Tommi Mäkinen has scored a dominant victory on the eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Safari Rally, which finished in Nairobi this afternoon.
The Finn and navigator Risto Mannisenmaki finished nearly thirtheen minutes clear of their nearest rival after three days and well over a thousand kilometres of competition on the notoriously rough and punishing Kenyan plains.
Today's final leg claimed more of the top crews. Petter Solberg
had to retire because of wheel bearing problems on the first section, and Bruno Thiry crashed out of sixth place on the last test. Several others suffered late scares, too - second-placed Harri Rovanperä had to limp back to final service with damaged suspension before he could relax, while Francois Delecour had to cope with gearbox problems on the last section before he could claim fourth. By the finish, just five factory-entered cars had survived the world championship's toughest challenge.
At Mitsubishi Tommi Mäkinen's mechanics changed his Lancer's turbo at first service this morning after it had given the Finn a scare on the road section back to Nairobi last night. Thereafter, his only problem was slightly bent front-right suspension after he clouted a rock on today's third section.
Freddy Loix lost turbo boost barely two kilometres into today's opening 117km test, and the Belgian had to struggle through at 60-70kph before he could return to service and allow his mechanics to change the offending unit.
Tommi Mäkinen controlled his pace again today to stay at the head of the leaderboard and score his second victory on the Safari Rally. The Finn's success lifts him ten points clear of Colin McRae in the drivers' championship, and moves him alongside the Scot, Carlos Sainz and Juha Kankkunen on the record for the greatest number of WRC rally wins (23).
Team-mate Freddy Loix soldiered through today's opening section with a lack of turbo boost to earn himself two points after a difficult event. His efforts were also enough to score three manufacturers' points for Mitsubishi.
Tommi Makinen said: ''I can't say this win was easy but it felt like it was under control all the time. We knew before the start that our car felt good, and the only real question mark was the tyres that gave us problems last year. But as soon as we tested the new tyres we knew we had a strong package and that made us more confident. A lot of others have had problems but we have been able to drive at the same speed throughout. It's too early to talk about the championship but of course, ten points is a big help when Colin and Carlos haven't scored here. I'm happy to be on the 23 wins but I'd like to make it 24 and get the record for myself. The next round is my home event so it would be nice to do it there.''
Freddy Loix added: ''I'm really pleased to get some points - not just for myself, but for my mechanics. They've had to do so much for me during this event, including changing the cylinder head yesterday - and I really wanted to give them something in return. I've never had a rally with so many problems but that's the Safari.''