McRae dusting up on his technique as he charges on
BRUCE MACDONALD reports from Parapat
APPEALS from organisers of the Indonesian Rally to a resident dukun or magician to ensure that rain steers clear of the event have clearly been answered with clear skies and searing heat. But now the 30 competitors remaining from a starting lineup of 59 are being hampered by palls of dust thrown up by drivers in front of them. Such is the nature of the course through plantations of rubber trees, coconut oil palms and cocoa that what a few days ago could have turned into a quagmire is now a dustbowl.
But visibility isn't a problem for hard-charging Scot Colin McRae and co-driver Derek Ringer in their 555 Subaru World Rally Team Impreza as they extended a lead after the opening day of only 11 seconds to a whopping two minutes and 17 seconds last night. Swede Kenneth Eriksson and co-driver Staffan Parmander driving a Mitsubishi Ralliart Lancer Evolution 3 stayed close to McRae for the first four stages but a flat tyre then a transmission problem which couldn't be fixed until the night halt conspired to slow their chase.
What looked like shaping into a close finish now looks a formality for the experienced McRae, a winner of three rounds of the World Championship over the past two years. Eriksson's teammate, Finn Tommi Makinen, also driving a Lancer, was still feeling the effects of a stomach virus which plagued him on the opening day of the event. Makinen trailed by 3:26 after the first night and that blew out to 4:12 yesterday in what has turned out to be a disappointing debut in Indonesia.
New Zealander Possum Bourne in the second 555 Subaru World Rally Team Impreza continued to claw back places after losing his left front suspension on stage six on Friday when leading. After slumping to 10th at one stage, he is now in fourth place, 10:04 off the pace with no realistic chance of winning.
Hong Kong's Michael Lieu continued to underscore his growing presence on the international scene with a series of brilliant efforts under trying conditions. Eleventh outright and third in Group N for slightly modified cars after the first night, Lieu is now eighth overall and second in class.
He whittled away a 47-second deficit from Group N leader Karamjit Singh of Malaysia in a Mitsubishi Proton Wira to 36 seconds in his now dated Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution I. 'I have underestimated the opposition here this year,' said Lieu who is the defending champion in Group N. 'Singh has a much newer car and is getting fresh tyres at every service stop,' Lieu added. Lone Chinese entrant Lu Ningjun in the third 555 Subaru Impreza continued to make progress through the field after a slow start, improving five places to 21st overall.