Vatanen driving display answers critics
From Bruce MacDonald in Wuhan
FORMER world champion Ari Vatanen unleashed a dazzling display of aggressive driving to clearly state to the rallying fraternity that he is still a force at 43 when he dominated all four stages yesterday in the 555 Hong Kong to Beijing Rally.
In stark contrast to the opening three days when rain, mud and mist made the stages a real test of driver and car, it was dust that hung in the air in great palls, making lining up corners difficult.
But Vatanen made a mockery of the conditions in his Mitsubishi Ralliart Lancer Evolution III producing what he described as his best performance on a single stage for two years on the narrow, winding 14th stage.
He clocked 11 minutes and 17 seconds for the 22-kilometre Chung Yan stage, an amazing 14 seconds quicker than race leader and teammate, Kenneth Eriksson.
He trailed the Swede by one minute and 12 seconds overnight but reduced that to 45 seconds yesterday which had Eriksson rich in his praise for the fellow Scandinavian.
'Ari really went for it today. It was a great drive in difficult conditions,' Eriksson said of the Finn, world champion in 1983.
'I hope my performance today silences the cynics who have said my career is over,' un upbeat Vatanen said last night.
Vatanen's performance on the 14th stage took on even greater significance - he ripped the entire exhaust system off the car about one-third of the way through.
'I certainly heard the noise and the car was still running well so I just kept going for it,' Vatanen said.
Eriksson leads with an aggregate time of two hours, 40 minutes and 31 seconds after 15 stages with Vatanen a closing second and New Zealander Possum Bourne behind the wheel of a 555 Subaru World Rally Team Impreza a distant third.
Bourne conceded more time to the pair of flying Scandinavians.
He was 2:30 behind at the start of yesterday's 12th stage and finished the day 3:17 in arrears needing a miracle to make up the ground.