Who can stop the power/purpose of the Peugeot Team
Who can stop the power and purpose of the Peugeot team?
The world’s best rally teams will be out to delay what may be inevitable in the 32nd Propecia Rally New Zealand starting in Auckland tomorrow.
Ford, Hyundai, Mitsubishi, Subaru and Skoda will attempt to take some sheen off the triumphant run of Peugeot in the 12th of 14 rounds of the World Rally Championship.
Peugeot have a commanding 45 point lead in the world championship for manufacturers, and may seal their three title in a row in New Zealand this weekend – establishing a dominance similar to Ferrari in F1.
Marcus Gronholm (Finland) is in a strong position to cement his second world championship with a 23-point buffer over his Peugeot team-mate Richard Burns (Great Britain).
Ford are the only team with a mathematical chance to upset proceedings, second to Peugeot in the manufacturer’s battle with Colin McRae third behind the Peugeot pair in the drivers’ race.
This and the fast, flowing gravel roads of New Zealand, rated the best in the world by drivers, may see some other drivers pushing the barriers to keep the corks on Peugeot’s champagne bottles for a few more weeks.
However both Gronholm and Burns have tasted success in New Zealand, with the Finnish star winning here on way to his world title in 2000 and Burns following suit last year.
``My only instruction to the drivers is to go as fast as possible and enjoy themselves,’’ team director Corrado Provera said.
``Obviously because they running first on the road, both Marcus and Richard will have a big handicap on the first day, but I hope between our drivers they will get those final three points needed for our third title.’’
Their third driver is the tarmac speciallist Gilles Panizzi, who has three wins under his belt this season.
If local knowledge stands for anything, the CVs of Ford drivers Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae are incomparable. Sainz (Spain) has won four times in New Zealand and collected two world championship titles, while his British team-mate has three victories and one world title. McRae, with his victory in the Safari Rally, became the most successful driver in WRC history with 25 wins – but will part company with Ford at the end of the season to move to the new Citroen team.
The rally may throw up some new stars, like Panizzi, or Ford’s third driver Markko Martin, the Estonian champion who saw his first WRC victory wrecked by a puncture in the Acropolis Rally.
Another to watch may be young Subaru star Petter Solberg, who grabbed his third podium finish of the season at San Remo, Italy two weeks ago.
His elder statesman Tommi Makinen (Finland) will be keen to build on his 1999 victory in New Zealand.
The 32 Propecia Rally New Zealand is full of class, with seven world champions with 14 titles between them on the start line. The 81-strong field includes the winners of the last 12 Rally New Zealand events.
The field includes 14 internationals vying for the FIA World Production Car honours while 29 Kiwis will battle for the glory in the event that doubles as the final round of the Parker-Enzed national rally championship.
The shakedown test takes place at Helensville and Kaukapakapa tomorrow morning, with the Rally Show from 2pm in Aotea Square ahead of the ceremonial start from 6pm.