Victory in New Zealand for Richard Burns has put the Subaru driver back in the 2001 Drivers' title chase which continues to be led by Mitsubishi-Michelin's Tommi MÃ¤kinen who failed to add to his score this weekend. Second place for Colin McRae ...
Victory in New Zealand for Richard Burns has put the Subaru driver back in the 2001 Drivers' title chase which continues to be led by Mitsubishi-Michelin's Tommi Mäkinen who failed to add to his score this weekend. Second place for Colin McRae today takes the Ford driver level with his Finnish rival in the championship standings, while a further podium finish for Harri Rovanperä keeps the Peugeot-Michelin driver in the pack of five drivers grouped within a mere thirteen points with just four rounds of the 2001 season remaining. Ford goes clear at the top of the Manufacturers' table.
After an opening day marked by tactical driving followed by a second leg in which starting order through the stages played a significant role in the final outcome, Great Britain's Richard Burns succeeded in warding off pressure from Colin McRae (2nd, Ford) on the final day to collect his first win of the season.
Profiting from a favourable start position over the gravel-strewn stages of Leg 2, the Subaru star clocked up an impressive run of top times that took him into Sunday's final sprint with a healthy-looking 42s advantage over his Scottish rival. Two stages from home, however, that deficit had been cut to less than fifteen seconds, but McRae then lost any chance of pipping Burns at the post when he span and momentarily stalled his engine on the penultimate test. The time lost in the incident was enough to leave
Burns with sufficient breathing space to cruise through the final stage and exact sweet revenge for the two occasions this year when the pair have finished the other way round (Argentina, Cyprus)!
Meanwhile, there was an even more dramatic climax in the battle for third place when Carlos Sainz (Ford), and Peugeot-Michelin's Marcus Grönholm and Harri Rovanperä found themselves split by less than 5 seconds with 10.6km to go. Like his Ford teammate on the previous stage, Sainz lost time with a spin and allowed the Peugeot boys to slip past into third and fourth positions. Then, just as everyone was beginning to digest this unexpected turn, news filtered through that Grönholm had in fact jumped the start, incurring a 10s penalty that dropped him off the podium down to 5th, allowing Sainz to retrieve 4th place at the flag!
Understandably relieved to have secured a handful of points in New Zealand, the Peugeot squad will surely be asking themselves what might have been if, at the height of the event's tactical phase, they had not got their sums wrong. A calculation error led them to signal Grönholm to go too quickly on the decisive SS6*, leaving him second on the road on Day 2, while a similar mistake saw them instruct teammate Didier Auriol (6th) to slow excessively, the Frenchman dropping around half a minute unnecessarily. Not only did those strategic blunders cost the team dearly in terms of the final result in New Zealand, it could also end up jeopardizing their championship chances.
Severely slowed by having to act as road sweeper through on Day 1, Tommi Mäkinen (8th) never really recovered from the handicap. To cap the Finn's unhappy weekend, the Constructors' point he for a long time looked like salvaging for Mitsubishi-Michelin was snatched from his grasp - on the final stage - by Subaru's Petter Solberg (7th).
Finally, the top-ten was completed by Hyundai-Michelin's Alister McRae (9th) and Kenneth Eriksson (10th), surprise leader at the end of Day 1. There were no retirements amongst the leading WRC drivers and indeed very few mechanical problems were reported over the three-day event.
* The leaderboard at the end of SS6 dictated the start order for Leg 2 in which all the drivers knew it was preferable not to run first on the road and therefore have to brush aside the thick top layer of gravel leaving a harder base for the following cars.
Tactics and conditions put the accent elsewhere
Tactical driving and conditions in which road position was such an important ingredient in the final outcome (resulting in differences of up to 1s per kilometer according to running order) means that the tyre factor did not play a decisive role in this weekend's result.
Next round: Sanremo (4-7/10/2001)