”I am very disappointed naturally because we were going extremely well and setting some very competitive times, including two scratch times. We tried to get the car back onto the stage, but it was grounded on an earth bank and it was impossible to move,” Solberg said.
The final stage of the day (SS10) saw a return to racing speed by most of the competitors, although Burns and Gronholm bravely(?) held back to finish nearly 1min 40secs off stage winner Makinen's time.
So the first leg of Rally Australia ended with Kankkunen leading overall from Delecour and Makinen, with last years winner Richard Burns fourth, the Englishman having driven consistently quick, but without ever winning a stage. Early leader Gronholm holds fifth position overnight, passing the job of road sweeper to fellow Finn Kankkunen.
Burns was unimpressed by the situation, “I believe the outcome of the world championship should be determined on the stages, but unfortunately my hand is now forced.”
He continued, “I will be obliged, against my principles, to use the same tactics as the other teams tomorrow if we are to win here. But apart from a lack of feeling from the brakes today, we've had a good day and I'm confident that we are well set to win.”
The vastly experience Kankkunen was unfazed at going against the grain of popular opinion, saying, “We have driven hard today, without taking any risks. I think tactics are not important yet, we'll worry about that tomorrow, because what matters is road position on the final day. We had two minor punctures, but nothing that cost us any time, so it's been a good day.”
Gronholm, meanwhile, is cautiously optimistic of having an easier second leg, “I'm pleased to be running with a few cars in front of me tomorrow. One of my championship rivals (Colin McRae) has retired but the competition is still looking tough.”
Uruguay's Gustavo Trelles(Lancer Evolution) steadily built up a slender lead in Group N, “Everything has been very good and we have had no problems with the car at all, but we have to keep going like this, because if I don't win here, probably Manfred (Stohl) will win the World Championship,” Trelles warned.
Stohl himself lost a few seconds with a puncture on the ninth stage, but he remains in a good position to continue his season-long duel with Trelles. “It would be good to be leading of course, but we are in quite a nice position and I think we can attack Gustavo a bit more tomorrow,” he commented.
Tomorrow's second leg consists of a long journey south to Harvey, around which all but one of the day's seven stages are based, and will include the 45.42km Wellington Dam special stage, the longest of the rally, before ending with a final run around Perth's riverside Langley Park.