Subaru driver Richard Burns has charged to the front of the field on the tenth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally New Zealand, which continued today. After playing tactical games yesterday the Englishman used roads swept clear of...
Subaru driver Richard Burns has charged to the front of the field on the tenth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally New Zealand, which continued today. After playing tactical games yesterday the Englishman used roads swept clear of loose gravel by the earlier crews to set a string of fastest times. Indeed, it took only one stage - the day's 55km opener - for him to move from ninth to first overall.
Burns's nearest challenger is fellow Briton Colin McRae, as the Scot coped well with a relatively high starting position to stave off other challengers and hold second. His team-mate Carlos Sainz is also in contention, along with Peugeot driver Harri Rovanperä. The pair battled for third overall for much of the day before Rovanperä made the place his own in the later stages. But last night's surprise leader Kenneth Eriksson wasn't so lucky - the Hyundai driver quickly dropped out of the points placings as he struggled for grip in the deep gravel.
Technical: The Impreza WRC2001s of Richard Burns and Toshihiro Arai have been reliable today. But team-mate Petter Solberg suffered gearbox problems in the last two stages of the day.
Sporting: Richard Burns took only one stage to move from ninth to first position this morning, and thereafter the Englishman tried to put enough time between himself and Colin McRae to allow him to hold the overnight lead this evening. He reckoned he'd need 30 seconds to achieve that and he managed more than 40, so the Briton elected not to play with tactics. Team-mate Petter Solberg found it harder to predict grip levels today and the young Norwegian dropped back as a result. He ended the day in eighth. Toshihiro Arai, meanwhile, struggled to keep his Impreza in the 'cleaner' line and admitted to several sideways moments as he hit the loose gravel on the outside of corners. He arrived back in Auckland this evening in 13th.
Quotes: Petter Solberg said: "I've been getting happier with the car all day and more comfortable with my driving. We're really too far away from anyone to charge tomorrow so I'll just try to improve my driving."
Richard Burns said: "I'm quite confident about tomorrow. We've been pushing hard on every single stage today and it's paid off. Tomorrow's stages aren't quite as hard on the first car on the road, so the main aim will be to get through the long first stage without problems or any mistakes. If we can do that, then I think our lead should be enough." Toshihiro Arai said: "It's been quite confusing today, because sometimes the lines left by the leading crews give me good grip and sometimes they don't. It's also easy to slide out of the clean lines and then you end up going very sideways!"
Technical: The three 206 WRCs, driven by Marcus Grönholm, Harri Rovanperä and Didier Auriol have all been reliable today.
Sporting: Harri Rovanperä knew he'd have to charge after Peugeot's timing mistakes cost him dearly yesterday afternoon, and the Swedish Rally winner set top-three times on virtually every stage as he moved from 12th to third. Reigning world champion Marcus Grönholm was hit by his high starting position and the Finn dropped to fifth today. It would have been sixth, had team-mate Didier Auriol (who also recovered from outside the top ten) not backed off in the final 300m of the day's last test to ensure that he'll start tomorrow's final leg in sixth.
Quotes: Marcus Gronholm said: "We really couldn't have done any more today. We pushed hard and the car has been fantastic, but you can't help but lose time when the guys behind - Richard, Harri and Didier in particular - have a big grip advantage over you. I suppose we held our position pretty well and there's still a long way to go, but we're fighting for points when the car feels good enough to fight for a win."
Harri Rovanpera said: "It's been a good day, although I couldn't match Richard Burns's times. On the middle stage of the last loop I went a little bit wide and lost some confidence, which cost me a few seconds, but we've still made good progress. Tomorrow will be difficult - I think winning is not possible so instead the big job will be to keep Marcus, Carlos and Didier behind us."
Didier Auriol said: "My only real problem today was on the long first stage. I thought that tyre wear might be a problem so I took it gently but it was the wrong decision. In the end, my tyres looked like they could do another hundred kilometres! I just have to keep pushing and see what result we get tomorrow. I backed off on the last stage because it only cost me four seconds or so, but it means I have one more car in front of me cleaning the roads."
Technical: The three Focus RS WRC01s of Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz and François Delecour have been reliable today.
Sporting: Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz have continued to adopt the same policy today as they did on yesterday's tests - pushing as hard as possible and trying to limit the time loss caused by running high up the field. The Scot has coped slightly more effectively than \his team-mate, as he jumped from fourth to second on the day's opening test and stayed there for the rest of the leg. He'll start tomorrow more than 40 seconds behind Richard Burns, however. Sainz came under pressure from Harri Rovanperä by mid-morning and the Spaniard was unable to stop himself slipping to fourth by the end of the day. The third Focus driver, François Delecour, started today's opening stage hoping to capitalise on cleaned roads but he rolled, losing more than two minutes. He set fast times as he recovered, though, and he drove back to Auckland this evening in 12th.
Quotes: Colin McRae said: "We've been able to hold our own pretty well but Richard's been taking a lot of time out of us. To be honest, tomorrow's more about keeping clear of Harri and Carlos instead of chasing after Richard. We'll keep trying, of course, but unless he has a problem I don't think we'll have a chance to catch him."
Carlos Sainz said: "It has been as difficult today as I expected. The car has been working very well but we've still been losing time. I'm not sure how much we can hope to recover tomorrow either."
François Delecour said: "The roll was my mistake. I was trying to take it easily at the start of the long stage because I wanted to preserve my tyres, but I went too gently and lost concentration. The car rolled over and we needed some spectators to help us back onto the road. Then the windscreen was smashed completely, so we had to kick it out to see where we were going. It wasn't easy, because we had 40km of the stage left! I'm disappointed, of course, because I've gone well here in the past and I was hopeful of a charge towards the points today."
Technical: The Lancer Evolutions of Tommi Mäkinen and Toni Gardemeister have enjoyed troublefree action today. Freddy Loix's car suffered from a brake vibration during this afternoon's tests, however, and he also complained of centre differential problems.
Sporting: Freddy Loix started today as top Mitsubishi but within three stages he'd been overhauled by team-mate Tommi Mäkinen. Loix was again unhappy with his car's balance in some corners, and he had a couple of spins before he eventually arrived over a crest on the wrong line and crashed into a ditch. He lost little time but damaged the right-hand side of the car. Mäkinen, meanwhile, found it difficult to make up much time on the leaders but he still moved into the top ten and towards a points placing. A wrong tyre choice on the last loop of stages didn't help his cause, though. The third Mitsubishi of Toni Gardemeister enjoyed a troublefree day after his gearbox problems yesterday - the young Finn concentrated on building experience of the car, but he still lies outside of the top ten.
Quotes: Tommi Makinen said: "It's been harder to make up time today than I expected it to be. Perhaps this shows us that yesterday, our problem wasn't just our position on the road - maybe we're not quite competitive here either with the combination of car and tyres. We've been pushing hard but we're always waiting to see what others do with tactics. We'll just have to push again tomorrow and see if we get points."
Freddy Loix said: "It's been hard to have confidence in the car today. A lot of the corners here 'open' as you exit them and ideally you should be able to put the car to the outside of the bend. But when I'm doing that I can feel like the inside wheel is lifting off the ground and the car goes very sideways as a result. I had a couple of spins trying it, which doesn't help your confidence. But we've got nothing to lose by continuing to try - tomorrow still has some hard stages."
Technical: The Accent WRC2s of Kenneth Eriksson and Alister McRae have been reliable today, although the Swede did suffer from a broken windscreen wiper in the final group of tests.
Sporting: Kenneth Eriksson expected to struggle for grip by running first on the road and he was proved right - in the day's long, first stage he dropped from the lead to seventh overall. The Swede battled grimly against the conditions for the rest of the day, but he ended the leg in 11th nonetheless. Team-mate Alister McRae was forced to choose hard tyres to compensate for excessive wear and when he experimented with a softer compound on the last three stages, he lost valuable seconds. The Scot ended the leg in ninth, nearly two minutes off a points placing.
Quotes: Kenneth Eriksson said: "We always knew that running first on the road would be a problem but I don't regret it. It was good for Hyundai to lead last night and it's been a while since I was at the front of the field myself! I've been happy with my driving and the car's balance has been fantastic."
Alister McRae said: "It's been a difficult day. We've been struggling a bit with traction because we're having to run a slightly harder tyre than we'd like, in order to keep tyre wear to an acceptable level. As a result, we haven't been able to set the sort of times that would have lifted us further up the leaderboard. But at least the car's been reliable so we haven't lost any ground with mechanical problems."
Local World Rally Car Possum Bourne continued to hold a top ten place for much of today, before turbo and brake problems cost him time in the last loop of stages. In the Group N category for more standard cars, meanwhile, reigning category world champion Manfred Stohl set fastest times in the class on all of today's stages to build a dominant advantage.