First blood to McRae as Mitsubishi fire

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 June, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 June, 1997, 12:00am

THE first day of the inaugural 555 China Rally was dominated by Subaru pair Colin McRae and Kenneth Eriksson, but the event went from bad to worse for Mitsubishi driver Yoshihiro Kataoka.

He lasted only four stages yesterday in a cobbled-together reccie car after writing off his Group A Lancer during a media demonstration on Thursday.

The Japanese took a right-hand bend too tight and hit a large rock, ripping out his front suspension.

In marked contrast to Kataoka, Scot McRae and Swede Eriksson staged an intriguing battle throughout the eight stages in their 555 Subaru World Rally Team Imprezas.

It wasn't until the final stage of the afternoon, a 25-kilometre dash through a valley ending with a narrow, winding overpass from Da Zhi Zi, that 1995 world champion McRae exerted his influence to eclipse the reigning Asia-Pacific champion by 30 seconds and lead day one of the three-day competition by 39 seconds.

'The car had run well all day but on stage eight I had a serious overheating problem,' Eriksson explained. 'The water temperature got up to 120 degrees [Celsius].' McRae said he also experienced a heating problem on stage eight but added: 'I did go for it.' Japanese Yoshio Fujimoto in the Group A Toyota Celica lies third but seemingly already out of contention a distant four minutes and 26 seconds off the pace.

The drive of the day clearly was that of fourth-placed Japanese Shigeyuki Konishi in his Group N Tein Sport Subaru Impreza.

He trails Fujimoto by four minutes but, more significantly, he leads the Group A cars of Nobuhiro Tajima (Suzuki Sport Baleno) and Rudi Stohl (Audi Coupe S2).

With only eight of 21 stages completed, he holds a commanding lead over Group N rivals Chan Chi-wah of Hong Kong in a Mitsubishi Lancer and mainland Chinese Lu Ningjun, also in a Lancer.

Kinishi's performance took on even greater importance when co-driver Tony Sircombe revealed that they had a flat tyre on stage seven and lost two minutes.

Most of the leading drivers said tyre selection was an ongoing problem because the character of the special stages could change dramatically from clay, to loose stone to sand.

From a starting field of 33 cars, the field was reduced to 19 last night.

Even McRae had a serious moment on the very first stage when he hit a jump too hard and nose-dived.

'If I had been on full attack that would have been a major moment, that's for sure. Luckily we had slowed down,' he said.

555 Team China driver Ren Zhiguo was the first major casualty two kilometres from the end of the second stage when his Impreza struck a large rock and rolled.