Peugeot returns to one of its favourite hunting grounds The fight in the 2003 World Championship is as fierce as ever, but the recent visit to Germany saw Peugeot successfully maintain its lead at the top of the Manufacturers' classification ...
Peugeot returns to one of its favourite hunting grounds
The fight in the 2003 World Championship is as fierce as ever, but the recent visit to Germany saw Peugeot successfully maintain its lead at the top of the Manufacturers' classification while Richard Burns continues to head the Drivers' points table. The next event on the calendar is Rally Finland which takes crews to the fast, spectacular roads of Jyväskylä, terrain that has traditionally been happy hunting ground for Peugeot who have won the past three visits with Marcus Grönholm. The defending champion will again be spearheading its bid this time round, along with fellow Finn Harri Rovanperä and Richard Burns, who has come close to taking the spoils in the former 1000 Lakes Rally on numerous occasions. A fourth factory car has been entered (Bozian Racing) for Juuso Pykälisto.
The 2003 World Rally Championship will be remembered for a long time as a closely fought vintage and the result of the recent Rallye Deutschland, eighth of the season's fourteen rounds, couldn't have offered a more eloquent illustration of this. A mere 3.6 seconds separated Marcus Grönholm from eventual winner Sébastien Loeb at the end of the three-day competition that proved undecided and captivating from start to finish. The Finn will have to wait a little longer for his maiden WRC win on asphalt, but 2nd and 3rd places in Germany for Marcus and his team-mate Richard Burns nonetheless harvested valuable points for Peugeot. Meanwhile, the British driver finished in the points for the seventh time from eight starts this year and keeps his lead in the Drivers' championship ahead of a chasing pack of potential rivals, including his own team-mate Marcus Grönholm. The six remaining rounds of 2003 promise to be extremely close!
The 206 WRC's record includes wins on all the events that make up the remainder of the season, including Rally Finland, an event that features strongly in the French firm's sporting heritage. In the days of the Group B 205 Turbo 16, the make took straight wins in 1984 with Ari Vatanen, in 1985 and 1986 with Timo Salonen. More recently, the 206 WRC secured another hat trick with consecutive wins in 2000, 2001 and 2002, the work of just one driver: Marcus Grönholm.
Rally Finland is considered to be one of the championship's most spectacular events and, like the round that takes place in neighbouring Sweden, average speeds are extremely high. Last year, Marcus Gronhölm completed the distance at an average of 121.8 kph! One could be forgiven for sometimes forgetting that this event takes place on gravel! Over the route's infamous blind jumps, impeccable handling is a must, while the accent as far as driving skill is concerned is on precision and bravery, a quality that today's top rally stars certainly don't lack, particularly the locally bred heroes who are invariably pumped up when competing on home soil...
"You really want to do well. For a long time, I personally started this event under a great deal of pressure. I am now less prone to that, no doubt following my first win in 2000," admits Marcus Grönholm who is currently 3rd overall in the Drivers' standings. The defending World Champion will this year be looking for a fourth consecutive success in Finland: "I really would have liked to have come away from Germany with more points in order to get closer to Richard in the championship. But Rally Finland could be a great opportunity to get another win. I feel confident but I'm expecting a big fight, especially with my own team-mates, Harri (Rovanperä) and Richard (Burns), as well as with Markko Märtin who is very strong at the moment."
Harri Rovanperä is personally dreaming of following in the footsteps of his team-mate by finishing on the highest step of the podium in Jyväskylä. "Competing in Finland is something special," he smiles. "For the past three years, I have always started well before hitting problems. This time, I have sworn I won't put myself under too much pressure. I haven't even opened a newspaper recently. I'm quite simply going to do my best and we'll see what happens," admits the determined Finn.
Richard Burns likes fast events and would love to beat the Nordics on their home ground, a feat that only Carlos Sainz and Didier Auriol have achieved to date. With three 2nd-place finishes to his name in 1999, 2000 and 2002, the British driver clearly has the ability to join that exclusive list^Å "Finland is one of my favourite events," he says. "I would love to finish at least as well as last year, and why not one place better? I hope the conditions won't be too dry. I will be first on the road and, as is invariably the case on gravel, that could be a handicap on Day 1. Apart from that, our team has all it takes to succeed. And I intend to do everything I can to make the most of that!"