Day 2: Gronholm on verge of title

Peugeot added the 2002 World Rally Championship to the titles it won in 2000 and 2001 as soon as Ford's Markko Martin threw his car off the road on SS14 today. Although the crown can't be formally confirmed until season's end (teams can always have points deducted retrospectively for infringing the rules - remember Toyota's super-boost turbo scandal?), there are no other mathematical permutations that can deny the team a well-deserved title

Day 2: Gronholm on verge of title

Martin's accident was made worse when another competitor, Dimitar Iliev, slid off the road at the same place and hit a film crew who were recording the scene. Event organisers have since stated that the injuries sustained are not serious although all concerned have been taken to hospital.

Tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon could see a double celebration. Richard Burns flipped his rally-leading Peugeot out of the event on the next stage and, in doing so, virtually gifted the Drivers' title to team-mate Marcus Gronholm. Gilles Panizzi can still stop Gronholm but the mathematics demand several near-impossibilities to occur before tomorrow afternoon's rally finish - not least the seven cars ahead of him all retiring! Gronholm needs just four points between now and the end of the season to regain the crown he gave, temporarily as it turned out, to Burns. Anyone feel brave enough to suggest he won't take 10 come tomorrow afternoon?

Mitsubishi's new star, Jani Paasonen retired from the event near the end of the 59kms longest stage of the rally when he flipped the Lancer out of a stunning fourth place in a series of rolls. He had, however, showed that the troubled car IS capable of decent results and certainly made team regulars Francois Delecour and the injured Alister McRae look to their laurels for the future. Initially the incident was reported as a 'minor roll' but when pictures of the moment were circulated later in the day it became clear that Paasonen had been lucky to escape uninjured after barrelling over the edge of the road, through a fence and into a field...

Further down the field, Hyundai is now the only team with all three cars from its starting line-up still in the hunt (Subaru is also still intact but only started with two cars) and at a time when budgets for 2003 have yet to be finalised, this is a strong performance from the Milton Keynes squad to underline its growing potential and claim to be the series' fourth manufacturer.

Ironically, even this performance may not be enough to actually lift Hyundai off bottom spot in the points table as only one of the three cars are in points-scoring positions. Hyundai needs two points to draw level with Skoda and three to equal Mitsubishi but every little helps!

Tomorrow's final leg takes crews south of Auckland once more. A pair of stages (including one at 32kms) open the action but then, after a final chance to service their cars, drivers must tackle six stages without outside assistance - a sting in the tail that will have drivers and team managers on tenterhooks before they can celebrate with fine champagne or seek consolation in cheap beer.

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New Zealand: Gronholm crowned champ

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