Bourne in command as fuel problem hits Vatanen
KIWI Possum Bourne ploughed through clouds of dust to sensationally grab the lead on day two of the 555 Hong Kong to Beijing Rally yesterday over twisting gravel roads in Guangdong province.
Driving a Group A Subaru Legacy, Bourne seized his chance when the overnight leader, Finn Ari Vatanen, also in a Legacy, developed petrol pump problems.
It was a brilliant performance from the Asia-Pacific champion who was teaming with new navigator Tony Sircombe for the first time.
''It was really hairy out there,'' a dusty and weary Bourne said last night.
''In fact the dust was so bad on the last two stages we had to stop twice to see where we were going.'' Bourne and Sircombe lead their Subaru Legacy teammates, Britons Colin McRae and Derek Ringer, by one minute and 37 seconds.
In third and fourth place are two Japanese drivers, both piloting Mitsubishi Lancers.
Yoshio Fujimoto in a Group N Lancer, with only minor mechanical modifications, shaded his more favoured compatriot Kenjiro Shinozuka in a more powerful Group A car.
Fujimoto trailed McRae by 1:16 and had a slender lead of four seconds over Shinozuka.
Next came Vatanen, another 30 seconds in arrears in fifth place.
The former world champion remained confident despite the mishap which forced him to stop.
''The same thing happened in Australia,'' he said. ''The car was running fine, then it couldn't get fuel. On that occasion I stopped to let it cool down and then it would go again.
''But this time we switched fuel pumps and everything was fine from there,'' he added.
Vatanen trails by three and a half minutes but said he was confident of picking up Shinozuka today.
He picked up 30 seconds on all his rivals in the final 7.51-kilometre stage of the day - a clear indication he means business today.
But the day clearly belonged to Bourne, who was driving on course pace notes borrowed from Vatanen.
''I was driving blind and it will be the same when we start again, but at least I won't be eating dust,'' said Bourne.
Bourne nearly missed the Hong Kong to Beijing event after his long-time co-driver and close friend Rodger Freeth was tragically killed in the Australian Rally.
He only decided to take part after his friends convinced him it was what Freeth would have wanted.
While the Subaru camp celebrated their success and cursed their luck because of Vatanen's problems, Shinozuka remained happy with his overall performance.
The veteran of six Paris-Dakar Rallies, the world's premier endurance event, coolly said: ''There is a long way to go to Beijing. The rally does not finish until Friday.'' The steep, winding roads through the Nam Kwan mountain region took their toll on machinery with four retirements, including two Hong Kong drivers.
Ng Hau-Chuen in a Mitsubishi Lancer and Tam Pak-wing, also in a Lancer, did not finish stage four along with Japanese entry Kazumi Matsuoka in a Nissan Pulsar.
Day three features four stages in similar terrain totalling 55.41 kilometres.