1 T MAKINEN / R MANNISENMAKI: Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
2 C SAINZ / L MOYA: Ford Focus WRC
3 J KANKKUNEN / J REPO: Subaru Impreza WRC
4 T GARDEMEISTER / P LUKANDER: SEAT Cordoba WRC
5 B THIRY / S PREVOT: Toyota Corolla WRC
6 F LOIX / SV SMEETS: Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
7 A SCHWARZ / M HIENER: Skoda Octavia WRC
8 O BURRI / C HOFFMAN: Toyota Corolla WRC
9 M STOHL / P MULLER: Mitsubishi Lancer Evo
10 L CLIMENT / A ROMANI: Skoda Octavia WRC
Story by Alan Kelly - January 2000
It feels like only last week since Richard Burns stormed to victory in the Rally of Great Britain, but already the 2000 World Rally Championship has begun. The season started exactly like it did last year with Tommi Makinen showing us that he is not four times champion for nothing. Makkinen didn't have it all his own way and was forced to drive on the limit on day 1 as Richard Burns and Gilles Panizzi were also on a charge. A lot is expected from Burns this year and I think he will be Makinen's main rival if Prodrive can produce the goods.
Makinen had a problem with a tyre on the first stage and he was only fifth fastest, Panizzi was fastest on the opening test, but Makinen soon overtook him and was in second behind Burns. The sun was shining and all the cars were on slicks but there were still patches of ice in places forcing the cars to hobble through some of the corners. Burns used this to his advantage and was a match for Makinen, "I wanted to shake them all up a bit today" said Burns, "I wanted to see what I could do and I'm happy with the result so far". "The ice is a problem, but I'm getting good information and you can still go flat out if your ice note crew can tell you where to place the outside tyres".
A gamble by Makinen on tyres for the last two stages paid off; he opted for half-studs while the rest of the crews went on full studs. Makinen took 20 seconds back on Burns to put him into the lead at the overnight halt, "I haven't had to make a special effort today, apart from the first stage my times have been good and the car has been fine". Panizzi was never far behind either and was only 30 seconds back on Makinen, Carlos Sainz was in fourth one minute and a half off the lead, he was getting used to his new car and was going for a finish rather then a result.
Delecour was going hard but was not on the pace of the leading trio, he hit the car off a wall on stage 2 and was in fifth place for the Peugeot team, Toni Gardemeister was the leading SEAT car in sixth place over two minutes down on the leaders. Colin McRae was down in seventh after the first day, the Scot had problems with the steering on stage three and lost a lot of time, he also had problems with the gearbox and it had to be changed at the final service.
Before the cars had lined up for the second day of competitive rallying there was drama in the parc ferme, the temperatures from the night before had fallen to as low as minus seven, Richard Burns' car and the entire fleet of Peugeots refused to fire up. Four of the top six competitors were now gone from the rally and Makinen was now in the lead by a minute and a half. The Peugeot team could not believe their bad fortune "This is horrible, we don't deserve this" said team boss Corrado Provera, Burns was just as distraught "The car just wouldn't start, eventually it was flooded and that was it". Makinen was left to bring his car home in one piece, which is not easy to do on mountain roads that are dry one minute and covered with a sheet of ice the next.
Stage six was cancelled because there were too many spectators at the start of the stage and the cars drove the stage. Makinen found it hard to find a pace and was afraid he might slacken off too much and let Sainz and Gardemeister pounce should he get a puncture or have a mechanical problem. Sainz was now up to second in his first rally for his new team and was setting some of the top times throughout the day, "I am driving as fast as I can, but it is more realistic for me to concentrate on doing my own event". Gardemeister finished day two 25 seconds behind Sainz but he was coming under pressure from Kankkunen who had sensor problems on day one but got the problem sorted for day two.
McRae was still having problems on the rally, which he has never won; he had more trouble with his gearbox and put back in the old one that he took out at final service on leg one. McRae was fastest on stage nine and ten and leapfrogged past Kankkunen to within 17 seconds of Gardemeister. The fight for sixth was between Belgians Thiry and Loix with Thiry taken the final point heading into leg three.
With Makinen out in front by nearly two minutes all eyes were focused on the Ford team. There were no team orders at Ford and both McRae and Sainz were allowed to fight for the second spot. McRae was fastest on the first run of the morning and was up to third ahead of Gardemeister. McRae was eating into Sainz's advantage as the day progressed, he still had transmission trouble but it was not affecting him too much. On the 24 mile Sisteron stage McRae took 21 seconds out of Sainz, but Sainz replied with the fastest time on stage 14 and McRae decided to settle for third place going into the last stage. "I was pushing hard through there, but I can't push as hard as I would like because of the problems, if I'd taken time off him I would have pushed again on this one, but I'll settle for third now".
Sainz was fastest through the last stage of the rally to secure Ford's best result since March last year, but it was not all joy in the Ford camp as McRae's car stopped without any warning ten miles into the last stage. "There had been no indication of any problem earlier, I'm absolutely gutted. I don't think me and good luck are meant to go together." All this moved Kankkunen into third place but the Finn felt he could have done better, "I can't say I'm too pleased with third because I expected to do much better here, that's the way rallying is". Gardemeister finished fourth but felt he could have been on the podium but was happy with his performance, "It has been a very difficult final day, I have had problems all the time and the car has been much more difficult to drive than before".
Bruno Thiry was fifth in his privately entered Corolla, he finished just over a minute behind Gardemeister, and Freddy Loix finished sixth to give Mitsubishi valuable points in the title race. For Tommi Makinen the year started like it did twelve months previously and how dearly Makinen would love to go on and be the first person to win five world Rally Championships in a row, or will Burns win his first title? We'll have to wait and see. The next rally is in Sweden running from February 10th to the 12th.