From Ron Salter [ 21/09/2001 ].
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On form Marcus Gronholm ended the first leg of the Rally New Zealand in second place but team mates Didier Auriol and Harri Rovanpera both found themselves outside the top ten after the opening 117km of special stage action. Auriol had been setting some competitive times throughout the day but hit power steering problems in SS6 which dropped him to 11th, one place ahead of Rovanpera who was, like many of the top drivers, disadvantaged by being one of the earlier cars on the road. In the sixth stage, Peugeot team personnel tried to ensure that all three drivers had the best road position possible for tomorrow's crucial second day.
But a timing mistake meant that while Marcus dropped time to his rivals, he lost only one position. He therefore arrived at this evening's pair of superspecials in Manukau in second overall, it could be worse - he could be leading!.. and that is not what one would want to say about one of the premier motorsport series in the world. Something must be done!
Marcus said: "This has been a strange rally so far, and they looked like strange tactics! It's very frustrating for me because the car has been feeling really good today, and as a driver you just want to push as hard as possible. We tried to make sure that we stayed behind the Fords for tomorrow's stages but something went wrong with the calculations and we're still ahead of them. Now all I can do is hope that it rains - if that happens, we won't be at such a big disadvantage."
Rovanperä was Peugeot's highest-running driver and as such, he was punished by the loose surfaces more than Marcus or Didier Auriol. He was also a victim of the timing confusion in SS6 and ended the day in 12th as a result.
Harri said: "Even before the tactics I've been struggling by running too high up the order. The three drivers in front of me - Tommi Mäkinen, Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz - must have completely different driving styles. I'd hoped that I'd be able to use their 'cleaner' line in the gravel to set better times but in fact, there hasn't been one line, there's been three! It's frustrating, of course, because the car has felt good throughout today's stages."
We should see Harri move up the order and set some great stage times tomorrow now that it will be the others sweeping the road for him.
Didier Auriol made good use of his lowly starting position to post consistently fast times this morning, and the Frenchman posted a fastest stage time on SS5. It was on the next stage however that his power steering started to play up which dropped him down the order. "It was hard without the power steering to judge and match the time that we needed to set," reported Didier. "In the end, we were probably 30 seconds slower in that one stage than we wanted to be. We can try to recover tomorrow and if the roads stay dry, we will have an advantage over the front guys. All we can do is push and see if we can make up enough time."
Peugeot Total team manager Jean-Pierre Nicolas said: "We only had a chance to stay behind the Fords on tomorrow's stages so we tried to do that. But everything happened too quickly for the team on the stage and the time they advised Marcus was a minute too fast. It's unfortunate but it's our fault. We have to hope that they can recover tomorrow."
Myself, I'm quite confident that Peugeot's end of leg situation will be better tomorrow, with the possible exception of Gronholm. I just hope that the whole field will be allowed to show their true pace at some point and the fastest guy will win. Roll on OZ and the tarmac rounds I say!
Leading positions at end of leg one:
1 K.ERIKSSON / S.PARMANDER S HYUNDAI ACCENT 18.104.22.168
2 M.GRONHOLM / T.RAUTIAINEN FIN PEUGEOT 206 +18.5
3 C.SAINZ / L.MOYA E FORD FOCUS +25.6
4 C.McRAE / N.GRIST GB FORD FOCUS 1.14.06.8
5 P.SOLBERG / P.MILLS N/GB SUBARU IMPREZA +44.0
6 F.LOIX / S.SMEETS B MITSUBISHI CARISMA GT +46.1
7 A.McRAE / D.SENIOR GB HYUNDAI ACCENT +47.5
8 F.DELECOUR / D.GRATALOUP F FORD FOCUS +47.9
9 R.BURNS / R.REID GB SUBARU IMPREZA +48.5
10 P.BOURNE / C.VINCENT NZ SUBARU IMPREZA +50.2
11 D.AURIOL / D.GIRAUDET F PEUGEOT 206 +1.23.0
12 H.ROVANPERA / R.PIETILAINEN FIN PEUGEOT 206 +1.33.4