Eriksson fights off challenge
COOL and calculating Mitsubishi Ralliart driver Kenneth Eriksson used all his experience to hold his rivals at bay on day three of the 555 Hong Kong to Beijing Rally, yesterday. Hard-charging 555 Subaru World Rally Team Driver Richard Burns threw the gauntlet down to Swede Eriksson on the opening three stages, reeling off top times in the opening two and returning the same time in the third.
But Eriksson snuffed out the charge in the following stage, pulling back all of the earlier Burns inroads. After 11 of the 26 stages Eriksson has an aggregate time of two hours six minutes and 29 seconds to lead teammate Ari Vatanen of Finland by one minute and 12 seconds with Subaru driver Possum Bourne holding station in third place, 2:49 off the pace.
It is clear Vatanen is driving defensively to protect the dominant Eriksson who took time off all his rivals yesterday.
Burns, who lies fourth, said he was driving on the limit to try and make inroads into Eriksson's lead after his spin on stage four on Sunday which cost him over two minutes. His bold challenge ended on the final stage yesterday, a new addition to the event this year, when he miscalculated a fifth-gear right-hander and went off the road.
'We were very lucky not to hit anything. I engaged first gear and was able to drive out with no damage to the car,' he said. A few kilometres further into the stage Burns overshot a junction but still finished only 11 seconds behind Vatanen who, in typical fashion, finished with a flourish.
'I suppose all drivers say much the same thing but I was really flying on that stage and could have posted the quickest time. I went off once and overshot a corner and still finished only 11 seconds off the pace,' Burns said.
Ironically all the heroics by the 24-year-old Englishman amounted to a case of what could have been. He trails Eriksson by the same margin as he did on Sunday - 4:04. Burns and teammate Bourne, who lies 2:30 of the lead, must now put pressure on Vatanen to attack Eriksson. Tein Sport Toyota's Yoshio Fujimoto consolidated his his place in fifth position taking time off the third Mitsubishi Ralliart Lancer Evolution III driven by Japan's Kenjiro Shinozika in four of yesterday's five stages.