13 November 2004
It's been an interesting day for the SUBARU drivers competing in the PCWRC class of this year's Telstra Rally Australia. Starting out this morning, the SUBARU competitors had a brace of rival machinery all around them. That situation has now changed - and from the point of view of the SUBARU crews - clearly for the better!
The day's tests have taken out a good few competitors; fortunately only one of those a SUBARU machine running in the PCWRC. Unfortunately for Mark Higgins, his retirement came just after the lunchtime Service. It was particularly disappointing as, after all his dramas on Leg One, the Englishman was steadily clawing his way back up the order and had moved into 7th place, up 3 spots from his starting position this morning of 10th.
For Alister McRae, it's been business as usual on today's stages. He's had absolutely no dramas at all on Leg Two and is taking it nice and easy; though is keeping the pace on because he knows only too well that losing his position is only a puncture away.
A good example of misfortune claiming a driver unexpectedly is Jani Paasonen - the Finn went out after the first of the day's stages following a big push. He broke his car and that's brought SUBARU up into the top three positions - pretty amazing considering that only this morning, apart from Alister's top spot, the next SUBARU was Niall McShea in 4th, followed by Toshi in 6th!
Alister's really taken up the mantle on this event, and is driving very solidly for SUBARU here in Australia. He's had an absolutely faultless run all day, and remains completely focused on the task at hand, having a good, comfortable run at the head of the field.
Niall McShea started Leg Two with the intention of lifting his pace as he was running with what he expected was a more powerful engine. He's disappointed the car was not more responsive, and that he wasn't able to make any inroads into Alister throughout the entire day. With the gap still at 1 minute 48 seconds, it is unlikely he'll be able to overhaul the Scotsman by tomorrow afternoon. However, there are still six stages remaining, consisting of some 127.83 kilometres of competitive track before anyone's lifting the laurels. And, as we can't seem to say often enough in this sport: It's a rally, anything can happen! Jani had only to finish this event in second place to take the crown and suddenly he's retired. Niall's still focused, determined to keep it all together and pounce should Alister make any kind of mistake tomorrow.
Toshi on the other hand, went out this morning with the determination to absolutely conquer the opposition and that's exactly what he's done. A quick check of the stage times for the PCWRC runners shows his incredible run of eight stage wins in a row today, from SS10 to SS17. He's been the fastest car pretty well all day - an absolutely fabulous performance from the Japanese ace. Quite clearly for tomorrow, Toshi's targeting to overhaul Niall if he possibly can. On the face of what we've seen today, both in terms of sheer pace and consistency, he appears quite capable.
Fabio Frisiero has had yet another fabulous day on these Australian stages. While he may not quite be matching the pace of the front-runners, his spirits remain upbeat and he continues to praise the tests.
Tomorrow the stages are expected to be bathed in sunshine with temperatures hovering around the 30-degree mark. Leg Three promises to be the hottest day of the rally and the heat is guaranteed to take its toll on the competitors and cars.
The stages tomorrow are some of the most famous in all of world rallying. They have created some of the greatest upsets in the history of the sport. Roads where people have come from nowhere on the last stages and made incredible leaps forwards, getting incredible results. Visually too, Sunday's stages are spectacular. There are jumps, water splashes - some of the things that make rallying visually such a treat. It's the final day of competition - not only for this event, but for the 2004 PCWRC season - and it's still all to play for!
Any one of three of the SUBARU drivers could take the coveted PCWRC title on Sunday afternoon; Niall McShea, Alister McRae, and Toshi Arai. And if all three of them fail, it'll be Jani Paasonen who is crowned king. In these parts, even that outcome is possible!
"I'm quite clearly focused on what I have to do. There's no more pressure on me than normal. I am out there to keep the gap to the others and to make sure I don't make any mistakes. I'll be maintaining this pace until Sunday afternoon."
Niall McShea - Car #34
"My plan today was to take a couple of seconds per stage out of Alister's lead, but that turned out not to be possible. I'm keeping my head down. It's a rally and anything can happen. Tomorrow's stages should be interesting. Naturally, I'll be pushing as hard as I can to get closer to Alister."
Toshi Arai - Car #31
"I'm really pleased with our progress today. We managed to get up to 3rd by the lunchtime Service and I'm very happy to have maintained this position to the end of Leg Two. Tomorrow I will be trying my best, keeping up the pace and taking another position if the chance arises."
Fabio Frisiero - Car #45
"I've really enjoyed myself today. The stages are a good challenge and I'm keeping up a good pace. Apart from the Flynns1 test (SS15), I've really been enjoying the rally."