Since the 2016 Rally China was cancelled due to torrential storms in the Huariou region of Beijing, TCF revisits the only FIA World Rally Championship rally to be held in China to date on the 17-19 September 1999.
Coming into this rally, Ford’s Colin McRae was the pre-rally favourite to win Rally China, taking the first two wins at this event in 1997 and 1998. The previous rally in Finland, four-times World Rally Champion Juha Kankkunen took his twenty-third and final win on his home rally for Subaru.
As it was a gravel rally, taking place in the Guangdong province, the rain made driving conditions a war of attrition for the teams and crews competing at this rally, with many high-profile drivers retiring throughout the weekend.
On the first day of Rally China 1999, Mitsubishi’s Tommi Mäkinen set the early pace on Day 1 after leading by 29 seconds after the first three stages.
Later on in the day, the Finn occurred a 10 second penalty for arriving out of the service area late, pushing Mäkinen down to third.
Day 1 claimed both Fords of Colin McRae and Thomas Rådström as they retired at the same concrete culvert, midway through the opening day of Rally China 1999. While Mäkinen’s Mitsubishi team-mate Freddy Loix who was twelfth at one point crashed out at SS7.
Subaru’s Richard Burns led Day 1 of Rally China 1999 by nearly 20 seconds of Toyota’s Didier Auriol in second. Mäkinen was third ahead of Kankkunen and Carlos Sainz in fourth and fifth places respectively. SEAT’s Harri Rovanperä completed the top six after Day 1.
Richard Burns went fastest on the opening stage of Day 2 of the 1999 Rally China by 2 seconds ahead of Didier Auriol, but the Frenchman was quickest on the next stage as the Englishman was fifth. From there, Auriol never looked back.
Auriol took the lead of the rally on SS14 as he went 12 seconds quicker than Burns to take the overall rally lead and push the Subaru driver into second who was nearly 11 seconds off the rally leader.
Carlos Sainz was nearly a full minute behind his Toyota rally-leading team-mate in third, while Juha Kankkunen took a methodical approach to the difficult Chinese conditions to claim fourth.
Harri Rovanperä was fifth for SEAT, whilst Turkey’s Volkan Işık completes the top six after Day 2 of Rally China 1999.
The second day was also notable for the retirement of Mitsubishi’s Tommi Mäkinen from the rally, which meant it was back-to-back retirements for the then three-times World Rally Champion.
The final day of the 1999 Rally China saw Didier Auriol take his nineteenth and penultimate win in the World Rally Championship, which was Toyota’s first win in the WRC for over a year.
After taking the opening three final day stage wins ahead of the second-placed Richard Burns, Auriol cruised home to become the first-ever winner of Rally China by over 55.9 seconds ahead of the Subaru of Burns in second place.
Toyota’s Carlos Sainz took the final podium position despite suffering a broken joystick on his gearbox on SS20, which meant he joined his rally-winning team-mate Auriol on the podium in third place.
Juha Kankkunen drove a conservative rally throughout the three days in Guangdong to claim fourth, while Harri Rovanperä was fifth for SEAT. Volkan Işık completed the top six finishers for the only WRC rally to take place in China to date.
The results from the 1999 Rally China saw Auriol tie for the lead with Mäkinen on 48 points while Carlos Sainz was 10 points behind the Championship Leaders coming into the final three rounds of the 1999 World Rally Championship season.