Asphalt debut for the Evolution 3 206 WRC Peugeot's one-two performance on the recent Rally Finland, its fifth maximum points haul of the season, strengthened its lead in the provisional Manufacturers' World Championship standings after ...
Asphalt debut for the Evolution 3 206 WRC
Peugeot's one-two performance on the recent Rally Finland, its fifth maximum points haul of the season, strengthened its lead in the provisional Manufacturers' World Championship standings after nine rounds and has taken Marcus Grönholm further clear at the top of the Drivers' points table. With five events of the 2002 campaign still to go, anything can still happen between now and the end of the year, although the French squad will be looking to keep up the momentum as the series switches to two consecutive rounds on asphalt, a surface on which the Peugeot 206 has traditionally shone. The first of these encounters takes the championship to Germany where the team has entered three Evolution 3 206s for Richard Burns, Marcus Grönholm and Harri Rovanperä, the latter standing in for the convalescing Gilles Panizzi.
Panizzi, an acclaimed asphalt ace, has already won twice on asphalt this year (Spain and Corsica) and would once again have been a valuable asset on the Deutschland Rally. However, in accord with his team and doctors, he has opted to give Germany a miss in order not to compromise his recovery and to ensure he is fully fit for the next round, the Sanremo Rally.
"It was a tough decision to come to," he admits. "The reduction of the fracture passed off perfectly but the torn ligaments need much longer to heal. A period of 5 or 6 weeks is usual. It was therefore a bit tight for next week's Deutschland Rally, but I will be ready in time for the Sanremo Rally at the end of September."
Although the championship is still a long way from being sown up and although the absence of Gilles in Germany comes as a big blow, Peugeot can be justifiably proud of its record since the start of the year. After nine of the calendar's fourteen rounds, the French team has secured no fewer than five one-two finishes (Sweden, Corsica, Spain, Cyprus and Finland) and has come away with points from every outing, with the exception of Argentina where its cars were disqualified after the finish. Its consistency on gravel, asphalt and snow has harvested a total of 99 Manufacturers' championship points and taken it into a 25-point lead over its closest chaser. Last year after the Finnish round, its total was just 39 points!
The situation looks just as encouraging in the Drivers' championship in which Marcus Grönholm, following his third victory of the year in Finland, has a score of 47 points and enjoys a 17-point cushion over his most pressing rival, Colin McRae. In 2001, Richard Burns took the crown with 44 points.
Even so, given that a one-two result means a successful team can collect 16 points from a single outing, success for Peugeot at the end of the year is by no means a foregone conclusion, and Marcus Grönholm is perfectly aware of the ground that has still to be covered. "My lead means I can go to Germany and Sanremo without too much pressure. But there are still five rallies to come and a total of 50 points up for grabs. Anything can still happen," he warns.
Marcus, who is becoming increasingly accustomed to asphalt, has the advantage of having already competed in Germany after taking part in last year's non-championship Deutschland Rally. The Finn posted some excellent stage times before eventually finishing 4th overall after being delayed by a puncture and an off.
Richard Burns is another driver with all-round ability, as he demonstrated once again with an excellent performance in the recent Rally Finland, while Harri Rovanperä also enjoyed a strong run on his home event before retiring.
Surprisingly, Germany has never previously hosted a round of the World Rally Championship. You have to go back to 1973, the year in which the series was created, to find the trace of an event in neighbouring Austria, the Austrian Alps Rally.
Based on the former Hunsruck Rally, the Deutschland Rally runs out of Germany's oldest town, Trier, which is situated on the banks of the Moselle in a highly reputed wine producing region, close to both France and Luxembourg.