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Gronholm secures Drivers' title with Rally NZ win

6 October 2002


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.

The 206 WRCs of Grönholm and 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.

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, so that I'm even better prepared if the same stages are used next year!''

Team-mate Harri Rovanpera added: ''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 commented: ''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.''

''Our success is also the fruit of close teamwork with our partner Michelin. Thanks to their valuable efforts, we have been able to count on excellent tyres throughout the season. Nor should I forget the input of Total's engineers in the development of the high performance lubricants that have played another significant role in our results. We've reached the targets here - I'm happy for Harri, Gilles and of course for Marcus. And I'm also a little sad for Richard [Burns], who was doing so well until yesterday. I'm sure that one of these days he will be winning as well.''

At Subaru Tommi Mäkinen has experimented with some suspension and anti-roll bar settings on his Impreza WRC2002 during leg 3, 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.

Both of Subaru's drivers, Solberg and 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.''

Team-mate Tommi Mäkinen added: ''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.''

The sole Ford Focus RS WRC02 of Carlos Sainz ran without problems. With a 50-second deficit to Tommi Mäkinen overnight and a cushion of more than a minute to Juha Kankkunen, Sainz had no reason to take risks. 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.

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.''

Team-mates Colin McRae and co-driver Nicky Grist retired on the opening day after sliding off the road and damaging the radiator while Markko Märtin and co-driver Michael Park went out yesterday after rolling.

The three Hyundai Accent WRC3s of Juha Kankkunen, Freddy Loix and Armin Schwarz have run without any major problems. 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 added: ''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.''

The remaining Skoda Octavia WRC of Toni Gardemeister ran reliably, although the Finn did feel that his car was set up too stiffly for this morning's opening pair of stages.

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.

Gardemeister commented: ''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.''

At Mitsubishi François Delecour's Lancer Evo WRC has been reliable, although the Frenchman did complain of a lack of feeling in the brakes towards the end of SS20.

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 - who had gone so well before retiring yesterday in SS11. He ended the event in ninth overall.

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.''

Of the other entries 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.




Rally statistics - Leg three:

Starters: 46 crews (24 Group A and 22 Group N) started this morning.

Retirements: Solberg (N) + 2 non-seeded drivers.

Today - Sunday 5 October: Leg 3 started from Auckland at 05h00 and covered 421.02km, including 90.19km on eight special stages.


Stage by stage summary - Leg three:


SS19 Otorohea Trig (4.62kms):
1. Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot 3m 05.6
2. Rovanperä (FIN) Peugeot 3m 07.7
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 3m 08.2

Leaders after SS19:
1. Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot 3h 11m 16.7
2. Rovanperä (FIN) Peugeot 3h 12m 14.1
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 3h 13m 35.3

SS20 Te Akau South Reverse (32.43kms):
1. Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot 18m 43.3
2. Rovanperä (FIN) Peugeot 19m 12.0
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 19m 18.4

Leaders after SS20:
1. Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot 3h 30m 00.0
2. Rovanperä (FIN) Peugeot 3h 31m 26.1
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 3h 32m 53.7

SS21 Ridge 1 (8.53kms):
1. Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot 4m 45.8
2. Mäkinen (FIN) Subaru 4m 51.2
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 4m 52.9

Leaders after SS21:
1. Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot 3h 34m 45.8
2. Rovanperä (FIN) Peugeot 3h 36m 20.9
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 3h 37m 46.6

SS22 Campbell 1 (7.44kms):
1. Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot 3m 55.8
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 3m 56.2
3. Mäkinen (FIN) Subaru 3m 58.5

Leaders after SS22:
1. Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot 3h 38m 41.6
2. Rovanperä (FIN) Peugeot 3h 40m 20.2
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 3h 41m 42.8

SS23 Ridge 2 (8.53kms):
1. Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot 4m 43.4
2. Mäkinen (FIN) Subaru 4m 47.6
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 4m 47.8

Leaders after SS23:
1. Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot 3h 43m 25.0
2. Rovanperä (FIN) Peugeot 3h 45m 10.4
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 3h 46m 30.8

SS24 Campbell 2 (7.44kms):
1. Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot 3m 52.9
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 3m 55.9
3. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 3m 56.1

Leaders after SS24:
1. Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot 3h 47m 17.9
2. Rovanperä (FIN) Peugeot 3h 49m 34.5
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 3h 50m 26.5

SS25 Fyfe 1 (10.60kms):
1. Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot 5m 47.4
2. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 5m 49.2
3. Sainz (E) Ford 5m 54.3

Leaders after SS25:
1. Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot 3h 53m 05.3
2. Rovanperä (FIN) Peugeot 3h 56m 08.1
3. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 3h 57m 28.3

SS26 Fyfe 2 (10.60kms):
1. Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot 5m 40.1
2. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 5m 43.4
3. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 5m 46.7

Leaderboard in Manukau after SS26:
1. Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot 3h 58m 45.4
2. Rovanperä (FIN) Peugeot +3m 47.6
3. Makinen (FIN) Subaru +4m 26.3
4. Sainz (E) Ford +5m 48.9
5. Kankkunen (FIN) Hyundai +7m 10.2
6. Loix (B) Hyundai +7m 52.5
7. Panizzi (F) Peugeot +8m 24.4
8. Gardemeister (FIN) Skoda +8m 56.1
9. Delecour (F) Mitsubishi +10m 43.6
10. Schwarz (D) Hyundai +11m 34.8

Production Car WRC leaders after SS26:
1. Sohlberg (FIN) Mitsubishi 4h 18m 20.5
2. Rowe (GB) Mitsubishi +18.3
3. Manfrinato (I) Mitsubishi +2m 57.2
4. Fiorio (I) Mitsubishi +3m 15.7
5. Ligato (RA) Mitsubishi +4m 17.9
6. Kollevold (N) Mitsubishi +33m 47.8


Final rally statistics:

Event: The rally covered 1792.48km, including 411.40km on 26 special stages (including six run twice). All stages were on gravel roads closed to other traffic.

Starters: 81 crews (42 Group A and 39 Group N) started the rally.

Finishers: 42 crews (21 Group A and 21 Group N) finished the rally.

Stage winners:
Grönholm (SS6-10-12-15 -16-17-18-19-20-21-22-23-24-25-26)
Burns (SS1-2-3-4-9-11-13-14)
Paasonen (SS5)
Solberg (SS7-8)

Rally leaders:
SS1-SS14 Burns
SS15-SS26 Grönholm


FIA World Rally Championships:


FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers (provisional standings after 12 of 14 rounds): Grönholm (FIN) 67, Burns (GB) 34, C. McRae (GB) 33, Panizzi (F) 31. Sainz (E) 29, Rovanperä (FIN) 24, Solberg (N) 23, Mäkinen (FIN) 19, Loeb (F) 18, Martin (EE) 12, Bugalski (F) 7, Radstrom (S) 4, A. McRae (GB) 2, Gardemeister (FIN) 2, Thiry (B) 2, Kankkunen (FIN) 2, Eriksson (S) 1, Puras (E) 1, Loix (B) 1.

FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers (provisional standings after 12 of 14 rounds): Peugeot 147, Ford 89, Subaru 50, Mitsubishi 9, Hyundai 9, Skoda 8.

FIA Junior World Rally Championship (after 5 of 6 rounds, this event not counting): Dallavilla (I) 28, Sola (E) 27, Caldani (I) 13, Tuohino (FIN) 12, Duval (B) 12, Basso (I) 10, Galli (I) 5, Schelle (D) 5, Feghali (RL) 4, Rowe (GB) 4, Carlsson (S) 3, Baldacci (I) 3, Doppelreiter (A) 2, Foss (N) 1, Katajamaki (FIN) 1.

FIA Production Car World Championship (after 7 of 8 rounds): Singh (MAL) 28, Sohlberg (FIN) 26, Ferreyros (PE) 20, Fiorio (I) 16, Arai (J) 12, Trelles (ROU) 12, Iliev (BG) 9, Rowe (GB) 11, others.



Next event - October 31-November 3/2002: Telstra Rally Australia, Perth, Australia.




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