New Zealand Rally - leg 2

The top three drivers in the World Rally Championship hold the top three places in the New Zealand Rally after the tricky second leg north of Auckland

New Zealand Rally - leg 2

Overnight leader Francois Delecour's rally lasted only a couple of stages into the day after gearbox problems sidelined his Peugeot but his team leader Marcus Gronholm picked up the baton and led the event throughout the day and takes a 22.9 secs lead into Sunday's final leg.

On Friday the front runners had a nightmare day coping with loose gravel on the heavily cambered roads where accurate handling and driver confidence count for everything. Later cars through the stages got the benefit of cleaner roads and so series leader Richard Burns and second placed Colin McRae found themselves struggling to get into the points.

Today things were in their favour and Burns rattled off four successive fastest times (including a winner on the longest stage of the championship) before the weather turned wet, Burns spun, and McRae bagged his first top time. Between them they turned their overnight places into second (for McRae) and third for Burns at the end of the leg with just 37.4 secs into the final leg to the soutth east of Auckland.

The day saw retirement for Didier Auriol who crashed heavily and left SEAT with two destroyed Cordobas to take back to Spain. Auriol's is a mess but Toni Gardemeister's could probably go back as hand baggage...

Mitsubishi's event has been a nightmare with neither Tommi Makinen nor Freddy Loix able to find solutions to handling problems. Overnight Makinen is still two places away from even a points finish and it is now reaching a point where the team must make radical changes to its ageing Lancer model or risk losing Makinen to another team. Such were the problems that the team withdrew Loix before the end of the day, Mitsubishi feeling that the car was now too dangerous an animal to risk sending into spectator lined stages.

The final leg will be no coast to the finish. For third placed Burns to get to the front he needs only be half a second per kilometre quicker than Gronholm and reliability will play a major role. Of the seven stages the crews can get service after only the first before they tackle six on the run. It will only take one problem early in those half dozen tests and the whole result could be turned on its head. Burns will still lead the series going into Finland next month but the top spots could be pretty crowded if his overnight position stays to the finish...


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NZ Day One: Delecour on top, Burns out of points

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Gronholm wins in NZ - Burns loses out

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