Richard Burns set himself up for a World Championship showdown with the former champions Colin McRae of Scotland and Finland's Tommi Makinen by finishing runner-up to the current title holder Marcus Gronholm in the Telstra Rally of Australia in Perth.
Although the Finn failed to win any of yesterday's four stages he had done enough on Saturday, with five stage wins out of six, to justify his superiority over his rivals in the 1,400-kilometre rally.
Burns, who could be joining Gronholm at Peugeot next year, took the first stage yesterday, the 34.57km Bannister West River section, but the Englishman was content to consolidate his second position rather than run the risk of creating problems for himself by attacking Gronholm's lead.
In the end, the Subaru driver finished 40.4 seconds behind the winner but comfortably ahead of Gronholm's team-mate Didier Auriol, who came third. For McRae, who battled to success in three of Sunday's four stages, it was a case of what might have been as he accepted two valuable fifth-place points to lead the championship table on 42 by one point from Makinen with Burns on 40.
Saturday's six stages all went through heavily gravelled outback roads, which favour the later starters, the pacemakers effectively sweeping away the ball-bearing shaped gravel for the following drivers.
The Scot, having turned up late for Friday's position selection meeting in Perth, forfeited the chance to choose his starting place and had to lead the field out on Saturday.
"We could have finished on the podium and I still can't believe that decision on Friday," said McRae. "It ruined the rally for us. But we still have everything to go for in Britain and with three drivers separated by just two points it's going to be fun. It's simple – the winner takes all." The Network Q rally, the final rally of the championship, is at the end of this month.Reuse content