Peugeot climbs to the top of the world championship. Marcus Gronholm and Richard Burns have finished first and second on the Rally of New Zealand, boosting Peugeot to the top of the manufacturers' championship. Richard also increases his lead...
Peugeot climbs to the top of the world championship.
Marcus Gronholm and Richard Burns have finished first and second on the Rally of New Zealand, boosting Peugeot to the top of the manufacturers' championship.
Richard also increases his lead of the driver's championship, while Marcus moves up to second in the series, six points behind his team mate.
Marcus was delighted with his exemplary victory in New Zealand, widely regarded as one of the most challenging gravel rallies in the world. The reigning World Champion took the lead on the opening special stage of the rally and was never headed for the remainder of the event. He set fastest time on 10 out of a total of 22 special stages, and ended up with a winning margin of more than one minute over his team mate.
Marcus said: "I'm absolutely delighted. I came here with the intention of winning and now I have done it. This has been an extremely satisfying rally for me and for Peugeot. We have been quick throughout the whole event, and had no mechanical problems whatsoever. Now I'm looking forward to the next rally, in Argentina, and I want to win that too!"
The Finn did not put a foot wrong during the entire rally, apart from a scare yesterday on stage 13 when he tipped his 206 WRC onto its side. But the damage sustained was only cosmetic, and Marcus was soon on his way again.
"That was a bit of a scary moment," said Marcus. "It was just a stupid mistake, as I was under no real pressure. I was slightly too fast, and it took about 30 seconds for the spectators to come and push the car back onto its wheels. Luckily there was no real damage, but then I decided to take it easy through the closing stages."
Today's action consisted of six stages, including four run consecutively at the end of the rally. Conditions were mainly dry, in contrast to the intermittent rain showers over the first two days that made the roads very slippery.
Richard too drove an excellent rally, not making a single mistake throughout the entire event. On the first day he was forced to run first on the road, although the wet conditions minimised this disadvantage. He built up his speed on day two, despite a couple of problems with a soft brake pedal. On the final day he focussed on bringing his car to the finish, to ensure the lead of the driver's world championship. Richard set seven fastest times over the course of the rally.
Richard said: "It's been an extremely good rally for us, and I'm pleased to have extended my lead of the drivers championship and helped Peugeot to the lead of the manufacturers series. The conditions meant that running first on the road was not as big a drama as it could have been, and apart from a slight problem with the brakes the car was perfectly reliable."
The Peugeot 206 WRC of Harri Rovanpera was forced to retire from a strong fourth place on the second day of the rally. Harri was pushing hard, but he unfortunately made a mistake on stage 14 and went off.
Peugeot Sport Team Principal Corrado Provera commented: "Our adventure in New Zealand has ended in a fantastic victory. The only shadow over our happiness is that Harri has not been able to finish the rally. But we have still scored maximum points in the manufacturers' championship, and moved into the lead of the series. We are also first and second in the drivers' championship. I am tremendously proud of all the hard work that the team has put into our 22nd victory with the 206 WRC, and of course I would like to congratulate the drivers who have done a fantastic job. Marcus took the lead at the start and was never beaten; Richard has also been amazing despite the problem of running first on the road during the opening day."
The fifth round of the World Rally Championship takes place in Argentina, from May 9-11. The Rally of Argentina, based in Villa Carlos Paz, is another classic gravel event and the Peugeot drivers will all be aiming to capitalise on their success here in New Zealand.