From Chris Biewer [ 18/04/2004 ].
Click to read all other WRC News.
Somehow everybody has something to celebrate after this Rally NZ. Well, apart from Mitsubishi, who didn’t really want to get their party off the ground. And all those manufacturers that don’t take part, but then, it’s their loss! The Rally NZ has come to a most spectacular conclusion today, when only with 3 stages to go Petter Solberg lost his lead, even though the new leader went off on that stage! But the new leader spun again and with 1 stage to go the lead changed again! And with 1 stage to go we had a tie for 2nd place, even though we just had a new leader! Then the last stage was a real classic and that very stage that caused so much turmoil earlier in the day! What more exciting showdown could you have wished for?
For the day’s action, it really is incredible what happened in Whaanga Coast 1. Marcus Grönholm overshoots a junction, drops 12s and takes the lead in the same moment! Incredible! Harri Rovanperä drops a place in the same stage with a spin, Francois Duval drops even 8 minutes in there with an off and the then convincing PWRC leader Daniel Sola even crashes out for good – all that in that one stage, Whaanga Coast 1!
But following this stage, Marcus Grönholm’s lead is only 1s, extended to only 1.9s on the following stage. Not a comfortable gap, well, not a gap at all really! So push, Marcus! And push he did, right into the next spin, costing another 20s and all chances on a win. Incredibly, this meant Marcus Grönholm was now tied for 2nd with Markko Märtin with only 1 stage to go! And in that stage Marcus Grönholm was close to 20s faster than Märtin, a demolishing performance that nearly looked emberrassing, not only for Ford! In the same stage Grönholm slammed Solberg’s lead from 16.3s to 5.9s!
Isn’t that incredible? After 2 ½ days flat out rallying we get a battle like this, the top3 drivers still swapping positions every stage and split seconds battles! But there is good news for the heart attack suspects: Next year we have the SupeRally system and there will no longer be an overall result. You spin and you go home, tomorrow is another day. Come on, what an exciting set up we had for the concluding day, I seriously doubt we would have had any more excitement than this, had we started this morning with a clean sheet of paper, fighting only for 1/3rd of the points available for this event! If this system goes ahead, I cannot see how a rally builts into a most exciting climax over several days, just as this one!
But this is NZ 2004 and we have an overall winner of Rally NZ, possibly for the last time in history. And for everybody there is a reason to celebrate:
Subaru: They have won the event. This is (still) the #1 prize. And a good occasion for Subaru: the 1st victory for the Impreza WRC04 marks the 40th victory for Subaru! Meanwhile Petter Solberg is past the 150 mark in career points while with 6 wins he draws level with Sébastien Loeb.
Peugeot: They have the fastest car of the rally! They have not won, but 11 stage wins out of 23 stages, clearly more stage wins than anybody else. And for Marcus Grönholm, he dropped 40s with a roll on day1, 12s with an overshot and another 20s with a spin – and still is only 5.9s short of victory! Even giving that Petter Solberg dropped a few seconds with a suspension problem, as far as car performance goes, this is a clear language. Unfortunately for Peugeot performance doesn’t matter in the next events until Finland in August.
Ford: After the event winner party and the fastest car celebrations have found a home already, Ford can celebrate that now they top both championship tables! Markko Märtin leads the drivers, even though the top4 drivers are seperated by only one point each, while Ford has a rather clear 9points lead in the manufacturers. For Markko Märtin it was his 60th WRC start and he passed the 100 mark in his career points.
Citroen: after a slow start to the event, they can go home knowing that their new version Xsara T4 runs trouble free, while the performance was improving throughout the event, allowing Séb Loeb to post fastest stage times and near the end take Harri Rovanperä for 4th.
And Mitsubishi? Well, they have shown how to make rallying more cost efficient. Put a new battery in their cars and they can sell them as “brand new, one careful owner, zero mileage”.