Tommi Makinen has won the Rally New Zealand for the first time, heading a 1-2-3 for Finnish drivers.
The Mitsubishi star has dominated for most of the event, untouchable ever since his nearest challengers Colin McRae and Richard Burns dropped out on leg one.
The story of the event has to be the performance of Toni Gardemeister. His 3rd place is the best result yet for the SEAT Cordoba WRC, and came on his first outing in the car. A protégé of Juha Kankkunen, Gardemeister has long been tipped as a future star and his performances in the British Championship this season have impressed many people. On his first WRC event for SEAT, the Finn outshone his equally highly-rated team mate Harri Rovanpera and ran comfortably on the pace of the leaders throughout.
None of the regulars could muster a challenge to Makinen, who only cracked this event last year after a series of crashes here in previous seasons. Juha Kankkunen ran 2nd but a slow start to leg one meant he was always too far behind to be a real threat. Burns didn't last long enough to make an impact and while the two Toyota's looked like taking the minor podium placings, errors and reliability problems eventually forced them down the order.
Gustavo Trelles took Group N honours and 9th overall, while Kenneth Eriksson inherited the F2 spoils after his Hyundai team mate Alister McRae crashed on leg two and lost nearly five minutes.
Next up is the 1000 Lakes Rally in Finland. No-one has beaten Makinen at home since 1994, and another victory could seal his fourth consecutive title beyond doubt. However, Kankkunen is pretty handy on his home turf as well, and with the Subaru team back on the pace, he could spoil Tommi's party. So could Gardemeister, again down to drive the ever-improving SEAT WRC. The Finns have ruled the roost effortlessly in New Zealand, at home they will be an even tougher proposition.
Final result, Rally of New Zealand:
Hamed Al Wahaibi
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