From Chris Biewer [ 30/09/2002 ].
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Team Peugeot Total is very much looking forward to the Rally NZ. Also on gravel, it is a maximum attack high performance rally, where drivers don’t have to slow down all the time to make sure they make it to the finish – and Peugeots and their drivers seem to go well on these high performance rallies. Indeed, the Peugeot Sport team has a formidable record in NZ. 4 times the team has been taking part in this event as a full works team and they won 3 of these.
In 1985 with Timo Salonen heading home a Peugeot 1-2 in the Peugeot 205 T16, in 1986 with Juha Kankkunen in the 205 T16 and in 2000 with Marcus Grönholm on the 1st NZ visit with the Peugeot 206 WRC. Only in 2001 the best Peugeot of Harri Rovanperä didn’t make it past 3rd place, which is still an excellent result. In 2001 the winner was Richard Burns. Incidentally on all these occasions and many more, the Rally NZ winner was to become the driver WRChampion of that year.
And indeed this year it looks very likely for Peugeot to clinch their title here in NZ. All Peugeot needs is a 3rd place and they can no longer be beaten, respectless of the results of the opposition. And even if Peugeot finishes 4th or 5th, Ford needs a 1-2 finish to keep their title chances alive. Should Peugeot finish 6th or lower, Ford would still need a 1st and a 3rd place, otherwise the manufacturer WRChampionship is Peugeot’s!
In fact it is enough of a cushion that the Peugeot drivers can go maximum attack and take risks. Only Marcus Grönholm may not feel this way. Marcus leads the driver’s title race by 23points, however should he fail to finish and last year’s winner Richard Burns takes the laurels, that would shrink Marcus’ lead in the championship to 13points, and with 2 rounds to go, the title race would be wide open again. Marcus however can also clinch the title in NZ, either in winning the event outright, or in having both, Richard Burns and Colin Mc Rae finishing lower than 3rd.
So, will Marcus Grönholm go maximum attack for that victory, or will he play “wait and see” games with the points in mind? Marcus claims: "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.” Marcus as well said: “I have meanwhile competed there 4 times and have some experience. This helps me to make good pace notes and find the exact braking points.”
Indeed, the Rally NZ has very smooth and fine gravel and the sweeper effect for the driver running first on the road will be worse than on most other events. In NZ 2002, the driver first on the road for leg1 will be Marcus Grönholm. "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…"
Indeed, Harri Rovanperä will be starting into the rally as 8th on the road. Harri was also the highest finishing Peugeot driver in NZ last year, claiming 3rd. However it should also be a very strong event for Richard Burns. Unlike the Rally San Remo, NZ is a firm favourite of Richard’s, he even claims that he likes the Rally NZ better than his home event, Rally GB. And Richard has as well proven that he can go well in this event, he won the Rally NZ in 1996 and in 2001, in fact it was his only victory in 2001. Richard says further: “I want to repeat my victory from the previous year. The gravel roads are extremely quick and very smooth. They are regarded as the most beautiful in the WRC and they are not very rough to the car.” As well, the Peugeot team is backed up by Gilles Panizzi, who will drive a Bozian run Peugeot 206 WRC on this overseas event.