Rally Australia final report

Peugeot driver Marcus Grönholm has won the 13th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Telstra Rally Australia. The reigning world champion and navigator Timo Rautiainen controlled their pace through today's final four stages to claim ...

Peugeot driver Marcus Grönholm has won the 13th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Telstra Rally Australia. The reigning world champion and navigator Timo Rautiainen controlled their pace through today's final four stages to claim victory on the Perth-based event for the second year in succession.

But the results further down the points order have set up a thrilling climax to the 2001 series. Richard Burns finished second and with title rivals Colin McRae and Tommi Mäkinen only finishing fifth and sixth respectively, the three will go into the Rally GB later this month covered by just two points. Grönholm's win also lifted Peugeot to the top of the manufacturer's championship but Ford and Mitsubishi will both travel to Cardiff with chances of preventing the French team from winning the title two years in a row.


Technical: The 206 WRCs of Marcus Grönholm and Didier Auriol have both run without trouble today. Harri Rovanperä's car suffered a broken alternator belt 10km from the end of the penultimate stage, though, and the Finn reckoned he lost as much as 10 seconds in the closing kilometres as the engine kept cutting out. Gilles Panizzi's only scare was a spluttering engine as he tried to exit the watersplash on the closing televised stage.

Sporting: Marcus Grönholm concentrated on not making a mistake during today's four stages in the SOTICO forest complex and the reigning world champion duly notched up his second Rally Australia win in succession. Didier Auriol lost time on the day's first stage when he hit a rock and knocked a rear wheel out of line but the Frenchman was comfortable in third place and he claimed the final podium position. Harri Rovanperä came under pressure from Colin McRae in the later stages and a broken alternator belt in the penultimate stage didn't help. But the Swedish Rally winner held his ground to finish fourth and score three manufacturers' points for Peugeot. Gilles Panizzi, meanwhile, tried to gain more experience of left-foot braking on gravel. He dropped behind Carlos Sainz into ninth by the finish.

Quotes: Marcus Gronholm said: "I'm delighted! From yesterday morning I really knew we could win because after the team changed the steering the car felt so, so good and I knew I could push. We really won the rally yesterday because today's been about watching Richard's speed and making sure he doesn't get too close. It's obviously a good result for the team because it means we go to Britain at the top of the manufacturers series. I'll still be pushing hard there to make sure we win it again, so it'll be interesting to compare my speed to Colin, Tommi and Richard as they fight for the drivers' title."

Harri Rovanperä said: "I've been satisfied with my driving here, mainly because I thought the stages would be easy to remember on this rally and that hasn't been the case. Even the slightest lift of the throttle at a crest makes a difference when everyone's on such an attack. But we still scored good points for Peugeot, which was the important thing for us here."

Gilles Panizzi said: "I'm quite happy. I lost the good feeling yesterday but today I've been trying to do more left-foot braking and the confidence has come back. Some of my times have been quite good so while I know I need more experience and knowledge of the stages here, I'm quite satisfied."

Peugeot Sport Team Director Corrado Provera said: "All of our drivers have performed superbly. Didier has done everything we could have asked of him, Gilles has learnt a lot and our two Finnish stars Marcus and Harri have been exemplary. I'm very proud of what we've achieved and I'm looking forward to Britain."


Technical: The Impreza WRC2001s of Richard Burns and Petter Solberg have been reliable today. Solberg's only slight problem was a puncture five kilometres before the end of the day's first stage.

Sporting: Richard Burns pushed hard on today's first stage but he failed to make an impression on Marcus Grönholm and thereafter, the Briton settled for a second overall that means victory on the Rally GB will guarantee him the world title. Petter Solberg, meanwhile, started the day less than half a second behind Tommi Mäkinen. But the four times world champion pulled out nearly half a minute over the first couple of stages (Solberg suffered a puncture on the first) and thereafter, the young Norwegian settled for seventh and a manufacturers point for Subaru.

Quotes: Richard Burns said: "We really couldn't have done much more here - Marcus was very rapid yesterday - but six points is good. I think the world title will probably be between Colin and myself on the Rally GB because I think Tommi will probably struggle to keep up with us. It's going to be a good fight and I'm confident." Petter Solberg said: "This has been a really good event for me. I've been very happy with my driving considering I still don't have that much experience here and we had to start quite high up the field on Friday. The stages today were really slippery but some of them were excellent fun. I knew that Tommi goes well in Bunnings so once he took some time off me in the first stage I realised it would be to catch him."


Technical: Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz had no major mechanical problems today, although Sainz nudged a bank on the second stage and bent his rear bumper so close to the exhaust that it started to burn. Sporting: Colin McRae tried hard this morning to close the gap on Harri Rovanperä but while he was able to reduce the deficit (built up yesterday when the Scot had to run first on the road) he couldn't catch the Finn. The Scot had to settle for fifth and two potentially crucial world championship points. His only real problem today was one scare over a jump in the second stage. Carlos Sainz felt his tyre choice on today's opening stage was too soft and he nudged a bank on the second stage but the Spaniard still eased past Gilles Panizzi's Peugeot to finish eighth. He only has an outside chance of lifting the drivers' title in Rally GB, however - he must win, with the front three in the series either failing to score or scoring badly.

Quotes: Colin McRae said: "It hasn't been a particularly good event. I still don't really understand why the organisers did what they did on Friday evening with the starting nomination. It ruined my event, basically. We've pushed as hard as possible but in the end, fifth was all we could hope for. The Rally GB should be good and I'm confident. It'll probably be between Richard and myself but we can't rule out Tommi. He hasn't been that fast in Britain before but then, he hasn't needed to be."

Carlos Sainz said: "We came here knowing that only a victory would give us any realistic chance of the drivers' title and after the first day accident, we really knew it was game over. We've tried to fight back but we always knew that others had to hit problems for us to have any chance. It's a shame that we made our only big mistake of the year on this event, but we will still go to Britain and push hard for the manufacturers points."


Technical: Both Lancer Evolution WRCs have been generally reliable today, although Tommi Mäkinen did suffer from intercooler water spray coming onto his windscreen in the second stage. The Finn was much happier with his car''s handling, though, after softening the set-up at the front.

Sporting: Tommi Mäkinen has always gone well at the SOTICO (formerly Bunnings) forest complex that hosted today's stages, and the Finn wasted no time in putting a cushion between himself in sixth and Petter Solberg's Subaru. Revised suspension and anti-roll bar settings gave the four-times world champion increased confidence in his Lancer, and he pulled out more than 25 seconds over the young Norwegian, on the day's first two stages alone. He eventually finished sixth, scoring a valuable world championship point. Freddy Loix struggled with his road position today (caused by the road penalties he incurred fixing an electrical fault yesterday) and the Belgian couldn't make up enough time on Alister McRae to get his Lancer into the top ten.

Quotes: Tommi Mäkinen said: "Today has been quite positive. For starters, our car seems closer to the others on gravel than it was on asphalt. Then we changed the balance a bit and the rear-end grip is much more progressive now. I think we got it a bit wrong in the test because we stiffened the front to get good handling there but the rear end wasn't right. Now we can make new parts for Rally GB and because there's a bigger gap between this rally and Britain we have a chance to test. Can we improve enough to give me a chance of winning the title? That's the question!"

Freddy Loix said: "It's been a new experience for me, running this high up the road in Australia, and I have to say it's not that nice because although I have a good feeling with the car, you also know that you're losing time at virtually every corner."


Technical: The Hyundai's Accent WRC2 of Alister McRae has performed reliably today, but Kenneth Eriksson's example lapsed onto two and a half cylinders for the last seven kilometres of the penultimate stage. The problem was cured for the final test, however.

Sporting: Kenneth Eriksson ran first on the road again today and while the veteran Swede tried hard, he wasn't able to haul his Accent into the top ten. Apart from an engine misfire in one stage this afternoon, his only real problem during the day was meeting a kangaroo in the middle of the road as he travelled through SS19 at 160kph. Alister McRae lost time with a spin in the same stage, but the Scot still managed to keep his Hyundai in the top ten.

Quotes: Kenneth Eriksson said: "This has been a very frustrating event for us but we knew it would be that way even before the first stage. Something has to be done about a system where drivers go into the very first stage of the rally knowing that they really haven't got a chance of scoring points or improving their positions."

Alister McRae said: "The spin this morning was annoying because I just got it wrong at a square left junction. Although I spun the car right round the dust was so bad that we needed to wait for it to clear before we could see where we were going! It hasn't been a great event for us and today's stages really cleaned more than any others in the rally so our disadvantage was worse. All I can do now is look forward to my last event for Hyundai in Britain."


Oman driver Hamed Al Wahaibi finished as the top privateer driver and claimed 10 FIA Teams Cup points in the process, but Danish driver Henrik Lundgaard had even more cause to celebrate. The reigning European Champion finished second in the category (14th overall), and that was more than enough for the Toyota driver to clinch the Teams Cup title ahead of Pasi Hagstrom.

Local driver Ed Ordynski triumphed in the Group N category for more standard machinery, ahead of Argentine driver Gabriel Pozzo and Belgian Francois Duval.


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Series WRC