Rallying: Fortune favours Finn in the end

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The Independent Online
TAPIO LAUKKANEN added the Mobil 1 British Rally Championship to Finland's rapidly increasing haul of motor sport honours on Saturday, and then admitted that he thought he had missed his chance.

The Oxford-based driver, Scandinavia's first winner of the British title since Stig Blomqvist in 1983, has dominated the series all year and was widely expected to claim a fourth victory in five events at the Stena Line Ulster International Rally.

But on an opening leg which saw virtually every top driver lose time or retire, Laukkanen's chances of maintaining his triumphant run quickly evaporated. He lost eight minutes on stage two after his Renault veered off the road at a junction, ripped a wheel off and dropped to 83rd position overall.

That incident should have been enough to ensure the battle for the crown went to the season's climax on the Isle of Man in September.

Laukkanen was too far behind to gain enough points to put the title race beyond doubt - or so it seemed. But when his two main challengers, team- mate Martin Rowe and Toni Gardemeister, withdrew he was back on the brink of victory.

"I made my first mistake of the year yesterday when I went off and it very nearly cost us the finish which has now brought me the joy of my first rallying title," said Laukkanen.

There was never much doubt that he had the pace to work his way back up into the top 10 and it all came down to whether Gwyndaf Evans - the only other man who could deny the Finn - could win the rally to keep the championship alive.

Despite clocking the fastest time on all today's 11 stages, the Welshman slipped too far behind eventual winner Neil Wearden on the first leg because of trouble with his power steering.

Results, Digest, page 9