From Peugeot Press [ 04/10/2002 ].
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Peugeot 206 WRCs hold the top three places on the 12th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally New Zealand, which started in earnest from Auckland this morning. Reigning world champion Richard Burns used today’s six regular stages to build up a cushion over almost 20 seconds over his team-mate Harri Rovanpera, with current series leader Marcus Gronholm ensuring a Peugeot block-out of the podium places in third. Today’s route took crews south of Auckland for eight stages, including two short superspecials in the suburbs of the Northern Island’s capital, Manukau. The New Zealand roads had been expected to punish the leading crews, because they would sweep loose gravel off the roads and reveal a cleaner, grippier line for the later runners.
However, Burns was clearly determined to defy this prediction and he wasted no time in storming into an early lead. Despite running second on the road behind Gronholm, the Englishman posted fastest times on the opening four stages as he eked out a small advantage over his team-mate Rovanpera. He consolidated that lead this afternoon to arrive at this evening’s Manukau superspecial with a lead of nearly 20 seconds. As a result, he’ll start 15th on the road tomorrow and should benefit from slower cars cleaning the road of loose gravel.
Richard said: “Today’s been much better than I expected. With our position on the road, I really thought that we’d end up eighth or ninth tonight, and instead we’re leading. I think the roads have been really slippery for everyone today, which has meant that the disadvantage of running first on the road has been lessened. But I’m still very happy that we’ll have a later position on the road for tomorrow. We’ve shown today that we’re strong here - now we have to build on that.”
Rovanpera has been Burns’s main challenger throughout today’s stages. He instantly assumed second overall in that first test, and he was rarely more than a few seconds adrift of the Briton thereafter as he made the position his own. His only problem all day was his tyre choice for the final pair of proper stages. Harri felt that he lost a few seconds by opting for a slightly softer compound.
Harri said: “I’m quite please by how it’s gone today, but Richard’s done well to get quite a good lead. Obviously he and Marcus have both got a chance of the drivers’ championship so they’ve got a little bit more motivation. But I’m very determined not to let him get away and we’re all running together in tomorrow’s starting order, so we’ll have to see how that goes.”
Despite running first on the road, Gronholm held third overall after the day’s opening stage. But halfway through the next test, he suffered a hydraulic fluid leak and a slight loss of hydraulic pressure in his car’s differentials. Although the problem did not worsen, it was enough to cost the world championship leader valuable time. He recovered strongly in the afternoon, however, overcoming a small clutch problem on one stage to regain third overall by the time the cars headed back to Auckland.
Marcus said: “We’ve had a few problems today so even though we’ve lost less time because of our road position than we had expected, I’m still not totally happy. We’ve got a much better position on the road tomorrow but Richard’s already quite some way ahead and we’ve given him too much time. All we can do is keep trying.”
Tomorrow’s leg is one of the longest hauls in the entire world championship. Crews will face 10 special stages to the north of the city, including Parahi/Ararua - at 59km, the event’s longest stage has the potential to completely rewrite the leaderboard.