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Gronholm looks to claim world rally title in NZ


Gronholm looks to claim world title in New Zealand

Finland’s Marcus Gronholm has his focus fixed on wrapping up his second World Rally Championship at next month’s Propecia Rally of New Zealand.

Gronholm is planning a safety-first approach to this weekend’s final asphalt event at San Remo in Italy, to set-up the opportunity to cement the WRC title on the gravel roads of New Zealand from October 3-6.

The Finn, who claimed the Rally New Zealand title in 2000 on the way to his first world championship, has guided his Peugeot 206 to three victories this season in Sweden, Cyprus and Finland. Gronholm heads into this weekend’s 11th of 14 rounds on 51 points and a handy 18 point buffer over the Ford Focus of Colin McRae with a further two points back to his Peugeot team-mate and defending world champion Richard Burns.

With Burns and McRae likely to be pushing to the limit to maintain their world championship hopes, Gronholm will be focussing on scoring valuable points on the asphalt surface in Italy.

If his chasers push too hard and fail to finish, then next month’s Propecia Rally New Zealand should provide the ideal platform to seal the world championship with two rounds remaining.

The silver bullets of Peugeot have scored four 1-2 finishes this season, and any repeat of this in San Remo will virtually wrap up the manufacturer’s race.

It may be that everyone will be chasing Peugeot’s third driver, Gilles Panizzi, who is back from a shoulder injury. He has scored wins in Corsica and Catalunya and has a penchant for the tarseal circuits.

His task will be somewhat easier with the non-appearance of the new Citroen team, and their top driver Sebastien Loeb, who has scored two wins this year.

They do have two privateers with virtual factory-spec machines in the form of Philippe Bugalski and Jesus Puras to contend with.

Burns is keen to break his season duck after four runner-up placings, and victory in San Remo will renew his hopes of defending his world championship.

McRae, who scored back-to-back wins in Greece and Kenya, has also had to contend with contract negotiations with Ford for next year, with strong rumours the 1995 world champion may be heading to Citroen.

``We’re still talking with a few people,’’ McRae said today. ``Hopefully things will move forward a bit with Ford this week, then we can see where we stand.’’

Subaru will also be looking for strong performances from Tommi Makinen and Petter Solberg to salvage something from a frustrating season blighted by reliability issues.

There will be a tight battle for the minor placings in the WRC Manufacturer’s race between Mitsubishi, Skoda and the ever-improving Hyundai teams.

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