New Zealand Rally a step away from success? Following its world crowns in 2000 and 2001, Peugeot Sport is this year enjoying another tremendous run and the Sanremo Rally, eleventh of the 2002 calendar's fourteen rounds, provided the team with...
New Zealand Rally a step away from success?
Following its world crowns in 2000 and 2001, Peugeot Sport is this year enjoying another tremendous run and the Sanremo Rally, eleventh of the 2002 calendar's fourteen rounds, provided the team with its seventh WRC one-two finish of the season. This result gives it a 45-point lead over Ford in the Manufacturers' championship while its drivers are also flying the flag high in the Drivers' series. With three rounds to go, Marcus Grönholm figures in a strong position at the top of the provisional standings with a 23-point advantage over... his own team-mate Richard Burns.
Peugeot Sport goes into the final phase of the season with its confidence and ambitions as high as ever. The next encounter takes in the celebrated stages of New Zealand where the French outfit will be looking to make well and truly sure of the 2002 Manufacturers' title. The three drivers nominated to drive the factory 206 WRCs are Marcus Grönholm, who won here in 2000, Richard Burns, winner in 1996 and 2001, and Harri Rovanperä, who finished on the podium a little over twelve months ago. Gilles Panizzi, currently fourth in the Drivers' championship thanks to his excellent asphalt performances, will drive a fourth 206 WRC prepared by Bozian.
The New Zealand Rally is unique. Its beckoning, fast and flowing gravel roads place the accent on pure performance and driver skill and the only potential blot on this otherwise idyllic landscape concerns the influence that stage start orders may have during the opening leg. Currently first and second in the provisional championship standings, Marcus Grönholm and Richard Burns will be first on the road this year and will therefore face the task of sweeping the tracks clear of their loose top-layer for those further down the running order. "This is effectively an important consideration," confirms Peugeot Sport Director Corrado Provera. "However, we will also be able to count on Harri Rovanperä who will start a bit further back. In any case, we have every intention of doing our absolute best to secure the Manufacturers' title as soon as possible. Although nothing is yet mathematically certain, we are in a strong position and we are also on target for a top result in the Drivers' championship..."
After claiming a brilliant second place in Italy, Marcus Grönholm is delighted at the prospect of doing battle on the other side of the planet: "New Zealand is all about speed and the only tactic possible is maximum attack from start to finish. It is incontestably one of my favourite events and I am very happy to be back. It is also nice that my position in the championship will allow me to be a bit more relaxed. That said, nothing is in the bag yet and we will have to see how much of a handicap my stage start order will be. Rain, it is true, could simplify matters for us."
Although Marcus Grönholm has extended his lead at the top of the Drivers' points table, his closest chaser, Richard Burns, has every intention of taking the fight to the Finn in New Zealand. The British driver enjoys a successful record on this rally, including two wins in 1996 and 2001, and his victory here last year sparked off the spectacular comeback in the Drivers' championship that saw him clinch the title on the very last round, Great Britain, ahead of his compatriot Colin McRae...
Harri Rovanperä's experience of New Zealand amounts to four previous visits. The 1998 event saw him take victory in the 2-litre category, while last year he was the best-placed Peugeot driver thanks to a podium finish behind Richard Burns and Colin McRae. Like all Finns, Harri Rovanperä is very much at home on sprint rounds like the New Zealand Rally and could well prove a key player in Peugeot's offensive.