Marcus Gronholm took his second consecutive win on the Propecia Rally New Zealand today. The reigning world champion took a comfortable lead into the final day of the fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship and was untroubled through ...
Marcus Gronholm took his second consecutive win on the Propecia Rally New Zealand today. The reigning world champion took a comfortable lead into the final day of the fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship and was untroubled through Sunday's six stages south of Auckland. Gronholm's second win of the year (he also won in Sweden) moves him into second position in the driver's standings. Gronholm's team-mate Richard Burns took second place, ensuring that he remains in the lead of the race for this year's title. Peugeot's double success has moved the French marque to the top of the standings in the manufacturer's race, five points ahead of Citroen. All four rounds of the championship this season have now been won by the PSA Group.
Subaru's Petter Solberg was third after a relatively undramatic day in his Impreza. After non-finishes in Monte Carlo and Turkey, the Norwegian was happy to have added to his points tally for the season.
Technical: The Peugeot 206 WRCs of Marcus Gronholm and Richard Burns have run reliably today. Harri Rovanpera retired when he slid off the road on the second leg.
Sporting: Gronholm made undramatic progress through the final leg. With more than one minute in hand over his nearest rival (Team-mate Burns) there was no reason for the Finn to take any risks. His only problem came when a spectator threw a rock at the windscreen of his car on the final stage of the day. The brake problems which Burns suffered on leg two were cured for today's six stages and after setting third quickest time on the first stage of the day, the Briton went fastest on all of the remaining stages.
Marcus Gronholm said: "I am happy with this win, the car is in the same specification as it was last year, which shows how good it is. Today was okay, no panic, I had a good feeling about everything today. There is no secret to me winning this rally, I had a good push through the first two legs and that was enough."
Richard Burns said: "The brake problems which we had yesterday did not re-occur today, the car has run well. Looking back to before this rally, things could have been a lot worse for us if it hadn't been wet on the first day. It's nice to still be at the front of the driver's championship."
Corrado Provera said: "This is a fantastic result. Once again Marcus has driven a fantastic rally, as has Richard. Richard suffered a little bit on the first day with the conditions, today he has shown that he is close with Marcus. I am very happy for the whole team that Peugeot is on top in the manufacturer's championship and Richard and Marcus are first and second for the drivers. I do feel a sorry for Harri that he retired yesterday and has still to score his first point this season."
Technical: Both Petter Solberg and Tommi Makinen's Subaru Impreza WRC 2003s ran without mechanical problems.
Sporting: Petter Solberg made it to the finish with his third place intact after a sensible drive through the final leg. The suspension set-up of the car wasn't quite to his liking through the two Te Akau stages. He suffered four broken mousse inserts in his tyres on the final four stages, however. None of the tyres delaminated, but Solberg admitted the vibration had been very bad. Makinen ended the event in seventh, despite taking the wrong tyres for the first loop of two stages this morning. A five-minute penalty was imposed on Makinen for a speeding offence on the way to the first stage yesterday.
Petter Solberg said: "The tyre problem was pretty bad, but luckily this time the tyres didn't de-laminate or go down on us, we could have lost more time. I came here waning to score points, I have done that and so I must be happy, but this isn't really the way I wanted to drive here in New Zealand, I wanted to push and take risks."
Tommi Makinen said: "The tyres were too soft and too narrow to work on those stages. We thought the weather was going to be a little bit colder and wetter, in the end it was quite sunny and the roads were too aggressive for the tyres we had on, they went off on both of the stages. It is always good to get some points from a rally and we have done that for us and for the team."
Technical: Sebastien Loeb's Citroen Xsara WRC suffered a gearbox sensor problem on the second stage this morning, but Carlos Sainz's car was mechanically reliable. Colin McRae retired with broken suspension on the first leg.
Sporting: Loeb maintained his fourth position, despite dropping one minute on the second stage this morning with a transmission problem. Sainz moved up from an overnight 23rd overall to end the event in 12th place, despite sweeping the road clean for the remainder of the field. His only problem today came when he went off the road on the final stage.
Sebastien Loeb said: "Not far after the start of the second stage, the display for the gearbox wasn't working right at all. The sensor that was broken was also one controlling the differentials. I decided to switch to the manual gearshift, but this meant the car was quite hard to drive - it cost me quite a lot of time. On the whole I am happy with the way the rally has gone. To finish fourth on my first attempt it good."
Carlos Sainz said: "Running first on the road has been really hard work today. In these hot and dry conditions, the stages were covered in the stones, which I had to sweep for everybody. It wasn't so good. The problem I had later in the day was a small one on the last stage. My co-driver got a little mixed up with his notes and told me to take a corner flat out when it should have been a fifth-gear corner. We went off the road at high speed, but came straight back on with a little bodywork damage."
Technical: Didier Auriol's Octavia WRC suffered a turbo problem through the afternoon, costing the Frenchman's Skoda power. The exhaust on his Octavia was also broken on the penultimate test. Toni Gardemeister's car was reliable all day.
Sporting: Gardemeister moved past Alister McRae for fifth place early in the final day, despite feeling that the suspension and the ride height was wrong on his car. The Finn's run through the Maramarua forest stages was without incident. Didier Auriol started the day with Tommi Makinen 31.6 seconds behind him. Despite his best efforts the Finn moved ahead of him on the final stage, when Auriol was struggling with the turbo problem.
Didier Auriol said: "The first stage this morning was really slippery. There was no grip at all. I think my choice of tyre was wrong, too hard. The biggest problem for me was the turbo this afternoon. I noticed the car was starting to lose power early in the group of four stages, but the problem got worse and worse, by the finish there wasn't much boost at all. The turbo pipe had broken."
Toni Gardemeister said: "I took a small cut in the tyres for the first two stages today, but it wasn't enough - the tyres were wrong. I was pushing hard through those stages, expecting a big fight from both Freddy and Alister (McRae) but Freddy went off and Alister had a problem with his car's differential, so in the end we made it to fifth place okay."
Technical: The Ford Focus RS WRC 03 of Francois Duval and the 2002 specification car of team-mate Mikko Hirvonen both ran without any problems through Sunday's stages. Markko Martin retired from second place with a broken cam belt on SS14 yesterday.
Sporting: Duval and Hirvonen ended the event in ninth and tenth positions, with the Belgian's placing ensuring that Ford maintained its points-scoring record which means it has taken manufacturer points from the last 18 rallies. Duval stuck with his steady pace, electing not to push the car harder and risk not finishing the event. Hirvonen took a similarly measured approach, but felt that his car sliding around too much on the first two stages and decided to make some changes to the transmission settings at service prior to the four stages in Maramarua.
Francois Duval said: "I'm pleased to have finished this event and gained a lot of experience of the roads. It is also good to get a point for the team. I've enjoyed the rally, the stages are something special - always changing. I've made some changes to my pace notes, so I will be better prepared for when we come here next year."
Mikko Hirvonen said: "The car was quite tricky this morning. The surface was difficult and running second on the road didn't help, but I felt we were sliding quite wide in too many corners. The changes the team made at service helped the car, but the stages this afternoon were quite different to the ones this morning."
Malcolm Wilson said: "I'm absolutely delighted with the way the new car has run here. Markko drove tremendously well on a rally where he really doesn't have very much experience. Francois and Mikko did exactly what I asked them to do, they got their cars to the finish in one piece and gained a lot of valuable experience."
Technical: Freddy Loix crashed out of the rally on SS18, their Hyundai Accent WRC had been reliable up until that point. Armin Schwarz and Jussi Valimaki both crashed out on the opening leg of the event.
Sporting: Loix moved up one place, courtesy of the time penalty which the organisers imposed on Tommi Makinen (Subaru). While pushing hard to keep Skoda driver Toni Gardemeister behind him, the Belgian went off the road on the second stage of the day, rolling the car at high speed.
Freddy Loix said: "The back end of the car stepped out and clipped bank in and rolled a few times. I wasn't too happy with my time through the first stage of the day and Toni was coming, so I was going hard. I'm disappointed, but at the same time I felt I had been driving well on the stages before this. It's a shame we didn't get to the stages this afternoon - as I always seem to go well there. I'm sorry for the team, everybody had worked hard and deserved some points from this rally."
David Whitehead said: "There is very little margin for error on this event and both Freddy and Armin have been caught out by the conditions. I'm heartened by the improvements which we made to the car before the event, but we have to keep the pressure up and hope that the hard work pays off on the next round."
Japan's Toshi Arai won the second round of the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship, scooping the overall Group N award in his latest specification Subaru Impreza at the same time. Arai's only concern through the final day was the way the abrasive surface was wearing the tyres out on his car. Marcos Ligato was second in the Production Car standings in a Mitsubishi Lancer. The leading non-manufacturer on the overall results was Alister McRae who brought his Mitsubishi Lancer WRC home in sixth place despite differential trouble on the final leg.