Rallying: Oil spill forces out Makinen

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The Independent Online
TOMMI MAKINEN naturally feared the hi-tech, four-wheel drive Subarus and Toyotas, but never bargained for the impact an unobtrusive historic car might have on his quest for a place in rallying history.

The Finn almost certainly lost his chance of becoming the first driver to win three consecutive world rally championships when he was forced out of the deciding British Rally yesterday after sliding on an oil patch and losing a wheel.

Makinen's anguish was compounded when he learned the oil had been dumped by a 31-year-old 1000cc Hillman Imp driven by a Bodmin builder, Nigel Barnett, in the parallel historic event.

Organisers threw cement on the treacherous area and the rest of the leading cars avoided trouble. But not Makinen. His Mitsubishi smashed into a concrete block, ripping off its right rear wheel.

He continued for the rest of the stage and the return stretch at Millbrook, a test track near Bedford, a total of some eight miles, on three wheels.

Makinen was prepared to struggle on with his crippled car to a service area but was stopped on a public road by a motorcycle policeman, PC Simon Robinson, and told he could go no further.

His retirement means Carlos Sainz requires only fourth place to win the championship. The Spaniard brought his Toyota back to rally headquarters here last night in second place. Colin McRae, who has monopolised the event in recent years, leads in his Subaru.

Makinen, still heading the championship by two points, maintains he neither expects nor cares for another twist in the tale.

"I have thrown the championship away," he said. "I have never felt worse than this. I cannot understand how something as stupid as this can happen in the World Championship. Somebody knew the oil was there, but nobody told me. I couldn't see anything.

"It's not in my hands anymore. I hope for nothing now. Even if Carlos has bad luck I don't care. I don't want something like this to decide the championship."

Mitsubishi team manager Phil Short said: "I'm a fan of historic cars but they shouldn't affect the World Championship."

PC Robinson said: "The car was not acceptable to have on a public road. There was no way I could allow them to continue."

Barnett, who had earlier repaired an oil pipe, said: "I don't feel responsible. The pipe had come off earlier at Silverstone. I didn't see the light come on as I was concentrating on the car in front of me."

McRae and Sainz sympathise with Makinen, maintaining they should have been warned. There but for the grace of God was their message.

An RAC official said: "We put cement on the oil and don't have to tell the drivers about it. Most of the other cars got through without any trouble."

Two of the lower runners did come to grief, but McRae and company went through unscathed.

The Scot was fastest on the first six stages. Sainz stole his thunder on the super special stage at Silverstone and a puncture and brake problems then checked the Subaru's progress.

However, a service put the car in order again and McRae will head for mid-Wales this morning with a lead of 3.6 seconds over Sainz. His brother, Alister, also in a Subaru, is third. Makinen's team-mate, Englishman Richard Burns, is sixth.

Results, Digest, page 26