Marcus Gronholm leads the Rally New Zealand after the opening leg, following a stellar performance that saw the reigning World Champion post seven fastest stage times. Marcus took the lead on the opening stage and never looked back, ending the day...
Marcus Gronholm leads the Rally New Zealand after the opening leg, following a stellar performance that saw the reigning World Champion post seven fastest stage times. Marcus took the lead on the opening stage and never looked back, ending the day a comfortable 38 seconds ahead of Ford driver Markko Martin.
His team mate Richard Burns is in a strong fourth position overnight, while Harri Rovanpera completes Peugeot's three-pronged attack just behind him in fifth.
Conditions have been extremely tricky today, with a mixture of wet and dry weather that made surfaces completely unpredictable. The rain started as early as the second stage and continued intermittently during the day. Although a number of drivers made costly mistakes, the Peugeot trio and their 206 WRCs were utterly reliable.
Marcus said: "With the conditions as they are, road position has made no real difference. It means everyone has an equal chance. The day has been very good for me; we made no mistakes and the car was fantastic. It has also been very challenging, as these wet and dry conditions are not easy to deal with. Tyre choice has been difficult because you have to be prepared for everything."
Richard Burns was expecting a tough day sweeping away loose gravel at the front of the field. But the Englishman turned the wet conditions to his advantage, and was the only driver other than Gronholm to set fastest times during the day. He too enjoyed perfect reliability and ended the day fourth, just 11 seconds behind Subaru's Petter Solberg.
"It's been good for us as I expected to lose a lot of time running first on the road," said Richard. "Luckily the rain made conditions fairly equal for everybody. If it had been dry throughout, I would have expected to be somewhere in the lower reaches of the top 10 tonight. As it is, we're fourth and in a good position to attack tomorrow."
Harri Rovanpera, running further down the order, had hoped to capitalise on his road position. However, the wet weather meant that the conditions frequently disadvantaged him, as there was a lot of standing water and mud on the road from previous competitors. Nonetheless, Harri put in a brave and mistake-free drive to end up fifth.
"It's not been an easy day for me," said Harri. "But we were still able to set some good times and keep ourselves in contention. It's important for me to finish here, but I want a good result too and I think that's very possible. We will push hard tomorrow and see what we can do."
Tomorrow is the longest leg of the Rally New Zealand. The first car is scheduled to start at 0800 and finish at 2020, after more than 12 hours of competition. Competitors will cover seven stages, including two runs over the Manukau Spectator Superspecial.