 Yazici Toyota Corolla WRC 1:33:22.1 Team Atakan
2 Arai Toyota Corolla WRC 1:33:42.3 Spike Subaru Team

Thursday, 09 November 2000
Extract from Official FIA Press Release

A solitary running of the exciting Langley Park Superstage tonight kicks off Telstra Rally Australia, the 13th and penultimate round of this year's FIA World Rally Championship. All of the factory teams except Skoda are present for what could be a title-deciding event for both Marcus Gronholm and Peugeot, although neither can consider themselves comfortable in their placings leading up to the start. As usual it is the road surface that will play the biggest part in determining the fortunes of the crews as early runners battle against the lack of grip offered by Western Australia's notorious 'ball-bearing' gravel while later drivers will reap the benefit. Tactical manoeuvres will play a part although any 'cat and mouse' attempts to affect the running order will have to be done in the forests. The following day's start positions will be based on the leaderboard after the final forest stage and not, as would be normal, after the night-time stages at Langley Park.

Peugeot (90 points)
Marcus Gronholm's bid to clinch the FIA World Championship here in Australia got off to a nerve-wracking start in the pre-event build up. Plans to take the Finn surfing off Cottesloe Beach a few days before the rally,were shelved after the fatal shark attack a few hours earlier. Gronholm wisely decided that one 'fin' in the water was enough. Gronholm's boss believes that Australia and the upcoming Rally GB do not favour the Peugeot team as it does not contain the necessary specialist drivers for the events. However, Gronholm is up for the challenge but said at the pre-rally conference, „Tactics will decide this event but they will only become clear for the final day.š After dominating the past two asphalt rallies, Gronholm's team mates Gilles Panizzi and Francois Delecour will revert to supporting roles here as Peugeot bids to secure both titles.

Ford (88 points)
Colin McRae's doctors advised the Scot against any serious physical training before this event and so he starts the event knowing that he is not as fit as he had anticipated for his 100th World Rally appearance. I didn't realise I was so old!š he joked as he was presented with a cake and gold plaque to mark the occasion during the shakedown. He is again sleeping in the hypoxic tent that proved so crucial to his rapid recovery from the Corsica crash. McRae's experience of this event will be crucial in Ford's bid to finally win an event that has so far eluded the team. McRae won in both 1994 and 1997 and is well aware of the need for tactics here. „The final day is the worst for the effects of the road surface. Ideally you need to be as low down the order as possible without being too far behind on overall time.š People still recall his incredible final day charge on the 1998 event, climbing from sixth to first in just three stages over the Sotico stages. Team mate Carlos Sainz has never enjoyed good fortune in Australia despite three times finishing in second place. He admits that a return to gravel after his Cyprus win is a psychological boost but he knows that, with just two events left, he needs wins rather than podium places if he's to take a third title. „I am very disappointed that the event has abandoned its seeding system from last year,š said Sainz. „It is a step backwards and now we are again being penalised for driving fast on these roads.š A third, unregistered, Ford Focus has been entered for talented Finn Tapio Laukkanen who is making his second works appearance.

Subaru (70 points)
The biggest works entry on the event comes from Subaru with four factory cars for Richard Burns, Juha Kankkunen and Australia debutees, Petter Solberg and Markko Martin. Burns was forthright about the challenge of this event. „If Marcus wins here then we're stuffed!š he admitted, even though a Gronholm win wouldn't on its own settle the title issue. Like Sainz he is upset not to have the chance to select his start slot for each day's stages and predicts that the event will be decided on the first three of Sunday's four stages in Sotico. „We'll have to get ourselves into the right position for those stages and they could be the most exciting we've ever done here.š Burns recently experienced much higher speed action in an RAF Tornado fighter aircraft. „Let's just say that all those people who I've frightened and made sick in my rally car got their own back on this occasion!š he joked. Juha Kankkunen returns to the team after missing the two asphalt events and admits he's looking forward to an event he considers one of his favourites. By contrast the two new boys in the team, Martin and Solberg, have not competed here efore. „I'm glad I'm taking part,š said Martin. „It's a long way to come just to do a recce. The Subaru is a very different car to the Toyota and so it's important to get as many miles behind me as possible.š Solberg agrees: „The stages here are slippery as hell and so we'll have to be careful and make sure we finish.š

Mitsubishi (39 points)
Last night Mitsubishi Ralliart confirmed its 2001 rally programme with Tommi Makinen and Freddy Loix being retained for the new season. The team will contest most of the year with an updated version of the current Lancer Evolution but will introduce Mitsubishi's first World Rally Car at the San Remo Rally. Mitsubishi confirmed its intention of continuing crucial Group A and Group N development work on behalf of its massive customer base. Makinen is currently the fifth possible winner of the 2000 FIA World Rally Championship although the four-time champion will need to win here if he is to have any realistic hope of extending his reign to five consecutive seasons. „I've a good feeling with the car,š he said after yesterday's shakedown and knows that his start position for the opening leg will give him an advantage over his rivals.

SEAT (8 points)
Didier Auriol has contested Rally Australia on eight of the 12 events held to date and, retirements aside, has never yet finished outside the top three. Given his fortunes so far this season he will be hoping that a low start position will help him to maintain that record on what will be his and Toni Gardemeister's penultimate event for SEAT, before the factory team withdraws from the FIA World Rally Championship. Auriol promises to start the event flat out and clearly hopes not to repeat last year's performance when he stuffed his Toyota into a tree and out of the rally lead. Gardemeister is recovering from a bout of flu but believes that he can score points here. He will start the event using the same settings he found on a recent Rally GB test as, for very different reasons, both of this season's final events are among the most slippery of the series. Speculation over the future for both drivers currently suggests that Auriol could go to Peugeot in 2001 and that Gardemeister could join Ford. Both camps commented that announcements are expected within the next three weeks.

Hyundai (5 points)
The Hyundai mechanics had a busy day yesterday after both Michael Guest and Alister McRae crashed their Accent WRCs during the shakedown. McRae's needed little more than a touch up of its silver paint job but Guest's Winfield car had to be prised out of a tree after just one run on the stage at Langford Park. Guest needs to perform well here as the Australian driver's three-year development programme at Hyundai has been cut short by one year and he is currently without work for 2001. McRae is currently enjoying his first few weeks as an engaged man having recently announced plans to marry Perth girl Tara Pinner whom he met a year ago. The couple will marry in Scotland next year and will repeat the ceremony in Perth when the rally returns to WA in 2001. Team mate Kenneth Eriksson is a Rally Australia veteran and won the event in 1995. „It's a challenging rally,š he explained. „Apart from the road surface, the trees are also very close to the edge of the tracks and so we must have a very high commitment.š

Other teams
Just two teams will start for the FIA Teams Cup contest in Australia. Team Atakan's Sercan Yazici (Toyota) and Spike Subaru's Toshihiro Arai will take the stage after the withdrawal of the Arab World entry for Hamed Al Wahaibi. Yazici was involved in a road accident prior to the event and, following a head on collision with Katsuhiko Taguchi, the Japanese driver has had to change his co-driver. Derek Ringer was briefly hospitalised with a broken sternum and so Bobby Willis has stepped in. After the dramas of San Remo and the allegations of recce infringements, the stewards have imposed a three minute penalty on Nicola Caldani for breaking the rules on SS2. While the overall FIA World Championships could both be won here in Australia, so could the Production Cup for Group N cars. Manfred Stohl and Gustavo Trelles are the only possible champions for 2000 but both face strong opposition, including top ustralian driver Ed Ordynski. The Adelaide driver has contested every Rally Australia, won Group N seven times and finished in the top 10 on all but two occasions. Subaru driver John Papadimitriou (who will contest next season's FIA Teams Cup) was nearly a non-starter here after thieves broke into his workshop on Monday and loaded their truck with expensive equipment. However the bungling burglars managed to knock the Subaru off its axle stands when reversing out. The rally car blocked their escape route and so the not-so-jolly swagmen had to make a hasty exit on foot, leaving their ill-gotten gains behind.

Tyre facts
The unique 'ball-bearing' surface found here in Western Australia offers one of the greatest technical challenges to the tyre makers. There are two techniques to deal with the problem; find a tyre that can bite through the loose surface to find grip underneath or to use the stones to bind against each other and briefly reduce the slippery nature of the surface.

Three tread patterns have been selected by the Michelin runners in Australia. Michelin Z will be used for clear and hard surfaces, Michelin ZE with a more open tread pattern (the tyre introduced last year) and Michelin ZA which is designed to cut through the top layer on loose surfaces to seek out more compact ground beneath.

Subaru and SEAT will rely on just two tread patterns from the Pirelli PZero range, the K and KM. The K pattern offers many options, including extra hand cutting, on dry roads. The KM tyre will most likely be the tyre of choice for the event and includes a brand new evolution version that is designed to cope with damp surfaces should the recent rain extend into the event itself.

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