Forty-six crews left Auckland this morning at the start of the final Leg of Rally New Zealand. From there the cars drove 75km south to the day's central service point at Te Kauwhata, around which the last eight stages were based. In perfect dry...
Forty-six crews left Auckland this morning at the start of the final Leg of Rally New Zealand. From there the cars drove 75km south to the day's central service point at Te Kauwhata, around which the last eight stages were based.
In perfect dry and bright spring conditions, the leg turned out to be a story of two halves. For the first six stages it looked like the generous time gaps between most of the cars in the top-10 would prevent many changes, and most drivers seemed content to hold their positions. However the last few stages brought mechanical problems for Rovanpera, accident damage for Sainz and a devastating retirement for Solberg which made for a nail-biting finale that went right to the wire.
First place overall eventually went to Marcus Gronholm, who kept his cool to win all the day's stages and earn enough Championship points to secure his second WRC Drivers' title (subject to FIA approval). His Peugeot teammate Harri Rovanpera was second and rounding off an all-Finnish podium, the remaining Subaru of Tommi Mäkinen was third.
SS19 0808hrs Otorohea Trig (4.62km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 3:05.6
A 57-second lead over fellow Peugeot driver Harri Rovanpera didn't seem enough for Marcus Gronholm, and he blasted through the opening stage to set the fastest time. Rovanpera was next quickest, with the familiar hard-charging Subaru Imprezas of Solberg and Mäkinen third and fourth.
SS20 0831hrs Te Akau South Reverse (32.43km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 18:43.3
Seemingly determined to earn the 2002 Drivers' championship rather than have it handed to him on a plate, Gronholm was fastest once again. The Finn was almost one second a kilometre quicker than Rovanpera and stretched his lead to 1m 26s with just 44kms of the event remaining. Petter Solberg put in another consistent run to secure third, but on this occasion Carlos Sainz managed to squeeze into fourth - taking the place usually reserved for Mäkinen. Overall, the Madrid-based driver still held fifth place, 47 seconds behind Tommi in fourth.
SS21 1049hrs Ridge 1 (8.53km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 4:45.8
Gronholm quickest, but Rovanpera slipped down stage order a little, recording only the fifth-fastest time. Mäkinen was second, with Solberg third. At this point most of the drivers in the top-10 seemed content to hold their positions. Barring a mistake or mechanical problem, the only potential movement looked to be seventh-placed Freddy Loix, who was 29 seconds behind his Hyundai team mate Juha Kankkunen in sixth. The two had been instructed to hold their positions to guarantee points, but Loix pushed on nevertheless.
SS22 1105hrs Campbell 1 (7.44km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 3:55.8
Gronholm again, and another slightly slower time for Rovanpera, who slotted in behind Solberg (second) and Mäkinen (third). Elsewhere, the other positions remained unchanged, and Loix made no further time on Kankunnen.
SS23 1123hrs Ridge 2 (8.53km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 4:43.4
Fastest through were Gronholm, Solberg then Mäkinen.
SS24 1139hrs Campbell 2 (7.44km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 3:52.9
Just when it looked like the rally was getting predictable things started to change. Fifth placed Carlos Sainz dropped around 20 seconds when he hit a tree, but more significant was the news that Harri Rovanpera's car had developed a hydraulic problem. This had implications for the power-steering and transmission systems and with no service halts remaining he would have to carry on with no team assistance. The Finn was 17th on the stage and dropped around 30 seconds, narrowing the gap to the chasing Solberg to just 52 seconds.
SS25 1222hrs Fyfe 1 (10.60km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 5:47.4
With Gronholm fastest, Mäkinen second, and Rovanpera 46 seconds down, Solberg looked set to reel in the Peugeot driver on SS25 and claim second place on the podium. But disaster struck 3kms from the start line when the engine in his car failed and the Norwegian coasted to a standstill. It was a cruel end to a rally on which Petter and co-driver Phil Mills had performed so well, and was made worse by the rate at which he was closing in on his target. With Petter out, Mäkinen moved up to third place in the remaining Subaru, 1m 20s behind Rovanpera.
SS26 1252hrs Fyfe 2 (10.60km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 5:40.1
Gronholm kept his foot down right till the finish and won the rally emphatically with another fastest stage time. Mäkinen was next quickest, and although Rovanpera continued to lose time with his mechanical problems (44 seconds on this occasion) he didn't lose enough to allow the 555 Subaru driver to snatch second.