After a thrilling final leg duel with Marcus Gronholm, Subaru driver Petter Solberg kept his nerve aboard his Impreza WRC2004 to claim his first ever victory on Rally New Zealand. Achieving the sixth WRC win of his career, Petter scored a maximum...
After a thrilling final leg duel with Marcus Gronholm, Subaru driver Petter Solberg kept his nerve aboard his Impreza WRC2004 to claim his first ever victory on Rally New Zealand. Achieving the sixth WRC win of his career, Petter scored a maximum ten points in the Drivers' and Manufacturers' Championships and now lies three points off the lead of the Drivers' contest. Petter's determined performance over the past three days earned him the Inmarsat Star of the Rally award. Marking a landmark 40th WRC win for Japanese manufacturer Subaru, the victory was also the first for Subaru's all-new Impreza WRC2004 - on only its second competitive outing. Mikko Hirvonen was seventh and collected not only valuable experience of the rally and his car, but important Championship points for both himself and the team. Rounding off a successful event for the Japanese marque, Australian driver Dean Herridge won the Group N classification in a Subaru Impreza WRX STI.
SS18: 0954 Te Hutewai 1 (11.15km)
Overcast skies and light rain meant drivers contended with numerous damp sections on the first loose gravel stage of the day. Hungry for his fourth New Zealand Rally victory, Marcus Gronholm was fastest through the short stage. But despite making 2.1 seconds on event leader Petter Solberg, at the finish the Norwegian maintained a 17.4 second advantage. Used in previous years as part of Leg one, the stage from Te Hutewai gave the first indication of how much time the front-runners would concede as they 'swept' the ultra fine gravel road surface for the cars behind. Running third on the road, Mikko Hirvonen was ninth fastest, while fourth-on-the-road Duval was seventh.=20
SS19: 1017 Te Papatapu 1 (16.62km)
Responding to Gronholm's challenge, Solberg was fastest on SS19 and clinched the win to extend his lead to 19.9 seconds. Gronholm was second fastest, while Sebastien Loeb, who was gaining on fourth-placed Harri Rovanpera, was third. A lack-lustre performance from Citroen's Carlos Sainz saw the Spaniard finish sixth fastest, 18.3 seconds off the winning pace. The former World Champion admitted he had been struggling throughout the event to find a comfortable set-up with his new Citroen WRC2004. At the finish he remained in sixth place overall, 1-minute 25.4 behind team-mate Loeb.
SS20: 1045 Whaanga Coast 1 (29.60km)
Subaru's Sporting Director, and ex co-driver, Luis Moya described the stage that runs along the Whaanga Coast as 'the most beautiful in the championship'. But this year the interest wasn't limited to the stunning scenery, as Gronholm, Rovanpera, Solberg, Duval and Hirvonen each had their share of drama. Marcus Gronholm overshot a junction 19km in and stalled, while Harri Rovanpera also suffered a spin in his Peugeot 307. Mikko Hirvonen hit a rock on the apex of a tight corner 9km before the finish line, sustaining damage to his car's front-right suspension and collecting a broken power steering rack. With no power assistance, the youngster had a gruelling physical work out as he negotiated the twisty section to the finish.
Ford's Francois Duval lost more than 18 minutes when he hit a rock on a right hand corner in his Focus. Duval's Focus went off the stage and through a fence, collecting a broken steering arm and suspension damage. He was forced to remove the front-right wheel before completing the test. Finally, in a dramatic turn of events, rally leader Petter Solberg collided with the same large rock and spun his Impreza in exactly the same place. Luckily, mechanical damage was limited to the power-steering rack, and he was able to continue, albeit enduring the same physical challenge as his team-mate. Without the benefit of power steering he lost 29.6 seconds and the overall lead. With three stages left to run, Solberg trailed the new event leader, Marcus Gronholm by one second. After the finish, crews returned to Raglan for the final 20-minute service.
SS21: 1228 Te Hutewai 2 (11.15km)
Starting the final loop of three stages separated by 13.2 seconds, it was tight at the top for the leading trio, Marcus Gronholm, Petter Solberg and Markko Martin. Completing the repeated Te Hutewai stage with less than a second between their times, there was little change to the overall leaderboard. Driving to the absolute limit, Gronholm maintained the lead, with Solberg just 1.9 seconds behind and Martin a further 11.9 seconds back in third. With 349.28 competitive kilometres of the rally complete, and with just two more stages and 46.22 kilometres left to run, the stage was set for a thrilling finale.=20
SS22: 1251 Te Papatapu 2 (16.62km)
Repeating his earlier sparkling performance on Te Papatapu, Petter Solberg held his nerve through the slippery 16km test to take the fastest time, his seventh of the event, and reclaim the lead of the rally by a margin of 16.3 seconds. But there were problems for Marcus Gronholm. Spinning his Peugeot 307 near to the start due to a handbrake problem, the Finn lost around 18 seconds and dropped down to second overall. Amazingly, after 365.9km of competitive driving, at the finish he held exactly the same overall time as Markko Martin. The Estonian completed the test second fastest, which was enough to move him up to joint second position alongside Gronholm, while Loeb, the highest running Citroen driver, was third fastest to remain in fourth position overall.=20
SS23: 1319 Whaanga Coast 2 (29.60km)
In a thrilling climax to the event, the top three drivers, Solberg, Gronholm and Martin, started the final 29.60km stretch separated by 16.3 seconds. Split times showed the trio were within a second of each other through the early part of the stage, but as the tension mounted, it was Solberg and Gronholm that began to pull away. Despite Gronholm collecting the stage win, reigning World Champion Petter Solberg crossed the line with an overall 5.9-second advantage to take an emphatic win, the sixth of his WRC career, and his second podium finish in New Zealand. Gronholm had to settle for second and Martin crossed the line to take third.=20
It's been a incredible rally, the whole week has just been amazing. I tell you, if there's one man you don't want behind you on the last day, it's Marcus Gronholm and we were both pushing like hell out there. He had trouble, then I had trouble, I'm totally exhausted, but overall it's been really, really good fun. Rallying is a very special sport and to win here is a great feeling. I have so many people to thank in the team at Subaru and Pirelli, but here in New Zealand I'd like to dedicate this win to Possum Bourne.
I'm happy, very pleased with what I've achieved. I think I've learned a lot about how to use the car in these conditions, and my driving has come on well. Friday was a little difficult, but since then I made a few small changes and things really improved. Mechanically, the car has been excellent. The competition from the other WRC drivers has been intense, everyone has been pushing as hard as they can and at this stage in my career if I'm able to keep up with the pace and be quicker than them from time to time, then I'm satisfied.
David Lapworth, Team Principal
Today, we've seen an incredible drive from Petter and one of the most exciting finishes I can remember. Petter kept his cool, as he has done for the rest of the rally, and judged his pace perfectly. This event was the focus of much of our work on the new car and we were keeping our fingers crossed that we'd get this result. With today's win under our belts we can look forward to the forthcoming gravel events with a good deal of confidence. It's an extra bonus that Mikko has done exactly what was expected of him. He's learned a good deal about this event and the new car and we're very happy with what he's achieved.
News from Pirelli
Fiore Brivio, Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager
We are delighted for Petter and the whole team. This win has confirmed the excellent results we saw in testing of the new 'KP' tyre. Both drivers used it throughout the rally, and clearly demonstrated its potential.