Rally Australia had a sting in the tail for the Subaru team, and despite being 'best of the rest' after Peugeot and taking third with Petter Solberg, Tommi Makinen's exclusion was a drama the team would preferred not to have had.
Forty-six of the original 69 starters left Perth this morning in bright and sunny conditions to begin the last day of Rally Australia, the penultimate round of the 2002 World Rally Championship.
The day comprised just four stages based around a central service point at the town of Bannister, 112km south east of Perth. The action took place on the forest roads around the Sotico pine plantation, and in their dry condition, the high-speed stages featured plenty of loose gravel to catch out the unwary.
The first of two stages before service (SS21 - Bannister Central) was a short, high-speed dash over a loose gravel surface and featured the famous 'Bunnings' jumps.
With a 24-second gap between himself and second place, Harri Rovanpera was immediately on the attack in his Peugeot. The Finn was quickest, with Carlos Sainz second and Marcus Gronholm third. Subaru drivers Makinen and Solberg were fourth and fifth fastest respectively, which kept Makinen secure in fifth overall, but reduced the gap between Solberg and the chasing Rovanpera to 19.3 seconds.
The longer stage of the opening group (SS22 – Bannister South) was another high-speed test through the pine plantations of the Southern Timber Company. Rovanpera was quickest, with Gronholm second, followed by the Subarus of Makinen third and Solberg fourth.
Rovanpera's winning time was enough to move him 5.7 secs ahead of Petter on the overall table into second place. Makinen too was on the move, the Finn promoted to fourth when Carlos Sainz rolled and dropped a minute. In the accident Sainz's Focus sustained bodywork, windscreen and turbo damage, but he was able to continue and reached the Sotico service area for a 20-minute refresh ahead of the penultimate stage.
The high-speed stages of leg three seemed to suit the Peugeot drivers especially and on the second longest test of the leg (SS23 - Bannister West) Rovanpera went fastest, followed by Gronholm then Solberg and Makinen.
Ford's 21-year-old Belgian Francois Duval crashed five kms from the start and retired. Duval, who had been sixth overall and locked in a fierce battle with team-mate Markko Martin, was evacuated by helicopter to hospital as a precaution, although his injuries were limited to severe bruising.