An opportunity for Peugeot to seize The tenth round of the 2003 World Rally Championship takes crews to the fast stages around the Western Australia capital, Perth. Unbeaten here for the past three years, it will be a very important opportunity...
An opportunity for Peugeot to seize
The tenth round of the 2003 World Rally Championship takes crews to the fast stages around the Western Australia capital, Perth. Unbeaten here for the past three years, it will be a very important opportunity for Peugeot Sport to add a big points haul to its current score with a view to improving its chances of finishing the year as World Champions for the fourth consecutive campaign. The team's bid will be led by Marcus Gronholm, the man behind its recent Australian hat-trick, Richard Burns, winner of this event in 1999 and second overall on two occasions since, and Harri Rovanpera, who came second last year.
With only five rounds of the 2003 calendar remaining, Peugeot and Richard Burns continue to lead both the provisional Manufacturers' and Drivers' title chases. Early August's visit to Rally Finland proved less fruitful than Peugeot had legitimately hoped, however, and the situation at the top of both championship leaderboards has narrowed significantly. The French carmaker still leads with a score of 101 points, but Citroën's total is now 97, while Ford and Subaru trail a little further behind with 60 points apiece. On the drivers' front, Richard Burns, who came third in Finland, is also still in front with a 5-point cushion over Carlos Sainz, while Marcus Gronholm and Petter Solberg are 11 points down, and Sebastien Loeb and Markko Martin a further point adrift. With each win worth ten points, and with two gravel events (Australia and Great Britain) and three asphalt rounds (Italy, Corsica and Spain) still to come, the fight is still a long way from finished...
For Peugeot Sport Director Corrado Provera, it will be essential to make maximum use of the forthcoming showdown in Australia. "If we succeed in keeping our rivals at bay as successfully as we have always done so far on this rally, it will obviously give our chances of clinching another world title a big boost," he stresses. "It is clear that we cannot afford to make any mistakes! The entire team has the resources to bounce back after the recent string of poor results we have just been through. We must once again show a level of efficiency worthy of our status as World Champions."
Rally Australia's highly specific stages are on the whole quite fast and more often than not covered with a coating of slippery small round stones. The tests that take place in the region's many forests feature another difficulty: the constant proximity of trees which can make straying even the slightest bit off the ideal line a very unsavoury prospect indeed. The Peugeot 206 WRC has secured three consecutive wins on this terrain in 2000, 2001 and 2002, and each time the team has seen two of its cars finish on the podium thanks to Francois Delecour (2000), Didier Auriol (2001) and Harri Rovanpera (2002).
Marcus Gronholm is the man behind the team's three successes on the southern hemisphere event and his style is perfectly suited to this highly selective route. "I have always gone well on this rally and hopefully I can win again," says the reigning World Champion who would love to make it four-in-a-row this time round. "Obviously, the fact that I was forced to retire in Finland was a huge disappointment for me and very costly in championship terms. But I have no intention of giving up the fight! I can assure you, I will give it everything I've got in Australia, both for my team and for myself."
Richard Burns' enviable record in Australia includes an outright win in 1999, plus second places in 2000 and 2001. Last year too he was running in second place before retiring. With eights points finishes to his name from nine starts so far this year, the British driver continues to show the remarkable consistency that has seen him figure on top of the provisional Drivers' championship points table since early March.
Disappointed with his result on home ground in Finland, Harri Rovanpera is also looking forward to better fortunes in Australia. "I will approach this rally as I wanted to tackle Rally Finland: to do my best at first without thinking too much about any particular strategy and then adjust according to how it goes. I would obviously be delighted to have a successful run and help my team come away with the best result possible."