Finnish driver Marcus GrÃ¶nholm has won the 12th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally New Zealand, which finished on the outskirts of Auckland this afternoon. GrÃ¶nholm and his navigator Timo Rautiainen cruised through today's...
Finnish driver Marcus Grönholm has won the 12th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally New Zealand, which finished on the outskirts of Auckland this afternoon. Grönholm and his navigator Timo Rautiainen cruised through today's eight special stages to secure their fourth win of the season, and put themselves mathematically out of reach of their rivals in the world championship points standings. Their team-mate Harri Rovanperä finished second to secure a one-two for Peugeot. Subject to confirmation from the FIA, the French marque has now won the manufacturers' title for the third year in succession.
Despite today's short schedule, there was still scope for drama: Petter Solberg missed out on what seemed a certain podium finish when his Subaru's engine failed with just two stages remaining, while Rovanperä himself had to struggle through the final few tests with hydraulic problems. He still did enough, though, to fend off third-placed Tommi Mäkinen at the finish.
Technical: The 206 WRCs of Marcus Grönholm Gilles Panizzi have been reliable today, although Grönholm did complain of a softening brake pedal 10km after the start of SS20 this morning. Harri Rovanperä's car, meanwhile, suffered a hydraulic pressure loss with three stages remaining. The Finn had to resort to manual throttle command and regular gearshift, and he also lost the front brakes and the power steering as a result.
Sporting: Marcus Grönholm knew that he only had to make no mistakes today to ensure a fourth victory of the year and put himself mathematically out of the reach in the world championship, and the Finn tied up his second title in some style. His only potential rival, Harri Rovanpera, failed to make any impact this morning and when he hit hydraulic problems this afternoon, Grönholm's winning margin extended to almost four minutes. Peugeot's fourth entry Gilles Panizzi brought his 206 WRC home in seventh after an outing designed to give him experience of the New Zealand roads.
Marcus Grönholm said: "Of course I'm really happy about the rally and the championship. It seems strange to have things tied up so early in the season, but we've had a good finishing record this year. Apart from when I was excluded in Argentina, we've only retired from one rally - the Safari - and we've been able to score points on most events. Today, I spent some time checking my pacenotes today, so that I'm even better prepared if the same stages are used next year!"
Harri Rovanpera said: "I'm pleased to get another podium finish and of course it's good for the team to get another one-two and the championship. It was a difficult end to the rally for me after the hydraulic problems, because I only had rear brakes and the power steering or semi-automatic gearshift weren't working. I thought Tommi or Petter would catch me, but they didn't."
Peugeot Total Team Director Corrado Provera said: "To achieve this double success here is extraordinary. It's a fantastic result for a team and a manufacturer who are really committed to rallying and this championship."
Technical: Tommi Mäkinen has experimented with some suspension and anti-roll bar settings on his Impreza WRC2002 today, but the car has run reliably. Petter Solberg, however, lost some time this morning when his car lost hydraulic pressure in its centre differential. He was then forced to retire on the penultimate stage when his car's engine failed.
Sporting: Both of Subaru's drivers, Petter Solberg and Tommi Mäkinen, started today's tests in comfortable positions on the leaderboard, so neither was prepared to take risks in the closing stages. Solberg lost some time with a centre differential problem on the opening pair of tests, but the Norwegian recovered this afternoon to consolidate his third place. He looked certain to score his second podium finish in succession, but in the penultimate stage he suffered late heartbreak when his engine failed and he was forced to retire. Mäkinen, meanwhile, played with set-up on his Impreza as he brought his car back to the Manukau finish in third overall after Solberg's retirement.
Petter Solberg said: "It's hard to put what Phil [Mills] and I are feeling into words right now. We're so disappointed. The engine just failed, there was absolutely no warning. I just don't know what happened."
Tommi Mäkinen said: "There was no point to fight today, so we tried some things to see if we can get a better feeling with the car on stages like these. We have to keep pushing and looking for different settings and ways to find more speed because when you look at how this rally has gone, we have not been able to really compete with the Peugeots. They have a big advantage now, and it's going to be hard to close that. Third is a good result for me, of course, but it's not the way that I wanted it - it would have been better to get two cars to the finish and I feel really sorry for Petter."
Technical: Carlos Sainz's Focus RS WRC02 ran reliably today.
Sporting: With a 50-second deficit to Tommi Mäkinen overnight and a cushion of more than a minute to Juha Kankkunen, Ford's sole remaining driver Carlos Sainz had no reason to take risks today. The Spaniard experimented with differential settings as he consolidated his overnight fifth place. His only real scare came three stages before the end, when he slid backwards in a braking zone approaching a fast corner and hit a tree. Sainz's car struck a television cameraman in the incident without the double world champion even being aware of any contact. The injured party was taken to hospital suffering a suspected broken leg. The bodywork damage on Sainz's car stopped just shy of the car's rear suspension and he continued, finishing fifth.
Carlos Sainz said: "I was in a fast braking area and the back of the car slid round. I managed to lose quite a lot of speed but obviously not enough, and we hit a tree quite hard. There was quite a lot of bodywork damage but the steering was nearly straight, so we were able to get to the finish without losing too much more time."
Technical: The three Accent WRC3s of Juha Kankkunen, Freddy Loix and Armin Schwarz have run without any major problems today.
Sporting: Hyundai started this morning with all three of its entries still running, and the Korean manufacturer was determined to ensure that it stayed that way. As a result, drivers Juha Kankkunen, Freddy Loix and Armin Schwarz were all told to hold station. They did as they were told; Schwarz maintained his overnight 11th place, despite concerns about his differential mapping this morning. He was gifted 10th by Solberg's late retirement. Kankkunen held onto sixth this morning, then moved up to fifth when Solberg retired to secure Hyundai's first drivers points of the season. Loix backed up his team-mate and arrived at the Manukau finish 42.3 seconds behind to score a point for himself and take Hyundai's haul to three points. It was the only manufacturer to get all of its entries to the finish.
Juha Kankkunen said: "It's very good to get so many points for the team. Scoring anything in the world championship these days is pretty difficult, so three points from such a long trip is good for the whole team. I don't know if we can do the same again in Australia, but the first-day road conditions should suit us again so anything's possible."
Freddy Loix said: "Today I had been told just to make sure that I finished and it wasn't fun to drive at all. Of course I would have liked to have been able to fight with Juha to be the top Hyundai but the team really wanted all three cars to finish so there wasn't any point in taking risks. I feel a bit sorry for Petter with his late retirement but it means I get my first point of the year, which is encouraging after so much work from everybody."
Technical: The remaining Octavia WRC of Toni Gardemeister ran reliably today, although the Finn did feel that his car was set up too stiffly for this morning's opening pair of stages.
Sporting: Toni Gardemeister had shouldered Skoda's hopes in New Zealand since the second stage of the rally, when his team-mate Kenneth Eriksson crashed out. The young Finn started today's stages with little to gain, since he was over half a minute behind Gilles Panizzi and well over a minute clear of François Delecour. As a result, Gardemeister concentrated on not making any mistakes and he brought his car to the Manukau finish in eighth overall.
Toni Gardemeister said: "The roads this morning were so, so slippery. I looked at the timesheets and some of the Group N cars were quicker than us because they didn't have so much gravel on the road. Also I think our car hasn't been quite right as well, because it feels like the suspension was very stiff."
Technical: François Delecour's Lancer Evo WRC has been reliable today, although the Frenchman did complain of a lack of feeling in the brakes towards the end of SS20.
Sporting: The remaining Lancer Evo WRC of François Delecour had little to gain from taking risks today, so the Frenchman concentrated on playing with settings and again trying the driving techniques used by Jani Paasonen. He ended the event in ninth overall.
François Delecour said: "It's been very, very hard for us today because the roads have so much loose gravel on them. This morning I lost a little bit of feeling in the brakes - just the bite - but it wasn't such a big problem. Again today I've tried to drive like Jani did, using the brakes quite heavily to get the car lined up for corners, but there's been so much loose on the road that it's still been very difficult."
Finn Kristian Sohlberg started today with high hopes of winning the Group N category for more standard machinery, but his aims were put in jeopardy by rear differential problems. The resulting time loss allowed Kiwi Possum Bourne to move his Subaru ahead of Sohlberg's Impreza, and the local hero held onto the lead to score a popular win on home turf. Sohlberg's disappointment was tempered by the knowledge that Bourne is not registered for the FIA World Production Car Championship. He still took maximum points in that series to move himself into the title reckoning with just one round remaining. Former British champion Martin Rowe took second-placed points while Italian Giovanni Manfrinato claimed third, even though another local non-registered driver, Reece Jones, finished ahead of him in the final results.