Peugeot With Formidable AU Drivers

From Chris Biewer [ 30/10/2002 ].
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Peugeot wants to celebrate their 2002 titles in style and win more! And there is no reason why not. The Rally Australia is only part of the WRC since 1989 and therefore Peugeot never visited the event with their legendary group B 205 T16. The first time Peugeot took part in this rally was only in 1999. But they didn’t look like being down on experience compared to the opposition as in 2000 Peugeot finished 1st and 3rd and in 2001 they finished 1st, 3rd & 4th. As well for their drivers, you could hardly wish for a better line up. Marcus Grönholm won the event on both his last two attempts, while Richard Burns was 2nd on both these events and won the year before.

That the fact that the titles are already decided shouldn’t get in the way of a good fight for the rally, is as well how Marcus Grönholm sees it: "The fact that both championships have already been decided will modify my approach to the next two events since I will have no obligation to score points. Obviously, that takes the pressure off. Having said that, the will to win is still there, although I won't be the only driver looking for victory in Australia. Richard, for one, will be out to score his first win for Peugeot."

But not only this should make the Rally Australia a good one. As we have discussed with Rally NZ and their layout with service locations different for each day and therefore better integrated with the route, this is as well the approach the Australian organisers have taken. For a start we can enjoy 9 stages during leg1 and even 10 stages during leg2. So I note with joy that i.e. in leg2 between stages 16 & 17 there is only a break of 1h20min, you hardly realise that this accommodates a service. Even in leg3 we find a service between SS23 & SS24, both stages in the area of 35km, yet between start SS23 and start SS24 is only just over an hour of time to kill. As well you will find that hardly any stages are repeated. Sadly in GB we will be back to the pattern of repeated stages, only 4 stages per day and a service location that translates into 4 hour breaks between stages.

Richard Burns finds another attraction to this year’s edition of Rally Australia: “I like this rally. This year they again use stages in the East, around the town of York. These stages I particularly liked in the past. It (Rally Australia) is as well very well organised.” But Richard also knows that this rally is not an easy one: “The stages often go through forests. The trees are very close to the road and there is only a small margin for error.”

In fact Richard learned exactly that the hard way. A week before the start of the event, during Peugeot’s pre event test, Richard ever so slightly was of the line and hit a tree head on. Richard and his navigator Robert Reid are fine, but the car is too badly damaged. So the team not only failed to complete the test, but this crash robbed Gilles Panizzi of his Rally Australia start. This is not being mean to Gilles. It is more the typical schedule for Peugeot. To every WRC event Peugeot Sport takes 4 cars. 1 of these is for testing to safe the 3 cars for the event. Gilles Panizzi is usually to take a car run by support team Bozian to the gravel rallies. But Bozian, being a small, private operation, would find it quite hard to support the fly away events. Such throughout the year on the fly away events Peugeot gave the test car to Gilles instead. This means that he gets an up to date version car, but it has the disadvantage that it will be a 2nd hand car – and sorry, but Richard made this one look very 2nd hand!

Harri Rovanperä feels for Richard. Harri himself is looking forward to the event, he won the F2 category in 1997, was 6th overall in a Seat Cordoba WRC in 1999 and finished 4th last year in the Peugeot 206 WRC. But he also describes: "All the stages are excellent, but they are frequently made tricky by the omnipresence of trees that can make you pay a high price if ever you stray off the ideal line. Dust can also be a big problem,"

Indeed, Harri has a point. The Rally Australia is unique for its red clay type surface, covered with little marvel shaped stones that act like ball bearings. Being first on the road and such sweeping the road for the following cars – which in this case will be Peugeot’s Marcus Grönholm for leg1 – is a disadvantage that is on the Rally Australia bigger than on any other WRC event. But sweeping the road means you have good grip on the swept line, but coming ever so slightly off the ideal line, you are back on a load of ball bearings and lose all grip instantly. More, Rally Australia is quite smooth and fast. Now combine that with the trees standing virtually on the edge of the road – quite a dangerous scenario!

Anyway, let’s look at the bright side of things: "Last year's Rally Australia was an extremely positive weekend for us. Everyone in the team worked in perfect harmony and that produced an excellent result, our three nominated cars finishing in first, third and fourth positions, while Gilles Panizzi added a ninth place to our score," recalls Peugeot Sport Director Corrado Provera. "This year, we can rely on our current driver line-up to continue flying the colours of the company that employs us high and proud."