Mitsubishi buoyed by gravel progress. The Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart crew of FranÃ§ois Delecour and Daniel Grataloup finished Rally New Zealand in ninth position after 26 special stages and 411.40 competitive kilometres. Team-mates Jani...
Mitsubishi buoyed by gravel progress.
The Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart crew of François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup finished Rally New Zealand in ninth position after 26 special stages and 411.40 competitive kilometres. Team-mates Jani Paasonen and Arto Kapanen had enjoyed a sensational pace over the weekend, underlining the potential of the Lancer Evolution WRC2, however the Finnish pair were forced onto the sidelines during the second leg.
Rally New Zealand was won by Marcus Gronholm who registered his fourth victory of the season in the Peugeot 206WRC. More significantly, the Finn and co-driver Timo Rautiainen have clinched the Drivers' Championship after nearest rivals Richard Burns and Colin McRae crashed out of the event. The Drivers' crown therefore returns to Finland for the 12th time in the 25-year history of the Championship. In another crushing display of domination, Peugeot's Harri Rovanpera finished second, recording the French manufacturers' eighth maximum points haul of the year, assuring them the FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers for the third consecutive year.
After one of the longest days in the FIA World Rally Championship and one of the shortest overnight halts of the year - courtesy of the clocks moving forward one hour last night - 46 bleary eyed crews left Auckland at 06:00 hrs for the final leg of Rally New Zealand. The route, which was the shortest of the three, was still no cruise to the finish however and the contenders faced eight special stages and 90.16 kilometres of competition. Weather conditions remained dry, clear blue skies and 24 degree temperatures adding to the spectacular scenery around the southern base of Te Kauwhata, 75 kilometres south of the city.
The Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart crew of François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup maintained position throughout the leg to return to Auckland in ninth position. "There was a lot of loose gravel on the stages this morning and the long one (SS20) was the most difficult stage of the rally because there was so much dust and the roads are very narrow," commented François. "Running just one car back makes a difference, although we were still cleaning the roads of loose gravel. We backed off in the last couple of stages because there was no sense in pushing to the very end. Having looked at the data to analyse Jani's driving style here, we've now learned more about the technique that works best with the Mitsubishi in these conditions."
Adding to François' comments, Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart team manager Derek Dauncey said: "Jani's performance and his series of exceptional stage times has been the highlight of the season so far. He approached the event with a very mature attitude and did exactly what the team asked of him, and more. His brief was to set competitive stage times and he performed that task perfectly. Obviously it was disappointing to lose him, but we've now shown the car is competitive, with Jani consistently beating the Fords and Subarus. François lacked confidence in his driving in the first leg; he was happy with the car but his stage times didn't reflect that. This meant he was first on the road for leg two, which obviously had a huge effect from there on. However, he used the rest of the event to gain knowledge and experience that he and the team can take forward to Australia."
Just 10 of the FIA World Rally Championship contenders finished Rally New Zealand, some of the event's legendary winners crashing out, including Colin McRae (Ford) and Richard Burns (Peugeot). Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) however went on to win for the fourth time this year. Team-mate Harri Rovanpera maintained second position but a late scare with hydraulic problems in stage 24 slowed the Finn significantly and he was relieved to make the finish. Third-placed Petter Solberg was forced into a heart-wrenching retirement in the penultimate stage, the engine in the Subaru expiring after the Norwegian was almost guaranteed a podium position for the fourth time this year. Team-mate Tommi Makinen therefore inherited third, notching up his fourth points finish of the season. Carlos Sainz (Ford) too had a scare in stage 24, the Spaniard going off the road, hitting a tree and damaging the suspension. Fortunately repairs were facilitated at the end of the stage and the Madrid-based driver finished fourth overall. Hyundai recorded its best performance of the year, the Korean manufacturer claiming points with Juha Kankkunen and Freddy Loix, both of whom also picked up the last drivers' points.
Coming next --
The FIA World Rally Championship contenders remain in the Southern Hemisphere for the penultimate round, Rally Australia (31 October-3 November). Based in Perth, the remotest city in the world, the event is one of the highlights of the year, despite the exacting challenge of precision car control over fast narrow stages covered in unique marble-shaped gravel.