Leader Liatti's challenge comes back to earth with a crash

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 October, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 October, 1996, 12:00am

Front-running Piero Liatti crashed spectacularly out of the 555 Hong Kong-to-Beijing Rally yesterday and was followed moments later by Hong Kong's main hope, Michael Lieu, at the same place.

Liatti and co-driver Fabrizia Pons won the opening two stages on day one but the challenge ended on stage five when they failed to take a high speed left hand bend.

As Pons scrambled from the wrecked 555 Subaru World Rally Team Impreza to alert the next car of the danger, Lieu careered into the same ditch missing Pons by little more than a metre. 'I was really afraid,' admitted Pons who escaped from the sixth-gear crash unscathed. Liatti was also lucky, walking from the wreckage with an abrasion on his left elbow and a sore back. Both Lieu and co-driver Yoshimasa Nakahara were also unscathed and spent their time before the rescue truck arrived taking photographs of their Tein Sport Mitsubishi Lancer which came to rest only a few metres short of Liatti's Subaru. 'The ground just dropped away from under the car and we rolled,' Liatti explained.

'It all happened so quickly.' Liatti's exit left the way open for Mitsubishi Ralliart Lancer driver Richard Burns and co-driver Robert Reid to snatch the lead.

After six of the 26 stages, Burns leads teammate Ari Vatanen and Christian Tilber by 30 seconds. The demise of Liatti and Lieu paved the way for defending champion Kenneth Eriksson and Staffan Parmander in the second 555 Subaru WRT Impreza to improve dramatically from their opening-day seventh to third overall. But while he improved his position, Eriksson lost valuable time to Reid and Vatanen.

After trailing by one minute and 15 seconds on day one, he now lies two minutes and six seconds off the pace with the job in front of him.

Luck has not been with the Swede who was unnerved on day one by a little green van which blundered on to the course of stage two only 45 seconds before he was due to start.

And yesterday he fell victim to treacherously slippery stages. He summed up the state of the opening two stages in two words: 'Slippery, hopeless'.

Drivers who followed Eriksson reported similar problems but conceded that the cars which went before them on the course had cleared a racing line.

Erikkson dropped 16 seconds to Liatti on stage three clocking a time of 16:14 over the 17.9 kms. It was more of the same on stage four when the defending champion dropped another 15 seconds, this time to Reid. The rally moves into Hunan Province today with a further five special stages. It ends on Friday in the Chinese capital.