Fortune smiles on McRae as Liatti falls farther behind

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 June, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 June, 1998, 12:00am

A failed drive shaft on the 16th and final stage yesterday left Italian Piero Liatti with a mountain to climb to deny defending champion and teammate Colin McRae a second successive victory in the China Rally.

The 555 Subaru World Rally Team driver had ironically profited earlier in the day upon Scotsman McRae's misfortune after failed power steering cost the 1995 world champion a two-minute time penalty.

But Mother Nature came McRae's rescue after the engine temperature of his Subaru Impreza rose steadily during stages 13 and 14 and was close to the red line of 130 degrees Celsius.

Heavy cloud cover and later a violent thunderstorm cooled the sweltering temperatures to manageable levels.

After 16 gruelling mountain and valley gravel stages totalling nearly 300 kilometres, McRae has an aggregate time of three hours, 33 minutes and 43.6 seconds - 56.5 seconds clear of Liatti in an identical Impreza.

Given the problems Liatti suffered yesterday, he must rely upon mechanical misfortune or an unlikely mistake from McRae to turn the tables.

'What can you say? We broke a drive shaft, it is just bad luck . . . we lost one minute on the last two stages,' Liatti said.

Stage 16 turned into a nightmare for all but the first three or four cars, as the remaining 16 runners were subject to gloom and huge hail stones.

Hong Kong competitor Wong Yau-kwan best summed up the 25.88-kilometre stage when he said: 'It was difficult to drive - just like rowing a boat.' Third overall is Tein Motorsport entry Yoshio Fujimoto of Japan in his Toyota Celica GT-4.

He switched third place with compatriot Yoshihiro Kataoka in his Ralliart Japan Mitsubishi Lancer, which hit a rock and damaged a suspension arm on stage 15, costing Kataoka four minutes.

Hong Kong husband and wife pairing Chan Chi-wah and Tang Po-lin, who were involved in a fatal accident on Friday before the rally began, continue to make ground on Group N leader Lu Ninjung in their Ericsson Racing Team Mitsubishi Lancer but with only six stages today, they face a battle to haul the 3.5-minute buffer back.