Tommi Mäkinen has a solid grip on the eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Safari Rally, which continued in Kenya today.
The four-times world champion's overnight advantage was boosted on today's first section by the retirement of Carlos Sainz, and he has consistently matched the pace of rivals Harri Rovanperä and Petter Solberg to consolidate his lead.
Today's five sections (including the longest test in the WRC, at 124.48km) were generally drier than yesterday's stages, although that opening section did feature some mud-holes.
At Mitsubishi Tommi Mäkinen's Mitsubishi Lancer enjoyed a relatively troublefree day. The Finn's only real concern came during the day's fourth test, when he damaged his propshaft after a heavy landing. Team-mate Freddy Loix wasn't so fortunate. The Belgian's Lancer started to misfire badly on today's opening stage and the Belgian lost nearly 20 minutes as he limped to the finish on three cylinders. The team subsequently considered a cylinder head change at third service, after Loix coped with the same problem in CS6, but that operation would have taken too long so Loix had to soldier on in his down-on-power machine for the rest of the day.
Tommi Mäkinen's overnight advantage was bolstered further by the retirement of Carlos Sainz on today's opening section, and the Finn matched the pace of both Harri Rovanperä and Petter Solberg to keep his lead at well over five minutes. Freddy Loix was badly hampered by an engine misfire for much of the morning, though, and the Belgian dropped down the leaderboard as a result. Mitsubishi elected to keep him running, though, in the hope that he might finish and score manufacturers' points.
Tommi Makinen said: ''Of course it's going very well now. I feel a bit sorry for the others who've had problems but this is rallying, and this is the Safari! With a lead like this there's always the question of concentration and I'm trying to maintain that. But it's a lot better to drive here this year than it was last time. Our tyres are much stronger, we can drive without being worried about punctures too much and the new rear suspension on the Lancer makes it much easier to drive in the rough sections. I'm hopeful we can win this rally tomorrow but in Kenya you can never celebrate until the finish. The problem with the propshaft proved that - it was a hell of a vibration and was quite worrying.''
Freddy Loix added: ''I'm not sure what caused the engine to misfire so badly. There was a lot of water at the start of the first section but it seemed to me that we'd got through it okay. Then on a straight it started to go bad and we stopped to see if there was water in the plugs. There wasn't, although there was quite a lot inside the car itself, so maybe it's got something to do with the ignition. I had big problems on the same section last year, so it's obviously not my favourite bit of road.''
At Peugeot Harri Rovanperä's 206 WRC has been generally reliable today. The Finn's only drama was a small glitch in his car's gearbox in CS6.
Rovanpera is the sole remaining Peugeot driver and he has concentrated on maintaining the pace that moved him into third overall yesterday. He was promoted to second when Carlos Sainz retired on this morning's first section, but Rovanperä has already declared that he will not increase his pace to pursue leader Tommi Mäkinen.