Tommi Makinen took a bittersweet second win of the season, being now faced with the certain loss of the world championship crown he has held for the last four years.

Tactics had dominated the first two legs of the Telstra Rally Australia, with the teams positioning themselves for today by slowing appropriately. However, the four final stages provided a truly exciting battle with all drivers going flat out - the time for tactics having passed.

Makinen's win, and title rivals Gronholm and Burns second and third positions, also means that the drivers' and manufacturers' crowns will be decided at the seasons final round, the Rally of Great Britain later this month.

Late last night Makinen was handed a 10s penalty for jumping the start of the order-defining SS16, Murray Pines. Under normal circumstances this would have automatically brought about a rush of appeals but, not surprisingly, Mitsubishi accepted the punishment without question as it dropped Makinen from the lead and into third on the road for today's stages.

Or so he thought. A late puncture change by Richard Burns before the first stage of the day meant that Makinen was pushed back up into second on the road, behind Gronholm.

Makinen remained unfazed and was the fastest driver on the first two stages, he later explained that this had been a demonstration of no holds barred driving from the reigning world champion, "There's not so much difference being second on the road and I couldn't drive any faster. Near the end of SS19 I took a crest flat out and nearly landed in the forest! I'm using the sand banks here to bounce the car off, just I do with the snow banks in Sweden."

Despite pressure from Burns and Gronholm in what was effectively a three horse race, Makinen held and indeed extended his lead in the remaining special stages. The victory helping to sweeten the blow of knowing that his four-year reign as world champion is over. ''It's been an incredible four years," he said before adding, "I really can't remember what it's like not to be champion."

Peugeot driver and world championship leader, Marcus Gronholm, was hampered by running first on the road, which inevitably lost the Finn time today. Nevertheless he will head into the final round of the championship as clear favourite for victory, with a seven-point advantage over Richard Burns.

Team mate Francois Delecour's hopes of reeling in Richard Burns were always slim, but disappeared completely after he gained a further 20s penalty when replacing a broken spark plug caused him to be late out of the morning's first service.

The Frenchman nearly rolled the 206 on the big Sotico jump - but recovered to finish fourth. The third Peugeot of Gilles Panizzi completed the final stage with a damaged gearbox and was unable to reach the final control.

Peugeot is at least guaranteed one FIA title this season. Even if Burns beats Gronholm for the drivers' title, the result will automatically prevent Ford from overhauling Peugeot in the manufacturers' Championship.

Lone Ford driver, Tapio Laukkanen, stalled on last night's Langley Park Superstage - dropping a place in the running order. This actually proved to be helpful to the Finn and after two of today's stages in the Sotico (aka Bunnings) plantation he was back into a points-scoring position.

Ford's only hope of a championship this year will be if it is can score well in Rally GB, thus preventing Peugeot from winning the Manufacturers' Championship. Ironically, had Richard Burns passed Marcus Gronholm on the final stage, Colin McRae would have rejoined the title race.

The last 'tactic' of the Rally was seen when Richard Burns stopped to change a wheel in the start control for SS18, Bannister West. The manoeuvre cost him no time penalty but dropped him behind Tommi Makinen, enabling him to run third on the road, partially wiping out the advantage the Finn had gained from his jump-start penalty.

"You wouldn't want to be in the car with us today," quipped Burns. "It's been balls-out, pedal to the metal stuff all the way." Speaking before the penultimate stage, the last long test before the Michelin TV stage finale, Burns added, ''Unless Tommi has a problem then I don't think I can catch him. My target now is to get past Marcus to give me the best chance to win the title on the final round.'' Unfortunately for Burns it wasn't to be and Gronholm now holds a strong hand for the final round.

Hyundai lost the second of its three cars this morning when Australian Michael Guest was unable to restart from service after SS18. The cause of the Australian's retirement remains unknown as the engine would turn over but not fire.

Kenneth Eriksson continued his fine performance with a well-deserved fifth overall - equalling the team's best result of the season. Had he not picked up one minute of road penalties during the event the Swede would have managed fourth. "I'm really happy with this result," said the veteran WRC driver. "It shows the good potential of our car and it is a good omen for the future."

The SEAT team completed the event with both cars in the top 10, to produce one of the Spanish team's best overall performances in what has been a difficult final season for the factory team. Drivers Didier Auriol and Toni Gardemeister both pulled out occasional flashes of speed on the flat out forest super stages, but were unable to mount a consistent challenge.

In Group N, championship leader Manfred Stohl was unable to overhaul Rally leader Gustavo Trelles, and so the battle for the championship will be resolved in two weeks' time on the Rally GB.

Splitting the Mitsubishi pair was Toshihiro Arai driving a Group N car for the Spike Subaru team. The Spike team now leads the series by four points from Toyota Team Saudi Arabia. Mathematically Spike cannot be beaten in the Teams Cup, but needs to start the final round to complete the minimum number of event starts required to qualify.

Top Southern Hemisphere driver was the reigning five-time Australian Champion, New Zealander Possum Bourne, who has recently added the FIA Asia-Pacific title to his trophy cabinet. Bourne's performance also secured the Australian manufacturers' championship. Top local driver was the partnership of Australians Neal Bates and Coral Taylor in their Toyota Corolla WRC.