Rallying: Makinen's triumph keeps record in sight

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The Independent Online
TOMMI MAKINEN staked his claim for a record fourth successive world title by winning the Rally of New Zealand yesterday.

The world champion, in a Mitsubishi, led home a Finnish top three with Subaru's Juha Kankkunen and Toni Gardmeister, in a Seat, second and third. Makinen's 18th career win increased his world championship lead from four to 11 points over Frenchman Didier Auriol, who finished fourth for Toyota.

Five rallies remain this season and Makinen's first New Zealand triumph was a major fillip before the Rally of Finland, where he will aim for a sixth home win. Makinen, fighting a heavy cold, was relieved to have won a rally for the first time in New Zealand but admitted that after a tough first day on the Waikato leg it had been easy going.

"It's an excellent result, very good indeed," Makinen said. "We started very hard and built up a big lead. Since then we have had a relaxed drive. It will be nice to go to my home rally in Finland with this kind of result. It's incredible to have such a good lead in the world championship."

Gardemeister, who also competes in the Mobil 1 British Championship, and his Spanish Seat team achieved their best result since 1977.

Subaru will be happy that Kankkunen kept their run of top-two finishes going but Toyota, without a win since this time last year, left disappointed. On Saturday, while chasing Makinen's big lead in Northland, both Carlos Sainz and Auriol left the road, damaging their cars and losing time. Auriol had to drive to a service point on three wheels.

Ford's remaining hope, Swede Thomas Radstrom, fought back from a crash on Friday to lie fourth only to slide off the road and out of the event.