McRae's big enemy is boredom
The biggest challenge facing former world champion Colin McRae in the inaugural 555 China Rally will not be the 369 kilometres of special stages the Scot faces over the next three days but his ability to 'beat the boredom'.
McRae, the 1995 champion and a strong contender in this year's World Rally Championship (WRC), is known for his cavalier driving style which has given his backup crew and Prodrive team boss John Spiller a new crop of grey hairs.
'I know it's vital for me to finish this rally in China but my biggest problem is trying to maintain my concentration levels over the three days. It would be fatal for a driver like me to race at only 95 per cent. If I did that, there would be a real possibility of me crashing,' he said.
McRae's excursions off the beaten track have passed into legend and none more so than last season in Indonesia when he built an unassailable lead over his rivals in his Subaru Impreza only to crash out with maximum WRC points a mere formality.
He crashed out of the Acropolis Rally in Greece last week on the first day when leading. His teammate in the 555 China Rally today, Swede Kenneth Eriksson, also crashed in the Acropolis when leading and will be determined to get among the drivers' points in round two of the Asian-Pacific Championship.
Eriksson, the defending Asia-Pacific champion, has had an up-and-down season in the WRC and will more than likely find himself driving cover for number one McRae.
With the premier Group A class reduced to only four cars, the closest battles are certain to take place in Group N (for near-stock standard cars) where 555 Team China have fielded three Imprezas for Zhou Yong, Wang Hua and Ren Zhiguo. The mainland Chinese trio will face a pitched battle against the hard-charging Malaysian Karamjit Singh in the Petronas Eon Racing Proton Wira.
Mechanics lost their battle to repair two cars which were seriously damaged during a media demonstration stage on Thursday.
Japanese Yoshiro Kataoka bent the front cross member of his Advan-PIAA RalliArt Group A Mitsubishi Lancer by plunging five metres down an embankment.
He, like Wang, will drive a reconnaissance car to ensure that a full field of 33 competitors face the starter this morning.
RalliArt team manager Amos Yu said even though they would still contest Group A in an effort to garner some points, the Lancer will only run to Group N specifications.
China's first FIA-sanctioned, cloverleaf-style rally began spectacularly last night at a ceremonial start when all competitors were paraded before the public.
The action begins at 8 am and will feature a total of eight special stages, the first of 25.94 kilometres at Nian Zi.