McRae revels in conditions to seize lead
SCOTTISH driver Colin McRae thought he was back in the Highland mists of home as he ploughed his Subaru Legacy through mud, slush and shifting gravel to seize the lead in the 555 Hong Kong to Beijing Rally yesterday after 15 stages.
McRae, 25, sliced through New Zealander Possum Bourne's lead of one minute and 13 seconds to open up a gap of 56 seconds over Finn Ari Vatanen, who made another big move yesterday.
Vatanen trailed in fifth place after his Subaru Legacy suffered a fuel pump problem on Sunday, but he has steadily chipped away at a near four-minute deficit.
Bourne, also driving a Legacy, paid the price for not doing the race recce but still lies within striking distance in third place, one minute and three seconds off the lead.
''Conditions on the 13th stage were among the most difficult I have experienced since I started rally driving in 1979,'' Bourne said.
''Visibility was down to 15 to 20 feet in the fog and with the rain overnight the surface was really slippery.
''I want to arrive in Beijing in one piece so I backed off a little.'' But McRae was in his element in the conditions which characterise so many rallies in Britain.
He hit the lead during the 45-kilometre leg, taking 51 seconds off Bourne.
''I was just driving at the same pace I have been from the start. It was a difficult stage because the overnight rain made the surface muddy. It was rock-hard underneath so the car tended to slip about.'' While McRae was handling the testing conditions with aplomb, so was former world champion Vatanen, who bettered McRae's time of 33 minutes and 16 seconds for the stage by a whopping 24 seconds.
Vatanen reached a milestone during yesterday's leg. He went through the same stage where he crashed in 1987 and did it in devastating fashion, clocking 12:16 for the 25 kilometres, 13 seconds quicker then McRae.
The remote chance Mitsubishi harboured of denying Subaru a one-two-three finish suffered a double blow yesterday.
Kenjiro Shinozuka, in a Mitsubishi Lancer, lost more ground and now trails by 17 minutes, a seemingly insurmountable gap.
''My car's suspension just wasn't set up right for this rally. I have the straight line speed but I can't get enough traction around the bends.
''We have made modifications to the shock absorbers, but it's a problem that can't really be fixed during a rally.
''It's the first time I have done the event and I will know better next time,'' he said.
Yoshio Fujimoto, in his Mitsubishi Lancer, dropped out on the first stage yesterday with mechanical problems.
Traffic on the special stages yesterday - motorised, pedal-powered and animal - caused the three top drivers scares.
Bourne was confronted by a cyclist while in a four-wheel slide during the first stage and was later confronted by a motorbike rider with a sidecar passenger heading towards him.
Vatanen said he braked heavily and probably lost a couple of seconds dodging a pig which had broken its tether, while McRae said he took evasive action to miss a gaggle of ducks and a couple of dogs.