New Zealand: Gronholm crowned champ

On the 113th anniversary of the day the famous Moulin Rouge opened its doors, there'll be more dancing in the streets of Paris following Peugeot's dominant result in New Zealand

New Zealand: Gronholm crowned champ

There was an air of inevitability about the way Peugeot and Marcus Gronholm clinched their respective World Rally Championship titles in Auckland this afternoon. Peugeot's eighth maximum points haul from 12 events was more than enough to secure the team's third successive Manufacturers' title and was again blessed with the kind of charmed existence that has helped them to victory all season.

Hydraulic failure in the closing stages forced Harri Rovanpera to slow and it seemed Subaru's Norwegian ace might just sneak past into second place. However, on the penultimate stage when, Rovanpera's pace was much slower than before, Solberg's engine detonated and the distraught driver could only shake his head in frustrated disbelief as Rovanpera was left to hold on to second.

Over the course of the event only three stages fell to non-Peugeot drivers. Jani Paasonen's superb win for Mitsubishi on Day One preceded a couple of wins for Solberg on the Super Special that evening, but the rest were split between Gronholm and Richard Burns. Burns looked to be totally in control but pushed too hard on SS15 and threw away a 44 second lead, along with any chance of the title.

Colin McRae's hopes had already gone west when he ditched his Ford Focus on the opening day and that left only Gilles Panizzi capable of stealing Gronholm's thunder. However, the asphalt ace was in no position to seriously threaten Gronholm and with Markko Martin's retirement handing the Manufacturers' title to Peugeot it was celebration time in Auckland.

Tommi Makinen inherited the final podium place ahead of Ford's Carlos Sainz but both results were little more than a consolation prize for what might have been...

The final day of the event was played out with little drama aside from Solberg's demise. However, smiles equaling those of the Peugeot team accompanied a fantastic result for Hyundai who got all three cars home in the top 10 and with two in the points to jump up the points table for a share of fourth place with Mitsubishi. Paasonen's drive was a major boost for the Lancer squad and showed signs that a promising future is now in store.

The two teams will now have a tense battle over the final events as you have to go a long way down the tie-break options to split them right now, Mitsubishi's better result in Sweden being the decider at present.

Skoda slipped to last place with Kenneth Eriksson failing to finish, Toni Gardemeister out of the points and a bit of a long haul ahead if the Czech team is to regain its briefly-held advantage before season's end.

Unless Peugeot manages to incur the wrath of motorsport's governing body, the FIA, over the final two events in Australia and Britain then the battles are over and all is left is a fight for pride.

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