LEG 1 - Peugeot in control in Australia Peugeot 206 WRC driver Marcus GrÃ¶nholm has dominated the first full day of action on the 13th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally Australia, which began in earnest from Perth this ...
LEG 1 - Peugeot in control in Australia
Peugeot 206 WRC driver Marcus Grönholm has dominated the first full day of action on the 13th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally Australia, which began in earnest from Perth this morning.
After last night's spectacular superspecial in Langley Park on the banks of Perth's Swan River, the action really started this morning with the first of seven forest stages to the south of the city. Grönholm was instantly on the pace, setting second-fastest time in the opening test and then two fastest times on the following stages to grab the lead. Thereafter, Marcus stunned his rivals by setting two further scratch times to arrive at this evening's repeat run at Langley Park almost half a minute clear of the chasing pack.
Marcus said: "I'm really pleased with how the day has gone. In Australia, it's often a problem to run first on the road because of the really loose gravel but the heavy rain packed things down a lot and made it more or less the same for everyone. It was still difficult - there was a lot of standing water and mud in some places - but at least we had the same chance as the later guys and we've made the most of that. Tomorrow's likely to be another tough day but we should have a good road position. There's a long way to go yet but I'm feeling quite confident already."
Grönholm's team-mate Harri Rovanperä has set a consistent pace today, His only real scare came when he slid off briefly and clipped a tree in the day's third stage. He started the Langley stage in fourth overall, almost a minute off Grönholm but only 20 seconds behind third-placed Carlos Sainz.
Harri said: "It's been quite hard work today because the road surface has been changing all the time. Even when it started to dry out this morning, there were still damp patches under some of the gravel and if you found one, you could end up sliding around a lot."
There was disappointment, however, for Peugeot's other works driver Richard Burns. The Englishman was close to Grönholm's pace this morning, despite a lack of ultimate confidence on his least favourite stages of the event. But he recovered well and had inched ahead of Petter Solberg into second place by lunchtime. However, on the penultimate forest test of the day, Burns was forced to retire when his car developed clutch problems.
Richard said: "My clutch started to slip quite badly from the very start of the stage and I tried to keep going for as long as I could. But in the end, I just lost all drive and we couldn't go any further. I'm obviously disappointed. Marcus was driving well today but these weren't my favourite stages and I was looking forward to fighting back tomorrow and in the Sotico complex stages on the final day. It's a shame that won't be possible now."
Tomorrow provides the most stage action of the event, with almost 150 kilometres of action east of Perth, before the crews return to the city to entertain the crowds in Langley Park one last time.
LEG 2 - Peugeot maintains Aussie advantage.
Peugeot 206 WRC driver Marcus Grönholm has consolidated his lead on the 13th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally Australia, which continued today.
The Finn and his navigator Timo Rautiainen started today's nine special stages with a lead of around half a minute over Petter Solberg, and they adopted a steady, fast pace to prevent the Norwegian from eating into their advantage. Their 206 WRC behaved perfectly as they extended their cushion to arrive back in Perth for this evening's superspecial at Langley Park nearly 50 seconds clear of their nearest rival.
Marcus said: "It's been quite a straightforward day. In fact, it's been a bit boring in a way! When you've got a good lead, you have to keep pushing at a certain level to keep your own concentration and also make sure that the guys behind don't get too close. That's what we've been doing - I have the feeling that I could possibly go a little quicker, but I'm braking early for some corners and trying to stay precise. There are still plenty of kilometres left so we can't say that victory is ours already, but obviously I'm quite hopeful about tomorrow."
The real charger today, though, has been Grönholm's Peugeot team-mate Harri Rovanperä. The former Swedish Rally winner needed just two of this morning's stages to overhaul Carlos Sainz and ease into third overall, and he swiftly cemented that position with a number of fastest times this afternoon. His only real problem was a bad vibration from the rear of the car in SS16, but swift work from the Peugeot mechanics at the following service restored the 206 to full health. He ended the forest tests just 24 seconds behind Solberg and ready to attack the second-placed man tomorrow in an attempt to earn Peugeot yet another one-two finish.
Harri said: "I've been really pleased with today's performance. We made some changes to the car's pedals at the pre-event test and I didn't have total confidence in the brakes yesterday. So we changed back to an earlier set-up and this morning, I felt better straight away. I'm pushing hard, of course, but I'm also making sure I stay neat because even a small mistake here can mean an accident."
Tomorrow's final leg is a short one, with only four stages, but it takes in some of the best-known terrain in the entire world championship. Huge crowds will flock to the massive Sotico forest complex - formerly known as Bunnings - to watch the cars tackle the famous jumps and water splash. The venue has seen plenty of drama over the years, though, so the leaders won't relax until the victory champagne can be sprayed back in Perth town centre.