Didier Auriol has taken a dominant victory on the rain-lashed 555 China Rally.
Richard Burns was nearly a minute back in second place after Auriol tore through the final leg of the rally. He was quickest on every stage as heavy rain persuaded his rivals to back off and ensure a points finish.
The result puts the ever-consistent Frenchman on equal points with Makinen at the top of the championship table, and increases Toyota's Manufacturers' advantage.
It is also his first win since Corsica last May, and only his second win in four seasons.
Auriol's win was made rather easier by the number of retirements. The entire Ford team was wiped out within 2kms of the start when both Colin McRae and Thomas Radstrom broke their suspension on the same concrete slab. By the end of day one, Freddy Loix and Piero Liatti had also joined the casualty list after hitting a rock and getting water in the engine respectively.
Tommi Makinen had pulled out a substantial lead by the end of leg one, but then hampered his progress by hitting a tree. Body damage was incurred, as was a penalty for leaving service late, and another off course moment early on day two left the Finn down in fourth behind Burns, Auriol and Carlos Sainz.
Although Makinen recovered to third, setting some extremely fast stage times in the process, he then became the next victim of the Chinese rocks and would also end his rally with shattered suspension.
Burns had been in control throughout day two, but Auriol edged ahead in the final stages. Burns said he would be happier running second on the road on the final leg, but in the event his French rival left him standing, pulling away further with every stage.
Sainz took third, a series of punctures on day two preventing him from getting any closer to the front. The Spaniard had battled with Juha Kankkunen for much of the event, until the Finn crashed on day two and lost two minutes trying to get his Subaru back on the road.
Kankkunen still took fourth ahead of SEAT's Harri Rovanpera, who drove cautiously to ensure a points finish once he realised that the pace of those in front was too quick for him.
Volcan Isik was the best FIA Teams' Cup contender and scored his first top six overall finish after a mature, if lonely, drive. His only threat came from Abdullah Bakhashab, but the latter dropped out after breaking his suspension at the end of leg one.
Subaru driver Toshi Arai proved that you don't have to drive a Mitsubishi to win Group N, taking a dominant class win after the charging Hamed Al Wahaibi retired in the final stages. His problems allowed Gustavo Trelles up to second place, a result which makes the Uruguayan much more likely to claim the GpN drivers' title again.
Alister McRae won Formula Two in his Hyundai, always clear of his only rival, his team-mate Kenneth Eriksson. The only other works F2 entry was Nobuhiro Tajima's Suzuki Baleno, but the Japanese driver lived up to his reputation and crashed out after five stages.
The result at least puts Hyundai back on course for the F2 title. This is good news for the Korean team seeing as they are the only ones actually seriously chasing it and would not look too impressive if they lost to the likes of Renault and Citroen, who are only contesting occasional events and are not interested in the crown.
Makinen's title prospects are looking less secure now, but even in China he showed he had the pace to win the rally before retiring. He cannot afford too many non-finishes in the final three rounds however, because Auriol is ready to pounce and Sainz, Burns and Kankkunen are not far behind.
Final positions after SS22:
Chan Chi Wah
Championship standings with three rallies remaining:
Autosport has produced a standalone special magazine to celebrate our 70th birthday. All current print subscribers will receive a copy for free. To order your copy of the 196-page Autosport 70th Anniversary issue, please go to: autosport.com/autosport70th