Marcus Gronholm continued to dominate this event from the front of the field. Today, however, was slightly more exciting for the Finn than yesterday, as he dropped his Peugeot 206 WRC onto its side for 30 seconds on the Parahi stage. The car was...
Marcus Gronholm continued to dominate this event from the front of the field. Today, however, was slightly more exciting for the Finn than yesterday, as he dropped his Peugeot 206 WRC onto its side for 30 seconds on the Parahi stage. The car was undamaged, however, and he set fastest time on the final long gravel stage around Paparoa, north of Auckland. The tricky weather conditions of yesterday were replaced by bright sunshine for the second leg of this fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Gronholm's wasn't the only front-runner to hit trouble. Ford's Markko Martin retired his new Focus RS WRC 03 from second place with an engine fault on SS14. Richard Burns moved into the runner's-up spot with Petter Solberg third as the crews headed south for a brace of superspecial stages in Manukau just south of the host city.
Harri Rovanpera also ended his rally early, the Peugeot driver sliding off the road on the Ararua stage.
The two runs through the spectator superspecial at Manukau did not alter the general classification.
Technical: Marcus Gronholm and Richard Burns' Peugeot 206 WRCs both suffered brake problems during the second leg. Harri Rovanpera's car was mechanically reliable when he went off the road on SS14.
Sporting: Gronholm stretched his lead to more than one minute on the opening stage while team-mate Burns moved past Solberg into third place, and to within 3.1seconds of Markko Martin. Rovanpera also moved ahead of the Subaru driver and into fourth place on SS12. Gronholm went off the road on SS13, tipping the car on to its side and losing half a minute before he continued. The car was mechanically undamaged and he went on to set fastest time on the following stage to maintain a lead of more than one minute as the cars headed for the Manukau superspecial stages. Rovanpera also went off the road on the next stage, but he was unable to get back on to the road. Burns arrived in Manukau in second place, despite a lack of rear brakes for the final ten kilometres of SS14.
Marcus Gronholm said: "Today has been good, apart from the mistake on one stage. I was too quick into a junction and bang, there were only two spectators there, so it took time to get going again. I'm happy and quite confident about tomorrow."
Richard Burns said: "The brake problem was quite bad, the pedal was going right to the floor. I'm not sure what the problem is, but the team is changing everything to try and sort it out tonight."
Corrado Provera said: "Most of all I am sorry for Harri himself, he did a great job today and deserved to score his first points of the year. Looking on the positive side, Marcus and Richard have done a fantastic job and I wish them the best of luck for tomorrow."
Technical: Both Subaru Impreza WRC 2003s ran reliably today.
Sporting: Petter Solberg ended the day in third place, having benefited from the retirements of Harri Rovanpera and Markko Martin. The Norwegian's day started badly when a punctured front-right tyre delaminated seven kilometres from the end of the leg-opening test. Solberg still felt that his Impreza was down on power for the fast stages. Makinen also suffered a fraught start to the day, when he was stopped by the police for speeding on the way to the first stage. He only just made it in time to the start of the test, but was then subject to a 5-minute time penalty for double infringement of traffic laws, according to article 11.1.2 of the FIA General Prescriptions. From then on the four-times world champion spent most of the day adjusting the suspension settings on his car.
Petter Solberg said: "I came too quickly into one junction, slide wide and dropped into a ditch. We were stuck there for about 30 seconds, and then I spun on the next stage as well. We had changed the geometry on the car at last service, which made the rear of the car quite stiff, this didn't help."
Tommi Makinen said: "I made some more changes to the rear suspension before the last loop of stages and it is working the best it has all rally. Now I have good traction from the back. A little bit of the problem was that the roads we used for the test weren't too much like the stages, even the shakedown stage wasn't very similar."
David Lapworth said: "Tommi has found it quite difficult to get the car to his liking on this rally, but there are no technical problems - we have looked at everything and the car is fine."
Technical: The Citroen Xsara WRCs of Sebastien Loeb and Carlos Sainz ran well on leg two, but Colin McRae retired after breaking the suspension on his car yesterday.
Sporting: Sebastien Loeb belied his lack of experience of these stages (this is the first time he has competed here), to move into fourth place as the cars headed south for the day's final two stages at Manukau. The Frenchman had continued to work on the differential and suspension settings of his car. Carlos Sainz, who celebrates his 41st birthday today, dropped from eighth to 31st position on the first stage of the day, after going off the road.
Sebastien Loeb said: "I still have to be happy with what I have done today, the car has been okay mechanically good, but the day could have been better for me - but at the same time it could have been worse. Fourth place is good for the first time on this event."
Carlos Sainz said: "I was following Didier for a while on the first stage, but I couldn't get past because of the dust. We got to a part of the stage where it was damp and I really pushed harder to get up and past him. The car slid off the road and went through a fence. I couldn't get out of the ditch, so I had to go into a field, find a gate and go out that way. It is very disappointing."
Technical: Didier Auriol's Octavia WRC suffered a centre differential problem caused by a broken speed sensor on the first three stages of the day. Toni Gardemeister's car was reliable.
Sporting: Auriol slipped back behind his team mate through the second leg. The Frenchman struggled with the car all morning, but felt it was better after a big compression on SS13, which he thought might have knocked something into line in the steering. Auriol had dropped more time stopping on the opening stage, fearing that he was holding up Carlos Sainz. Gardemeister's day was drama-free. He caught Mikko Hirvonen in the long stage and was unable to get past because of the dust.
Didier Auriol said: "When I pulled over for Carlos this morning I was standing still for 40 seconds, there was no more I could do. I found the car undriveable through the early stages, it was not good. Then we have this bang on SS13 and suddenly the car was better - it was very strange."
Toni Gardemeister said: "Today was okay until the last stage where we had a terrible stage for punctures, we had three in the last stage - the vibration from the mousse was awful."
Technical: Markko Martin suffered hydraulic failure on the first stage of the day and then retired from second place with an engine problem on SS14. The sister Focus RS WRC 03 of Francois Duval was reliable all day as was the 2002 car of Mikko Hirvonen.
Sporting: Markko Martin maintained his grip on an early second place despite the loss of transmission hydraulics, which forced him to use the manual shift from two kilometres into the 59km SS10. He went on to set three fastest times on the next three stages, but retired near the end of the Ararua test. He spun the Focus, stalling the engine and re-started only to retire with an engine problem 2km further in the stage. Francois Duval's day was trouble-free and the Belgian progressed into the top ten. Hirvonen spun three times today, the final time after he had punctured a rear tyre going off the road earlier in SS14.
Malcolm Wilson said: "I am obviously very disappointed with what has happened, but at the same time I go away from here tremendously encouraged with the pace that the new car has shown. We wanted to close the gap to Peugeot and we've done just that. It's a shame for Markko, he's done a great job, three fastest times today was amazing - especially given his lack of experience on these roads.
Francois Duval said: "It has been nice today to get the car working how we wanted it. I haven't been pushing too hard, I need to drive all of the stages and get to the finish for experience."
Mikko Hirvonen said: "Most of the time I have tried to stay in the middle of the road, but as we have had three spins, we haven't managed it all of the time. I have been making some small adjustments to the car as the day has progressed and apart from the spins, I'm quite happy."
Technical: Freddy Loix's car was reliable throughout leg two; both Armin Schwarz and Jussi Valimaki retired yesterday.
Sporting: Loix made good progress through the five stages north of Auckland today, exploiting the enhanced handling of his Accent, but maintained that the car still lacked top end power. He moved up the leaderboard to end the day in sixth place overall.
Freddy Loix said: "Okay, we know about the engine problem. The engineers did some work on the car and it is a little better than it was yesterday. Everything else has been perfect, the new suspension works well and the transmission is fine. Today was a little better for us, yesterday in the muddy conditions the car was not pulling much at all in fifth and sixth gears."
Toshi Arai continues to lead the way in the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship after a trouble-free day in the recently-homologated Subaru Impreza, while Alister McRae is the leading non-manufacturer entry. This is the Scot's first WRC outing since Sanremo last season and he held seventh overall after the five northern stages.