Peugeot's squad in confident mood before New Zealand match. Second in the Manufacturers' World Championship and leader in the Drivers' points table with Richard Burns, Peugeot is poised to tackle one of its favourite fixtures, Rally New Zealand.
Peugeot's squad in confident mood before New Zealand match.
Second in the Manufacturers' World Championship and leader in the Drivers' points table with Richard Burns, Peugeot is poised to tackle one of its favourite fixtures, Rally New Zealand. The stages of this event are amongst the finest of the series and the French team finished on top here both in 2000 and 2002. Marcus Grönholm, the man behind these two successes, Richard Burns, winner in 2001 and 1996, and Harri Rovanperä, second overall six months ago, have been nominated to fly the French team's colours in what promises to be a spectacular weekend of sport.
After the WRC's inaugural visit to Turkey, Rally New Zealand offers a far more familiar setting, in spite of its switch to an uncustomary early-April date which corresponds to late summer in this part of the world.
The fourth round of the 2003 season is set against one of the World Championship's most picturesque backdrops. It's a rally of outright speed, run over inviting, flowing gravel stages that put the accent on driver skill. This is a 'loose surface' Grand Prix where the keys to a top performance are precision and perfect control of the majestic power-slides that are a feature of this event. It was included for the first time in the WRC calendar in 1977 and swiftly established itself as one of the favourites amongst the sport's leading proponents. Peugeot and its drivers have an impressive results record here, including last October's harvest when the 206 WRC secured the resounding one-two that clinched Peugeot's third successive Manufacturers' title and a second Drivers' crown for Marcus Grönholm following his title in 2000... a season that also saw him crack open the victory champagne in Auckland.
"Rally New Zealand is an event that is dear to us," says Peugeot Sport Director Corrado Provera. "We go there this year looking for another win, or perhaps even better. If conditions are dry, Richard (Burns) could be at a slight disadvantage because of his start position on Leg 1, but Marcus (Grönholm) and Harri (Rovanperä) won't suffer from this handicap and, on the whole, all three of our drivers are in with a real chance of victory."
Provisional Drivers' championship leader Richard Burns has two excellent recollections of New Zealand: 1996, when he collected the first WRC win of his career, and 2001, when his second success in Auckland made a valuable contribution to his comeback in the hunt for that year's title which he eventually went on to win. Last season, on the occasion of his first visit to the southern hemisphere in Peugeot's colours, he was battling for victory when a spectacular accident put him out of the rally. This time round, his objective remains to clinch his first win with the 206 WRC: "I'm really looking forward to New Zealand. It's a rally I enjoy very much. The only unknown factor this year concerns the state of the stages and my start position. I will be first on the road on Leg 1 and that could prove a disadvantage if the going is dry. If that is the case, I will do what I can to figure inside the top three at the end of the opening day. That said, the seconds lost early in the rally are unlikely to be easy to claw back against the likes of Marcus and Harri. That's why I would really like it to rain on Day 1--"
Marcus Grönholm is an expert of this high-speed rally. "I like this event a great deal," he agrees. After his brilliant win a few weeks ago in Sweden, Marcus was frustrated not to be in a position to mix it with the frontrunners in the following round in Turkey. New Zealand will be his chance for revenge.
Harri Rovanperä is particularly determined to perform well on this one. He was unlucky in Sweden, where he was forced out after colliding with Juuso Pykalysto's stricken car mid-stage, and he then failed to finish the Rally of Turkey after leading at half-distance. "I have no intention of chewing over those misadventures forever. Going into a high-speed rally such as New Zealand, you have to be totally committed to fighting for victory and focussed on your driving. After that, we will see how the event unfolds^Å". In 2001, Harri Rovanperä was Peugeot's best-placed finisher thanks to his third place behind Colin McRae and Richard Burns. Last year, he completed the distance in second place to ensure Peugeot's memorable one-two success.
Rally New Zeland
33th Rally New Zeland
4th Round of Worldchampionship 2003
Scruteenering : Wednesday 9 April 2003 -- Turners Auctions, Gladding
Place, Manukau City.
Shakedown : Thursday 10 April 2003 -- 08.00 / 12.00 -- Komokoriki Hill
Road -- Kaukapakapa
Ceremonial Start : Thursday 10 April 2003 -- 18.45 -- Aotea Square - Auckland
Total Distance : 1.299 km -- 22 Special Stages (407,3 km)