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Peugeot set for crowning glory in New Zealand

Peugeot set for crowning glory in New Zealand

The all-powerful Peugeot team are set to crown a dominant season at next week’s Propecia Rally New Zealand.

The French-based team can wrap up both the driver’s championship and the manufacturer’s title for the third year in succession at the New Zealand event on October 3-6.

Leader Marcus Gronholm (Finland) has extended his championship lead to 23 points after finishing second behind team-mate and asphalt specialist Gilles Panizzi in the Rally of Sanremo in Italy today.

Gromholm needs only eight points over another Peugeot team-mate and defending world champion Richard Burns (Great Britain) or nine points on Ford’s Colin McRae in New Zealand.

The trio are all fans of the smooth gravel and the flowing roads of the Propecia Rally New Zealand – all three have won here as a springboard to respective world championship titles in the same year. McRae, who has three wins in New Zealand, won in 1995 when he took out his sole WRC title, as did Gronholm in 2000 and Burns last year.

McRae is very keen for success in New Zealand, with continued rumours that he may be moving camps next year either to the new Citroen challenge or to his former Subaru team, where he won his world championship.

``My championship chances aren't looking so good now,’’ The 34-year-old Scot said.

``Now we go to New Zealand and I like the roads there. A win would be nice. Realistically, there's no real pressure in championship terms so our aim is to win the last three rallies and I think that's possible," he said.

Peugeot have a 45-point buffer in the manufacturer’s race, which they should seal on the country roads in the Waikato, Auckland and Northland areas.

``It’s very exciting for us in that we could crown the world champion here next week,’’ Rally New Zealand chairman Morrie Chandler.

``New Zealand has a penchant for the winners here going on to win the world championship. This time it may be that we do it on the podium at the end of our rally.’’

Chandler said the powerful Peugeot team are unlikely to have things their own way in New Zealand.

``With the pressure off some of the other teams in terms of realistic championship opportunities, they will be out to produce some top performances.

``Some of them are also fighting for their team places for next year.

``Gronholm won’t want to make any mistakes here and blow his chances, so it may open the door for the likes of Burns and McRae especially.’’

One thing Chandler is hoping for – to get all 16 WRC cars to the finish line.

``Last year all the WRC cars finished our rally, something that has not happened at any other round of the World Rally Championship.

``We would like to think our roads are a terrific test of skill and speed but at the same time we want them all to finish.’’

The final day of the Sanremo Rally produced no real drama and the leaderboard remained unchanged with Panizzi (Peugeot) winning by 20.9sec, his third
on asphalt this season and his third successive Sanremo triumph.

Grönholm was second to take his French team to within three points
of their third consecutive manufacturers' crown with Subaru’s Petter Solberg grabbing the final place on the podium.

The shakedown for drivers is in Helensville and Kaukapakapa on Thursday 3 October with ceremonial start at Aotea Square in downtown Auckland that evening from 6pm.

There are eight special stages with the service park in Raglan on Friday 4 October, ending with the Super Stage at Manukau City at 7pm. Saturday includes 10 special stages north of Auckland, with service at Ruawai, with a final eight special stages south of Auckland on Sunday with service at Te Kauwhata before the official finish ceremony at the Manukau Sports Bowl at 3.30pm.

Final positions, Rally of Sanremo: 1.G Panizzi/H Panizzi F Peugeot 206 4hr 10min 15.6sec, 2. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 4hr 10min 36.5sec, 3. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 4hr 11min 22.0sec, 4. R Burns/R Reid GB Peugeot 206 4hr 11min 34.5sec, 5. M Märtin/M Park EE Ford Focus RS 4hr 12min 10.5sec, 6. J Puras/C Del Barrio E Citroen Xsara 4hr 12min 54.9sec, 7. C Robert/G Bedon F Peugeot 206 4hr 13min 16.9sec, 8. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus RS 4hr 15min 33.1sec, 9. H Rovanperä/R Pietilainen FIN Peugeot 206 4hr 16min 34.5sec, 10 F Delecour/D Grataloup F Mitsubishi Lancer 4hr 17min 40.0sec.

FIA World Rally Championship (after round 11 of 14): Drivers: M Grönholm 57pts, R Burns 34pts, C McRae 33pts, G Panizzi 31pts, C Sainz 26pts, P Solberg 23pts, M Märtin 12pts.

Manufacturers: Peugeot 131pts, Ford 86pts, Subaru 46pts, Mitsubishi 9pts, Skoda 8pts, Hyundai 6pts.

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