Makinen takes the reins in Africa

Tommi Makinen is poised to take a dominant win on the Safari Rally after heading into the final leg of the event with a six-minute overnight lead. However the Finn cannot count on extending his World Rally Championship lead just yet as he has a gruelling repeat of the first leg to negotiate before he his home and dry

Makinen takes the reins in Africa

Makinen is tied for the lead of the drivers' championship with rival Colin McRae on 30 points. But with the Scotsman having retired on Friday and his team mate Carlos Sainz, who is Makinen's next closest rival, going the same way this morning (Saturday), the Mitsubishi star could not ask to be in a better position.

What is more the Flying Finn is more than six minutes clear of second-placed Harri Rovanpera.

Sainz's demise was brought about buy engine failure for the second event in succession and the Spaniard's retirement means Ford will not score points for the first time this season. The Blue Oval will still lead the series after this event, but Mitsubishi has a golden opportunity to slash the gap.

The only chink in Makinen's armour was a prop shaft problem on the penultimate stage of the day, but the four-time world champion was still third fastest and the fault was quickly rectified.

"Some of the roads have been very wet, but I am very happy that things are going well for us," said Makinen. "The problem with the prop-shaft was very worrying because I thought we could be out of the rally, but fortunately we got to the end of the section and the team changed the part in service. I went a bit faster on the final section because I knew the road was very smooth and I wanted a bigger advantage for tomorrow."

Big advantage or not, the Mitsubishi ace will need to be extra cautious tomorrow as the final leg's route takes the teams back along the same sections as the gruelling first day, which claimed 15 retirements, including McRae and fellow title aspirant Richard Burns.

Behind Makinen, Harri Rovanpera is again proving that he is Peugeot's lucky charm, for while Didier Auriol and Marcus Gronholm were victims of yesterday's destructive opening leg, the Finn is trailing Makinen and perfectly poised to strike if the leader hits trouble. Norway's Petter Solberg was also close on his heels, but suspension niggles on today's final stage have added more precious seconds to his challenge.

For full results table click here.

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