PEUGEOT STRENGTHENS TITLE PUSH
Peugeot has bolstered its bid for the World Rally Manufacturers' title with a fine second place in the Rally Argentina, which finished in front of large crowds at Cordoba Stadium this afternoon. Finnish driver Marcus Gronholm and his navigator Timo Rautiainen were comfortable runners-up in their 206 WRC, after the retirement of their closest rival, Colin McRae, on today's opening test.
Gronholm had hoped to move ahead of Richard Burns today, to secure his second World Rally victory of the season. But the 32-year-old lost valuable seconds to the Englishman in the opening test and after two slight accidents in the second, he elected to settle for six points that will help both his quest for the drivers' crown and Peugeot's hopes of manufacturer glory. Gronholm was troubled by rising temperatures in the last stage and backed off accordingly, eventually finishing just over a minute behind Burns. Marcus now moves into second in the drivers' series after six rounds, ahead of four-times champion Tommi Makinen.
Marcus said: "We had a couple of big moments on the second stage, one of which involved leaving the road altogether, so there was no chance to catch Richard today. I found driving hard work because the misty conditions meant we had to run with full fans blowing and it was incredibly hot inside the car. But I am very satisfied with second place because I've only been here once before and experience really counts at this level. The Peugeot team worked well and I was lucky to have help from my team-mate François on tyre compounds and patterns."
He added: " The next rally (the Acropolis) will be another difficult one for me, because I have only visited Greece once before - last year - and I led for one stage before retiring so I don't know the roads there either. But a car on the podium shows that Peugeot is competitive and we have some more improvements planned."
Delecour and co-driver Daniel Grataloup continued their learning curve in Argentina, although they lost a lot of time in the opening pair of tests when they used the Michelin "moto-cross" pattern tyre as an experiment designed to help Gronholm. On SS20 François was forced to stop for two minutes with clutch problems, but the Peugeot Sport engineers changed the unit in the following service and François was able to reach the finish in 14th place.
François said: "It's been a difficult event for me, but I think the team worked well. Today, the moto-cross tyres cost me seconds in those first two stages because unlike yesterday, they were quite rough and rocky. The clutch problem was a strange thing, because I don't normally use the clutch at all. But it started slipping and after spectators pushed us, I stopped for a couple of minutes. The car was overheating a little near the end and I turned off the Anti-Lag System to keep the temperature down."
He added: "It would have been nice to get a manufacturers' point for Peugeot here but it was always going to be hard for me, because I've never driven this rally before, and we lost a lot of time with those hydraulic problems on day one anyway. Acropolis is next, and I'm more confident for that one because at least I've driven the 206 WRC in Greece before."
Peugeot Sport Team Director Corrado Provera said: "The whole team is very happy with this result. This is even more than we'd hoped for on our first participation. Next year, we will come back to win!"
Delecour is not alone in having increased hopes for the next round of the World Rally Championship, the Acropolis Rally in Greece next month. This notoriously rough event marks the first rally on which the 206 WRC will have previously competed.