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

Before the start of the New Zealand Rally, Peugeot's Francois Delecour played down suggestions that he was the dark horse for victory. However, once the clocks were running, the mercurial Frenchman was the pace setter, taking the lead on the first stage and hanging on to stay ahead after the eighth and final stage of the day

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

The winter weather south of Auckland was more reminiscent of Portugal in the spring, with huge dust clouds following the cars through the stages. It was a nightmare for the front runners as they were cleaning the stages for the following cars.

Championship leader Richard Burns had no choice but to take it on the chin and accept that there was nothing he could do to topple his rivals today. By the time the first leg was over, the Subaru man was eighth, out of the points and praying for another dry day on Saturday to let him regain the lost minute. The weather forecast includes a strong possibility of showers, however, so it remains to be seen if the roads will settle down enough for Delecour to benefit from being first on the road or if Burns will claw his way back.

Colin McRae is two places higher, faring only marginally better than Burns. The Scot set the fastest time on the two final stages at the Manukau superspecial and only afterwards realised that he had run without his Ford's lights being switched on...

The day's only major retirement was a spectacular one. SEAT's Toni Gardemeister misread a jump and was still airborne and flat out as the road veered left under him. The Cordoba slammed into the bank and destroyed itself in a 300m long series of rolls. Happily the crew was unscathed but the car was beyond immediate repair.

Splitting the Peugeots of Delecour and third-placed Marcus Gronholm was the Ford of Norwegian hotshoe Petter Solberg. Two fastest stage times and second overall at the end of the day - ahead of works drivers McRae and Carlos Sainz - again underlined the 25-year-old's ability and potential for the future.

Tomorrow's leg takes the teams north towards Maungaturoto and includes the mammoth 59kms Parai/Ararua stage, the longest in the championship. If the weather stays dry, it could be the stage that sees Burns and McRae make a fightback, but if the expected rain comes, Delecour could well lay the foundations for a famous Peugeot victory. Bear in mind, however, that it is Gronholm who lies joint second in the championship and has the best chance of lifting the World title at the end of the year. Delecour lies only 14th and expects that he would have to move over to let the Finn take the win.

For Full results after Day One click here.


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