Propecia Rally New Zealand Official Site: www.rallynz.org.nz Round 10 of the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship 20-23rd September 2001 Thursday, 20 September 2001 The world's top rally stars will fight for victory on some of the finest roads...
Propecia Rally New Zealand
Official Site: www.rallynz.org.nz
Round 10 of the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship
20-23rd September 2001
Thursday, 20 September 2001
The world's top rally stars will fight for victory on some of the finest roads in the world on the tenth round of this year's FIA World Rally Championship, the Propecia Rally New Zealand, which starts in earnest tomorrow morning. The country's smooth, flowing gravel stages are regarded by many of the leading drivers as the most enjoyable in the series. And with the first three drivers on the road - championship leader Tommi Mäkinen, Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz - all striving to notch up a record 24th win at this level, there should be a typically close battle on the WRC's longest haul trip. Mäkinen will be doubly keen to put his title bid back on track after an embarrassing early retirement on the Rally Finland last month. Rally New Zealand is the final appearance for the Lancer Evolution before a new World Rally Car version makes its debut in Sanremo. Four-times champion Mäkinen will hope that the proven package can help him to extend his six-point cushion over nearest challenger McRae, and move Mitsubishi clear of Ford in the manufacturers' series.
All of the front-running crews will have to watch later runners, though, on stages that are expected to become clearer of loose gravel with every passing car. Drivers like Marcus Grönholm (a winner in Finland and sixth on the road) and Richard Burns (seventh) could have a traction advantage over Mäkinen, McRae and Sainz. Away from the action, rallying's top stars paid tribute to the victims of the recent terrorist attacks in the United States at this evening's ceremonial start in the centre of the New Zealand capital. Crews, teams and officials observed two minutes of silence before the first car drove over the start ramp.
FORD (1st - 66 points)
Technical: Ford's engineers report no major alterations to the specifications of the Focus RS WRC01s for this event. The team continues to investigate the engine failure that halted Carlos Sainz on the Safari Rally - an ECU fault now seems the most likely cause.
Sporting: Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae are nominated for manufacturers' points, with François Delecour aiming for drivers' points only. Delecour's car will run in a special colour scheme as a mark of respect to those killed in last week's terrorist attacks in the United States.
Colin McRae said: "If it stays dry then there'll be problems with the loose gravel, because it'll just get swept out of the way and we'll have to try to follow the clean lines as best as possible. But when we're second on the road we won't have much to go on! This event, Australia and Great Britain are crucial for us in the championship, because we still don't know much about the asphalt form for Sanremo or Corsica."
Carlos Sainz said: "I think in some places this rally could be the worst one ever for roads cleaning. Where the roads have been regraded there is a lot of loose gravel and it will sweep clean even more than it does in Australia. I wish we could find a solution to this situation."
MITSUBISHI (2nd - 66 points)
Technical: The Lancer Evolutions of Tommi Mäkinen, Freddy Loix and Toni Gardemeister are unchanged in basic specification for this event, which marks the final appearance of the Group A car before the Lancer World Rally Car appears next month in Sanremo.
Sporting: Current world championship leader Tommi Mäkinen has never won in New Zealand but the Finn will be aiming to break his duck to restore his title bid after his early retirement on home soil. The four-times champion is again joined in Mitsubishi's manufacturer nominations by his countryman Toni Gardemeister. Belgian Freddy Loix is thus able to score drivers' points only.
Tommi Mäkinen said: "I'm not thinking too much about the new car in Sanremo yet, although I did have the chance to test it recently and it instantly had a good feeling. But I think we can get a good result here too - running first on the road could be a big problem for us but the current car's still strong enough here to challenge."
Toni Gardemeister said: "I feel very relaxed about this rally. We don't really have anything planned beyond this event so I can just concentrate on doing as good a job as possible."
PEUGEOT (3rd - 39 points)
Technical: The three works Peugeot 206 WRCs feature few revisions since Marcus Grönholm won last time out in Finland. The reigning world champion has opted to switch to a five-speed gearbox, however, leaving Harri Rovanperä and Didier Auriol to use the six-speed unit.
Sporting: Peugeot has nominated reigning world champion Marcus Grönholm and 1994 title-holder Didier Auriol for manufacturers' points. The third 206 WRC of Harri Rovanperä will be eligible for drivers' points only.
Marcus Gronholm said: "I'm quite confident about this rally. Of course we had a good result in Finland - it was nice to win again and I don't want to wait as long again! The car felt really good in the shakedown - it felt quick and very easy to drive as well. I've chosen the five-speed gearbox because sometimes in Finland I felt I was changing too many gears, and also I think the five-speed unit maybe has a slightly higher top speed. It's a very close thing between the five- and six-speed 'boxes, but I thought I'd try it."
Didier Auriol said: "I'm looking forward to this rally. The stages are good to drive and I've got quite a good record here. We had bad luck in Finland and it's been a hard season so far so I'm hoping for a clean run. If we get that, then I'm sure our times will be good enough to challenge."
SUBARU (4th- 35 points)
Technical: Subaru's Impreza WRC2001s remain essentially unchanged from their Rally Finland specification, although Richard Burns's example is fitted with a revised airbox that is slightly lighter and gives a little more power.
Sporting: Subaru has entered three Impreza WRC2001s in Finland. Richard Burns and Petter Solberg will both be nominated for manufacturers' points, while a late decision means that Japanese driver Toshihiro Arai uses the third car instead of Markko Martin. The Estonian driver completed the pre-event recce, however.
Richard Burns said: "I've won here before and I'm pretty confident, even though it'll be tough. We know from Finland last month that the car's performance is good on hard gravel surfaces and the tyres worked well too. Road position will make a difference in places but we'll just have to see how that develops."
Petter Solberg said: "I've got a good feeling here. The car felt excellent at shakedown and the stages are really enjoyable to drive - lots of flowing corners, tricky camber and with the loose gravel it can be slippery too. I'm keeping the same approach as recent events - I'm just intending to drive at my own pace and not get drawn into thinking too much about the other guys."
SKODA (5th - 15 points)
Skoda has elected not to make the trip to New Zealand. The Czech team has been concentrating on tweaking the Octavia WRCs for the forthcoming asphalt events.
HYUNDAI (6th - 10 points)
Technical: Hyundai has made few changes to the Accent WRC2s beyond the minor engine modifications that were introduced on the last round in Finland.
Sporting: Hyundai is represented in New Zealand by its two regular drivers - Kenneth Eriksson and Alister McRae. Eriksson (who won the Rally New Zealand in 1997) takes a break after this event, since the Swede will be replaced in Sanremo and Corsica by the team's asphalt expert Piero Liatti.
Alister McRae said: "We got a fastest time here last year, the first for the Accent, and we'd obviously like a bit more of that this time! I think there's good cause to be optimistic - the car's a lot closer to the pace now than it was then, and we should have the advantage of roads that have been cleaned by the front crews. If we get a troublefree run then I'm sure we can fight for points."
Kenneth Eriksson said: "I love this event - the roads are great here, with a good blend of twisty and flowing stages. The car's been improving all the time and with the cleaning roads I think there's potential for a good result."
Citroen's Xsara WRCs are not present in New Zealand, as the French team prepares for its two outings in Sanremo and Corsica in October. It recently gained approval from rival manufacturers to run FIA Super 1600 Cup leader Sebastien Loeb in a third Xsara WRC in Sanremo.
If, as expected, the stages are swept clear of loose gravel by the leading crews, several World Rally Car drivers further down the order could capitalise. Local driver and newly-crowned Australian champion Possum Bourne uses a Subaru Impreza WRC, while British privateer Neil Wearden will drive a Peugeot 206 WRC run by Italian team Grifone. In the Group N category for more standard vehicles, reigning class champion Manfred Stohl faces stiff competition from Argentine drivers Gabriel Pozzo and Marcos Ligato.
The event also marks two significant car debuts in the world championship. The latest Subaru Impreza STi appears in Group A form, driven by Bruce Herbert, while Geof Argyle gives the Group A Mitsubishi Lancer E7 its first outing in the series.
Pirelli is supplying its teams with two types of tyre - the K (for hard surfaces) and KM (for soft or sandy surfaces). Michelin is offering two options - the ZA, for loose or damp top surfaces, and the Z, for clear hard ground.