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Solberg warns against Rally New Zealand win


Solberg warns against Rally New Zealand win

World Rally Champion Petter Solberg has warned against expecting too much from his new Subaru Impreza in next week's Propecia Rally New Zealand.

Solberg set tongues wagging with nine fastest times on its debut in Rally Mexico but knows it may be a much different story in the fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship on the super-fast New Zealand roads starting next Thursday.

Rally New Zealand will be the first time that all WRC manufacturers unleash their 2004 cars, with Citroen and Ford to unveil their new cars for the first time.

The reigning world champion comes to New Zealand in fifth place in the driver standings, led by Monte Carlo and Sweden winner Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) and Mexico winner Markko Martin (Ford). Defending Rally New Zealand champion Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) is third ahead of Belgium's No 2 Ford driver Francois Duval.

An electrical problem cost Solberg victory in the debut of the 2004 Subaru in Mexico, demoting him to fourth place. But he was pleased with the speed on the on the fast stages, a key factor for New Zealand roads.

However Solberg is aware that many of his main rivals also hit trouble with Mexico's high altitude being a unique factor and that Citroen and Ford are still to run their new version cars.

Meanwhile Peugeot concede they have released their new car too soon.

Sport Director Jean-Pierre Nicolas said that Peugeot had made a mistake in releasing the 307 WRC to replace the World Championship-winning 206 so soon.

"At the end of November/beginning of December, we have taken the very difficult decision to enter the 307, which was not completely ready to go. We were sure about the performance of the car, but as usual, it is only in rallies that you discover problems. We made a mistake in thinking that we could win quickly," he said.

Gronholm has been critical of the new machine both in performance and reliability, and the two-time Rally New Zealand winner said that a third win in a row is doubtful after further transmission problems in recent testing.

But Nicolas pointed out that Peugeot and Gronholm have made a solid start to the season.

"Marcus is third, but only four points from the leader and there are 13 rounds to go," he said.

The Propecia-sponsored event starts with two super special stages at Manukau City on the evening of Thursday 15 April. The first full day on Friday is in the Kaipara region before returning for two further super special stages at Manukau City. Saturday's racing returns to Kaipara, with the last day in the Waikato region near Raglan. The final stage will be the internationally acclaimed Whaanga Coast, with the ceremonial finish in downtown Auckland city on Sunday afternoon.

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