RAC Rally: Wilson picks up McRae's baton: Scot's charge cruelly terminated as Cumbrian chases Kankkunen: Derick Allsop reports from Gateshead

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The Independent Online
MALCOLM WILSON rekindled hopes of British success in the RAC Rally with a stirring drive through the snow and darkness of Kielder last night. The 37-year-old Cumbrian headed for the overnight halt at Gateshead hard on the heels of Juha Kankkunen and Kenneth Eriksson.

It seemed the ghost was certain to haunt the home contingent for another year when Colin McRae, leading the rally for the third consecutive year, succumbed on his own doorstep. He had a 22-point advantage over Kankkunen as he entered Kershope, the longest stage of the four-day trek. The 25 miles start in England and finish in Scotland. He made it to his homeland, but a branch had pierced the radiator of his Subaru Impreza, and the engine was beyond recall.

McRae said: 'What a way to go. The branch came into the engine bay and made a large hole in the radiator. As the temperature went up my heart sank. I thought we were away this time. It was the best chance we've ever had.'

Wilson, like McRae, found no home comforts. His Ford Escort encountered trouble in Grizedale, puncturing a tyre. He said: 'I had a big yump going fast and landing very heavily in a hole, bending the front strut, so the tyre was rubbing on the metal. We had to do six miles without a tyre.'

Wilson, on the trail of this rally for 17 years, was fastest through Harwood, despite bursting his radiator, though he was still down on Kankkunen's Toyota Celica and Eriksson's Mitsubishi. To most, survival was the height of ambition.

The abysmal conditions, ice and mud giving way to several inches of snow, took a heavy toll and two stages were closed before all the cars were able to get through. William Hill, driving a Ford Escort, crashed and broke his foot, an incident which closed proceedings on Grizedale West. The Wauchope East stage was stopped because 18 cars had slithered off.

One Briton anticipating victory was Nicky Grist, Kankkunen's Welsh co-driver. He said: 'Juha is revelling in all this. Especially since we made the right choice and used snow tyres. Looking at some of the other drivers' times, it can prove very costly not to do so.'

Into Kielder, the mood in Car No 1 changed. They lost 2min 28sec to Wilson, after puncturing twice, and saw their lead over Eriksson cut to a vulnerable 1min 2sec. Wilson was 2min 18sec down.

On the penultimate stage, the pursuing pair hacked more chunks from Kankkunen's advantage. But Kankkunen responded on the last stage, ending the day with a lead of 1min 21sec over Eriksson, and 2min 16sec over Wilson.

NETWORK Q RAC RALLY Leaders after third leg (stages 20-28): 1 J Kankkunen/N Grist (Fin/GB) Toyota Celica 5hr 16min 04sec; 2 K Eriksson/S Parmander (Swe) Mitsubishi Lancer 5:17:25; 3 M Wilson/B Thomas (GB) Ford Escort 5:18:20; 4 F Delecour/D Grataloup (Fr) Ford Escort 5:19:41; 5 A Vatanen/B Berglund (Fin/ Swe) Subaru Impreza 5:21:01; 6 D Auriol/V Occelli (Fr) Toyota Celica 5:21:12; 7 R Burns/R Reid (GB) Subaru Legacy 5:29:02; 8 A Schwarz/P Thul (Ger) Mitsubishi Lancer 5:37:37; 9 M Jonsson/L Backman (Swe) Toyota Celica 5:43.26; 10 A McRae/D Senior (GB) Subaru Legacy 5:44:29.