Peugeot highly determined as Argentina draws near. Following its recent one-two finish in New Zealand, Peugeot travels to Argentina for the fifth of the 2003 World Championship's fourteen rounds as leader of both the Manufacturers' and Drivers'...
Peugeot highly determined as Argentina draws near.
Following its recent one-two finish in New Zealand, Peugeot travels to Argentina for the fifth of the 2003 World Championship's fourteen rounds as leader of both the Manufacturers' and Drivers' points tables, a context that has merely served to fuel its appetite for victory. Rally Argentina is one of just two of the championship's classics that have yet to be won by the 206 WRC. Richard Burns, who currently tops the Drivers' championship, Marcus Grönholm, the man responsible for Peugeot's two wins so far this year, and Harri Rovanperä will be out to put the record straight in South America.
If the way the first four rounds of the season have unfolded are anything to judge by, the 2003 World Rally Championship promises to be every bit as close and exciting as it has been in recent years. "The level of the competition we face is extremely high," echoes the Manager of Peugeot Sport's Rallies Department. "The 2003 championship has seen the emergence of four very strong teams and, while we can count on a competitive, reliable car and an experienced line-up of drivers, this four-way scrap promises to be a fiercely fought affair all year long."
Given the strengths of the principal championship contenders, Peugeot Sport, which counts three consecutive titles to its name in 2000, 2001 and 2002, enjoys an enviable position at the top of the provisional Manufacturers' standings. Its recent one-two result in New Zealand took its points tally for the year to 49, leaving it with a 5-point advantage over Citroën (44 points) and a 23-point cushion over Ford (26). The team's situation is just as positive in the battle for the Drivers' crown. With respectively 26 and 20 points to their names, Richard Burns and Marcus Grönholm currently figure in first and second positions in the provisional points table ahead of Sébastien Loeb (17 points), Colin McRae (17) and Carlos Sainz (16). Comprised exclusively of drivers of French cars, this leading quintet has pulled slightly clear of a number of other serious challengers, including Markko Märtin, 6th with a score of 13 points.
After the Monte Carlo Rally, Sweden, Turkey and New Zealand, the 2003 calendar moves on to a sequence of three rough gravel rounds in Argentina, Greece and Cyprus.
A longstanding traditional fixture of the World Championship, Rally Argentina is reputed for its challenging stages, the beauty of its backdrop and its enthusiastic, connoisseur spectators. The South American round places the focus on driver skill, although some of its rougher, rockier portions can be an uncompromising test of tyres and suspensions. Based in the region of Cordoba, this year's event has adopted a compact format and features a number of new stages.
Of Peugeot's three-strong squad in Argentina, Richard Burns boasts the most successful record on this event. The 2001 World Champion won outright in 2000 and finished runner-up in both 2001 and 1999. This year he goes to South America as provisional leader of the 2003 Drivers' championship thanks to three consecutive podiums (2nd in Turkey and New Zealand, 3rd in Sweden) as well as a 5th place in Monte Carlo, and clearly he will be looking to consolidate his position in Cordoba.
Currently second in the Drivers' standings with two wins to his name, Marcus Grönholm is in excellent form, as illustrated by the way he dominated April's Rally New Zealand which he led from start to finish. Last year in Argentina, he claimed nine fastest stage times and led for much of the event before being excluded. The reigning World Champion, who finished 4th here in 1997 before finishing 2nd in 2000, feels extremely confident about his chances this time round. "I was in a position to win this rally last year and I firmly believe I can do the same this year," he affirms.
Harri Rovanperä has fond memories of his visit to Argentina in 1997 when he took victory in the 2-litre category. He also competed in the South American round in 1998 and 1999, but then missed the 2000 event before returning with Peugeot in 2001 and 2002, two events he failed to finish. This year sees him determined to put a halt to that run as well as to his unsuccessful spell since the start of the 2003 season.
23th Rally Argentina
5th Round of Worldchampionship 2003
Scruteenering : Wednesday 7 May 2003 - 15.00 - Complejo Pro-Racing - Villa Carlos Paz
Shakedown : Thursday 8 May 2003 - 08.00 / 12.00 - San Esteban / Empalme Ruta 38 (La Cumbre)
Ceremonial Start : Thursday 8 May 2003 - 18.30 - Av. Costanera - Villa Carlos Paz
Total Distance : 1.380 km - 25 Special Stages (388.9 km)