Gronholm wins in NZ - Burns loses out

Marcus Gronholm scored Peugeot's second win of the season and moves right onto the tail of championship leader Richard Burns as the World Rally Championship packs its kit in New Zealand and returns to Europe

Gronholm wins in NZ - Burns loses out

Gronholm inherited the rally lead on the second day after team mate Francois Delecour retired and then held on despite strong challenges from both Burns and Ford's Colin McRae.

In the end only McRae lasted the distance as Burns, along with Subaru team mate Juha Kankkunen, was sidelined at the end of SS21 with a bizarre problem that began with power steering failure on both cars and ended when neither would restart at the end of the stage.

Burns was already far enough ahead that he (and Subaru) retains his championship lead, but now Burns has Gronholm just four points off his tail with McRae and Carlos Sainz eight and 11 points adrift respectively. Subaru's lead has been cut to a single point over the emerging Ford team, with Peugeot third, just 17 points behind the leaders.

McRae spun on the second stage of the day and bent part of the gear selectors. Once he'd selected gears the car was fine, but it was always a nervous moment until the cogs engaged. Gronholm also had a near miss,
tipping the 206WRC onto two wheels on one stage.

"I was very, very lucky," he said. "I really believed we were going to roll.

"I'm really happy to win here," he added. "But the one I really want is Rally Finland, our next event. I feel that I've been practising for it for 10 years and now it's time to win it."

The final leg of the event saw another non-finish for reigning champ Tommi Makinen. He spun the Mitsubishi into a bank and, although he finished the stage, the team decided that the front sub-frame was too badly damaged to continue.

It was a bitter-sweet morning for Hyundai as Alister McRae (in the Autosport-supported Accent WRC) set the team's first ever fastest time on the opening stage, only to retire on the road section afterwards when the front diff seized. Team mate Kenneth Eriksson finished fifth to net the team's second set of points and insisted that this was a turning point for the team, an indication of its true form.

The championship has now really come alive. Burns seemingly dominant advantage has now been whittled away and the Englishman will have to work hard if he's to claim the title this season. Finland has made several route changes for next month's event and Burns is angry that what little experience he has of the event has been wiped out, making it harder than usual to improve on his second place a year ago.

McRae has now emerged as a serious title contender after more than a year in the wilderness and Peugeot is living up to its pre-season promise with Gronholm a surprise, but nonetheless solid title hopeful. At this rate it could all go down to the wire in Cardiff. Book those three-day spectator passes now...


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