Germany’s Armin Schwarz won the opening special stage of the gruelling Safari Rally here Thursday after former world champion Richard Burns abandoned. Schwarz, driving a Skoda Octavia, clocked 55min 5sec to power home over the testing 117.4 kilometre special. He was followed closely by the Mitsubishi Lancer of Finnish ace Tommi Makinen, with Scotland’s Colin McRae coming in third in his Ford Focus. Makinen was four minutes down on Schwarz while McRae was nearly half an hour behind the leader. But the story of the stage was Burns’ bitterly disappointing breakdown.
The English ace won here last year and in 1998 but his chances of a third victory were dashed 50 kilometres from the end of the stage when his front left suspension snapped. Burns, who is 15 points behind the leaders in the overall World Championship standings, had been looking for a win here to put him back in contention for the title.