Extensive flooding in southern and central China has forced organisers of the seventh and final 555 Hong Kong to Beijing Rally to cancel two of the 28 special stages. Such has been the extent of the flooding that late last week the scenic stage north of Zhengzhou through the Stone Village was under three metres of water and all access roads cut. The chief executive of the Hong Kong Automobile Association and deputy clerk of the course, Kendy Chan, told a press briefing yesterday that stages seven, eight and nine would be run twice on the third day to keep the event within FIA (motorsport's international governing body) competitive stage distance requirements. Chan returned to Hong Kong on Sunday after checking the 3,800-kilometre course last week with officials from the Federation of Automobile Sports of the People's Republic of China, the co-organisers of the rally with the HKAA. 'Large parts of the country have been totally devastated by this natural disaster and I would like to extend my personal sympathies to the people of the flood-hit areas,' Chan said. Despite the flooding, the event's most famous stage through the scenic Chinese Grand Canyon area will go ahead. Chan inspected the 29-kilometre Grand Canyon stage late last week with the mayor of the region who, mindful of the international media exposure afforded to the event, guaranteed the stage would be repaired before the drivers' recce begins on September 21. 'Extensive sections are completely washed away while many land slides have blocked other sections. If the army can be called in to help then I think it is possible to repair it in time, but that's only if it doesn't rain heavily again,' Chan said. A 50-strong field of competitors will start the rally on October 19 at Hong Kong's Stonecutters Island and aim to arrive in the mainland capital on October 25. In between they face a course stretching nearly 3,800 kilometres. A record number of Chinese crews - nine - have entered, with Hong Kong again well represented with 25 cars. For the first time in more than a decade, an entry has been received from Macau. The final rally could also determine the destiny of the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship drivers' crown. Defending champion Kenneth Eriksson returns with co-driver Staffan Parmander bidding to claim a special place in the history of the race. He has the opportunity to be the first dual winner, but even more significantly, he could complete the double for a different manufacturer. The Swede drove a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution III to victory last year for the Ralliart Team and this year bids to repeat the feat in a Subaru Impreza for the 555 Subaru World Rally Team. He will be supported in Group A by Italian Piero Liatti, who will also be driving an Impreza. A newcomer to the event, Liatti will be relying upon the experience of Fabrizia Pons who finished second with Ari Vatanen last year. Vatanen, the 1993 champion who could be a dual winner himself, returns in a Lancer for the Ralliart Team and plays a supporting role to young Briton Richard Burns who won the Rally of New Zealand earlier in the season with co-driver Robert Reid. Burns, like Eriksson and Liatti, is in contention to win the Asia-Pacific drivers' title. Just 15 points separate the trio.