The 2003 World Rally Championship draws to an end in Wales but there will be plenty of suspense in the battles for the Manufacturers' and Drivers' championships which have both yet to be decided. Of the four men still in the running for the...
The 2003 World Rally Championship draws to an end in Wales but there will be plenty of suspense in the battles for the Manufacturers' and Drivers' championships which have both yet to be decided. Of the four men still in the running for the driver's crown, Richard Burns won't be holding any punches on his home round, while in the scrap for the Manufacturers' award, Peugeot is currently second and still has every chance of taking the trophy. Already associated with Peugeot's consecutive titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002, and with Marcus Grönholm's winning campaigns in 2000 and 2002, the 206 WRC is once again very much in the hunt for another Drivers'/Manufacturers' championship double. Which is why everyone at Peugeot Sport is so highly motivated going into the final showdown of the season.
With three asphalt events in quick succession in Italy, Corsica and Catalonia, the month of October literally flashed past for all the WRC teams. After taking eleven points from the first of these encounters in Italy (Gilles Panizzi 2nd, Richard Burns 7th), then eight in Corsica (Marcus Grönholm 4th, Gilles Panizzi 6th), the French team redressed the situation with an improved harvest in Catalonia thanks to Grönholm's 6th place and, above all, the dramatic win of Gilles Panizzi. Without a victory to his name since the 2002 Sanremo Rally, the Frenchman justified his 'Tarmac Master' tag in Spain and at the same time enabled Peugeot to come back hard on the heels of Citroën in the Manufacturers' championship. With one round remaining, the two companies boast an identical number of wins (four) and currently total 142 and 147 points respectively. Subaru (3rd, 94 points), is not in a position to catch either make^Å
In the Drivers' category, Sébastien Loeb, Carlos Sainz (63 points each) and Petter Solberg (62) have pulled slightly clear of Richard Burns (58) who was forced to retire in Catalonia following an off. This clearly hasn't simplified the Peugeot driver's task, but he will certainly be a force to be reckoned with on home ground: "We demonstrated in Catalonia that the 206 WRC, the Peugeot team and its drivers are still very much a force to be reckoned with," explains Peugeot Sport Director, Corrado Provera. "We go to the final round of the season therefore determined not only to take a fourth consecutive Manufacturers' title but also to give all the help we can to Richard Burns in his bid for the Drivers' crown. Our motivation has never been stronger." The competition is sure to be fierce, but Peugeot knows it can rely on the strengths of the 206 WRC as well as on the complementary abilities and determination of its three-strong driver line-up in Wales.
"This time, I've no other choice than to go for victory," warns Richard Burns, for example, for whom this will be his last chance to win with the 206 WRC. But the Briton couldn't wish for a finer opportunity inasmuch as he took consecutive wins on his home event in 1998, 1999 and 2000, and will be fired up by weekend's double stakes.
Winner of the 2001 Rally GB, Marcus Grönholm is also feeling particularly upbeat going into the final event of the year: "We will give our absolute best. I sincerely believe we have a very good chance of winning, especially since it's a rally I enjoy."
Last but by no means least, Harri Rovanperä makes his returns to the WRC on an event that saw him finish 2nd in 2001 with Peugeot and 3rd in 1999 with Seat. "With the exception of last year, I have frequently gone well on this rally which is one of my favourites. This time round, given all everything that's at stake, it's probably going to be a tough fight, but that can only serve to make the challenge more exciting. The pre-event test work I did with the 206 was very positive. I had a good feeling with the car and I'm confident in our chances of doing well."