Gronholm wins by three tenths of a second! The 2007 Rally New Zealand will doubtlessly be remembered for many years to come. The event was won by Finland's Marcus Gronholm (Ford/BFGoodrich) who finished just three tenths of a second clear of ...
Gronholm wins by three tenths of a second!
The 2007 Rally New Zealand will doubtlessly be remembered for many years to come. The event was won by Finland's Marcus Gronholm (Ford/BFGoodrich) who finished just three tenths of a second clear of Sebastien Loeb (Citroen/BFGoodrich) after 353.56km of stages, making it the narrowest ever winning margin in WRC history. Gronholm's fifth success of the year gives him a 10-point lead over Loeb in the Drivers' championship, while Ford/BFGoodrich goes even further clear in Manufacturers' standings.
Whaanga Coast, Te Akau, Waitomo and Port Waikato are some of world rallying's finest stages. Every one of them takes place to a magical backdrop, in unimaginably stunning scenery ranging from lush forest, gently rolling green hills and the Tasmanian Sea coastline. Any one of these spots would have provided a fitting location to clinch this year's Rally New Zealand.
In the end, however, it was a place known as Mystery Creek that decided the final outcome of this year's event; an exotic name for an artificial 3.14km super-special picked out by cones and bannering alongside the service park. It is fitting that it didn't have any effect on the leaderboard after the weekend's final true test (Whaanga Coast) after three days and 350km of bitter battling.
As crews lined up for the start of the final showpiece, Marcus Gronholm led Sebastien Loeb by seven tenths of a second. Their duel had begun two days earlier and was of a rare ferocity: there were 6/10ths between them on SS3, 7/10ths after the 43.88km of SS4, 3/10ths after the 31km of SS10 and just 9/10ths in it on Whaanga Coast? The timing of stages to tenths of a second was fully justified this weekend!
Yet again, tyres were central to this thrilling showdown. The combination of unsettled weather and part-dry/partwet stages made choices particularly difficult, especially since decisions had to be taken at the service park, some hours before the start of stages that took place more than 100km from Mystery Creek. Meanwhile, Loeb and Gronholm only made two identical tyre choices all weekend, their differing strategies leading to some excellent and some less effective calls...
Marcus Gronholm (Ford/BFGoodrich) profited from his good tyre choice and the poor call of his rival ? on Friday morning to complete the opening day with a lead of 13s over the Citroen/BFGoodrich driver. The Finn then threw away his advantage the next morning following a less inspired choice than Sebastien Loeb who completed the Leg 2 1.7s ahead of the Finn.
The decision consequently went down to the wire on Sunday as scattered showers blew in from the Tasmanian Sea. And after a series of leadership changes, it was finally Marcus Gronholm who emerged from the second visit to Whaanga Coast on top by 0.7s, enough to secure his fifth win of the year despite Loeb's fastest time on the Mystery Creek superspecial. It was a key win for the Finn who now heads his rival in the Drivers' title chase by 10 points.
Following a poor tyre choice on Friday morning, Mikko Hirvonen (3rd, Ford/BFGoodrich) swiftly fell out of contention for victory and was happy to settle for six extra points for Ford/BFGoodrich who now lead the Manufacturers' standings by 46 points ahead of Citroen/BFGoodrich.
The fight for fourth place between Sordo (Citroen/BFGoodrich), Atkinson (Subaru/BFGoodrich) and Latvala (Ford/BFGoodrich) was another exciting affair. The Spaniard was the first to lose ground, while Atkinson succeeded in beating Latvala in the dying stages of the event.
The World Rally Championship now faces a break of one month now before resuming in Spain and Corsica, two asphalt fixtures where, yet again, BFGoodrich tyres promise to play a decisive role.
BP-Ford WRT Marcus Gronholm only made one poor tyre choice when he opted for the '9-' compound (too soft) on Saturday morning when SS6 and above all SS8 (31km) were entirely dry. Mikko Hirvonen made the same mistake as his team-mate and was on too hard tyres for on Friday morning ('9-').
Citroen-Total WRT Loeb and Sordo both made a poor choice for the first two stages when they went for the extra-soft '8-' compound. Saturday afternoon saw Loeb and Sordo choose the extra-hard '9+' g-Force Gravel and Loeb took the lead. On Sunday, the Citroen pair ran a little 'harder' than the Fords ('9-' compared with '8') for the half-dry/half-wet stages. However, Loeb was caught in showers at the start of SS15 and SS16.
Subaru WRT Good tyre choices for Petter Solberg who unfortunately suffered mechanical problems. Like the Citroen drivers, Chris Atkinson tried the hard tyre on Saturday afternoon but dropped 8s to his direct rival Latvala.
Quotes from New Zealand
Marcus Gronholm (Ford/BFGoodrich), Saturday evening:
"On these highly specific stages, BFGoodrich tyres combine outstanding stability and excellent traction. Here in New Zealand, when the weather is as unsettled as it was this weekend, tyre choices are crucial but it isn't easy to make the ideal call because you have to decide two hours before the start of stages that take place 100km from the service park. My tyres were too soft for SS10 and SS11. I could feel them moving underneath the car and I was unable to match Loeb's pace. Fortunately, it was my only error of the weekend."