Propecia Rally New Zealand
Official Site: http://www.rallynz.org.nz
Round 10 of the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship
20-23rd September 2001
Richard Burns has scored his first victory of the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship on the tenth round of the series, the Rally New Zealand. The Subaru driver and navigator Robert Reid sprayed the champagne at the finish on the outskirts of Auckland after a tense final leg, held on sweeping fast stages to the south of the city. Burns came under pressure from Colin McRae this morning, but he staved off the Ford driver's advances and when the Scot spun on the penultimate stage, it increased Burns's winning margin to nearly 45 seconds.
McRae's spin almost cost the 1995 world champion second as well as his hopes of a win, but he did just enough to hold off Harri Rovanperä's Peugeot and move level with Tommi Mäkinen in the drivers' championship. Carlos Sainz claimed fourth after a last-stage spin, although reigning world champion Marcus Grönholm would have finished ahead of the Spaniard and Rovanperä had he not jumped the start on the same test.
Technical: The Impreza WRC2001s of Richard Burns, Petter Solberg and Toshihiro Arai have been reliable today.
Sporting: Richard Burns admitted that he hadn't expected Colin McRae to take such a chunk out of his overnight lead on today's opening stage but after the second, longer test, the Englishman steadied the ship to stave off the Scot and score his first victory of the year. Petter Solberg, meanwhile, took time out of four-times world champion Tommi Mäkinen on all of today's stages and finally overhauled the Mitsubishi driver on the last test to finish seventh and score another manufacturers' point for Subaru. The pair's efforts were enough to lift the Japanese manufacturer to third in the makes' series. Toshihiro Arai started today's stages under no threat from any rivals and he duly finished 14th.
Quotes: Richard Burns said: "Colin took a bit more time than I'd expected on that first stage today but apart from that, I was reasonably confident. I think it showed, though, that to decide to stick with running first on the road with any less of an advantage would have been foolhardy. I'm delighted, of course. I always knew a win would come sometime this year but it's still nice to get it! The result certainly opens up the championship for us - we're now only nine points off the lead and as we've seen here, rallies can be won and lost by very small things."
Petter Solberg said: "Today's been great. I'm still learning more about the car and I don't have complete confidence or a perfect feeling with it in the narrow bits of road, but we had a chance to go after Tommi and we did. Not many people can say they've hunted down Tommi Mäkinen over a day, but we managed it! There were a few interesting moments because we were pushing right at the maximum, but I'm glad we did. It's also good to get another manufacturers' point for Subaru - that gave me extra motivation."
Technical: The three Focus RS WRC01s of Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz and Francois Delecour have been reliable today.
Sporting: Colin McRae charged on this morning's first couple of stages, slashing Richard Burns's overnight lead from 42 seconds to just 22 in only 35 kilometres. But the final six stages weren't expected to punish the first car on the road to the same extent and sure enough, McRae found it harder to cut into the deficit. By the penultimate test he'd already elected to settle for second but he then spun and stalled, kick-starting a last-stage charge to safeguard the runners-up spot. He managed that and now sits alongside Tommi Mäkinen at the head of the drivers' standings. Carlos Sainz moved ahead of Harri Rovanperä on the day's longest stage, but the Spaniard struggled badly with punctures this afternoon and then in the final test - less than a kilometre before the finish - he spun. As a result, he dropped behind Rovanperä and Marcus Grönholm, although he was promoted back up to fourth when Grönholm's jump-start penalty was applied. The third Focus WRC of François Delecour was pushing towards a top ten placing before the Frenchman spun and stalled in SS18. His time loss was then compounded when the car refused to re-start for around half a minute.
Quotes: Colin McRae said: "Richard's won the rally but he was hardly put under much pressure today. It hasn't been a fair fight. On the penultimate stage I'd already decided that it wasn't going to be possible to win but I got caught out on the loose gravel and had a half-spin. The problem was the car then stalled, and second place was looking a bit shaky for a while. It was a quiet car on the way back to final service as we waited to hear the other times! In terms of the championship it's another good step forward for us - now we just have to get the right car and tyre package for the next two asphalt rallies."
Carlos Sainz said: "The spin was about three corners before the end of the last stage, so it's quite frustrating. I just went into the corner too quickly and the car got onto the loose gravel on the outside and spun. I had to select first gear and turn around - it must have cost between 10 and 12 seconds."
Technical: The three 206 WRCs, driven by Marcus Grönholm, Harri Rovanperä and Didier Auriol have all been reliable today.
Sporting: Harri Rovanperä started today's stages in third but he struggled on the morning's tests, dropping behind Carlos Sainz and coming under increasing pressure from team-mate Marcus Grönholm. However, he moved back ahead of Sainz when the Spaniard spun in the last stage and when Grönholm was penalised for a jump start, Rovanperä was promoted into third overall. Marcus Grönholm set a number of fastest times as he closed down on Sainz and Rovanperä - he passed his team-mate in the penultimate test, then cleared Sainz in the final stage, but he'd jumped the start in the latter and the resulting 10s penalty dropped him to fifth. The third 206 WRC of Didier Auriol enjoyed a troublefree day, as he comfortably fended off the scrapping Tommi Mäkinen and Petter Solberg to claim the last drivers' point, and two for Peugeot in the manufacturers' series.
Quotes: Harri Rovanperä said: "The result is okay with me. We made some mistakes earlier in the rally and it was always going to be hard to fight back from that. Today was hard for me because although I've done New Zealand before, I haven't seen today's stages before. Next year will definitely be easier for me!"
Marcus Grönholm said: "This has been a strange rally. The car has been fantastic - fast and reliable - and the tyres have worked well too. Without the mistakes on the first day we could have been fighting for the win, I'm sure of that. But we made them and sometimes that happens, so we ended up fighting for points, not the victory. I knew instantly on the last stage that I had jumped the start but I kept trying anyway."
Technical: The Lancer Evolutions of Tommi Mäkinen, Toni Gardemeister and Freddy Loix have enjoyed troublefree action today, although the young Belgian continued to be less than happy with his car's handling. Sporting: Tommi Mäkinen might have started today's stages with faint hopes of a point but instead, his task turned into a battle to keep a charging Petter Solberg at bay to secure the final manufacturers' point for Mitsubishi. A slow puncture for most of the day's longest stage didn't help and in the end, even the four-times world champion was unable to hold off the young Norwegian. Mäkinen eventually finished eighth, missing out on any points for either himself or Mitsubishi on the last outing for the current Lancer Evolution. Freddy Loix felt he was lacking confidence in his Mitsubishi's handling, but the Belgian brought his car home in 11th. Toni Gardemeister's rally had been ruined by his gearbox problems on the opening day but the young Finn concentrated on building experience of the car and New Zealand stages anyway. He finished 15th.
Quotes: Tommi Makinen said: "This has been a very frustrating event for us - basically we never stood a chance to fight for victory because we were running first on the road on the opening day. Colin's now got the same number of points as me in the championship, but it could have been worse - he might have won! The new Lancer Evolution World Rally Car makes its debut on the next round, Sanremo, and I'm looking forward to it. The car has felt very encouraging in testing."
Freddy Loix said: "We really couldn't do much about our position today. I've had a strange feeling with the car on this rally - it started with a centre differential problem yesterday - and it's never really changed. Even though the handling was better today there were still some moments where I wasn't comfortable. All we can do is look forward to Sanremo and the new car, which has been good so far."
Technical: The Accent WRC2s of Kenneth Eriksson and Alister McRae have been reliable today.
Sporting: Alister McRae knew he had little chance of catching Petter Solberg or Tommi Mäkinen today, but the Scot persevered anyway. The dry conditions didn't favour his Accent, though, since they compounded tyre wear problems that had troubled him from the start. He eventually finished ninth, more than a minute behind Mäkinen. Kenneth Eriksson - back on cleaner roads after his decision to lead the field yesterday - posted more respectable times today. The Swedish veteran pronounced himself happy with the Accent's handling as he bagged 10th overall.
Quotes: Alister McRae said: "It's been a tricky event. Obviously we benefited from the first day when the roads were being swept clean but ideally, we then needed it to rain so we could have stayed out in front. As it's turned out, the tyre wear's been pretty bad in places and that's compromised some of our set-ups. At least the car has been completely reliable, which gives me confidence that we can gain more knowledge of the Accent on asphalt in Sanremo next month."
Kenneth Eriksson said: "The handling and performance of the car have been really good today, and I still don't regret staying in the lead at the end of the first day. It was good for Hyundai and I to be at the head of the field. I'm missing Sanremo and Corsica but I know when I come back in Australia that the package is good enough for a decent result."
Local Subaru Impreza WRC driver Possum Bourne finished 13th, not helped by the first event in living memory where not a single manufacturer entry retired. In the Group N category for more standard cars, Austrian Manfred Stohl claimed a comfortable victory ahead of Argentine driver Gabriel Pozzo. With Gustavo Trelles and Marcos Ligato non-scoring, Pozzo now holds a sizeable advantage in the FIA World Cup for Drivers of Production Cars and he could clinch the title in Sanremo next month.