WRC » 15 July 2000
One up, one down for Peugeot.
The rain, which had yet to materialise, put in a brief appearance as the leaders negotiated stage 13 at Cassidy. It may have only been a token appearance but it still had a dramatic effect for some drivers, notably Burns and Freddie Loix in the Mitsubishi Carisma.
Burns was caught out on a slippery section of road and spun, fortunately without damage. The delay was sufficient enough to allow McRae to snatch the stage win and let Gronholm increase his lead slightly.
For Loix though, the problem was more serious for after charging through the opening four stages of the day, the problematic differential once again rose its ugly head, no doubt helped by the slippery conditions, and caused the Belgian driver to spin twice. With no guarantee that the rain would not appear again, nor that the problem would go away, Mitsubishi reluctantly withdrew the car in the interests of safety. A tough yet correct decision.
Stage 14 at Batley was the last where Gronholm's position would be a disadvantage. The teams would return to Auckland along the same route (minus Parahi) that they travelled earlier in the day, the roads by now clear of gravel.
This represented the last chance for McRae and Burns to use their position to their advantage and both drivers attacked the stage with immense vigour. The Ford man was quickest by three seconds over Burns although Gronholm was once again snapping at the heels of both men. As the competitors moved back to Waipu Gorge, Gronholm's lead was 16 seconds.
It was on the final three stages of the day that Gronholm really showed what he could do, annexing top spot on all three occasions. Burns and McRae traded places for second and third fastest times behind the silver Peugeot but they had no answer to the Finnish star.
By the time the 52 surviving crews pulled into Auckland for the overnight break Gronholm had stretched his lead to a more comfortable 23 seconds over McRae, not enough to relax but enough to avoid taking silly risks. The elder McRae meanwhile had extended his lead over Burns to 15 seconds, a lead he may need as he now has to run second on the road, behind Gronholm, for the final seven stages of the event.
Sainz spent much of the day fighting with the suspension set-up of his Focus and was still not convinced that he had solved the problem as he arrived at the overnight halt. The Spaniard had dropped more than a minute behind the leader although cleaner roads may give him a chance to make a late challenge on Sunday.
Juha Kankkunen continued his steady and unspectacular progress in the second factory Impreza. The Finnish veteran had no major dramas and lost only seven seconds to Sainz all day and is now more than a minute ahead of the following Solberg who endured another eye opening World Rally experience.
SEAT lost their remaining Cordoba WRC on stage 16 when Didier Auriol rolled into retirement, thankfully without any injury. It was just as well that this rally is the final event for the Cordoba WRC E2 before it is replaced with the E3 model as the team would have had their work cut out trying to salvage anything raceworthy from their two New Zealand wrecks.
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