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Round 8 of the FIA World Rally Championship 13-16 July 2000

Final Report Sunday 16th July
Extract from Official FIA Press Release
The final day of the New Zealand Rally should have been a fairly straightforward sprint for the line among the leading crews but it produced one of the most dramatic days of recent events. Alister McRae set Hyundai's first ever fastest stage time, only to retire on the road section afterwards; Tommi Makinen crashed and was withdrawn at the following service area; both Subarus retired with similar problems at the end of SS21. Colin McRae had to survive gear selection problems before he could secure second place and even rally winner Marcus Gronholm came within a whisker of rolling on the second stage! The result of all this action is that the FIA World Rally Championship goes on to Finland (one of the most technically demanding events in the calendar for visiting crews) with just 11 points covering the top four places.

Marcus Gronholm said he was taking it easy at first today, as the loose gravel was making life tough at the front of the field. However, spectators reported that the silver Peugeot had tipped up onto two wheels on SS19 and came close to rolling. "It was a big, big moment," he said. "I really thought it was going over." In the end it was not a problem and with Burns out of the event Gronholm's only concern was McRae. With the Scot merely chipping away at Gronholm's lead there was not enough stage distance for Gronholm's second win of the season to be placed in serious jeopardy. Gronholm goes now to his home event and says: "That's the one I want to win most of all. I feel that I've been practising for it for 10 years and now I want to win it!"

Colin McRae says he, '"Gave it everything I had" about the opening stage to close the gap to overnight leader Marcus Gronholm. He was hoping that is own greater knowledge of the stages in the Maramarua Forest would give him an edge over the Peugeot driver but he lost momentum on the second stage today when he spun. McRae's heart has been in his mouth over the final few stages. He managed to damage the gear selection system which made it hard to select some of the lower gears and so he had to ensure no mistakes in the dash to the finish. "Without that I could have won," he reflected. Carlos Sainz had a trouble free day to finish third while Petter Solberg was fastest over the final stage to confirm fourth place and make Ford the only team to get all of its factory cars to the finish.

The first stage today was a bitter-sweet affair for Alister McRae. Benefiting from his position on the road the young Scot set Hyundai's first ever fastest stage time with the Accent WRC. However, on the road section after the stage the front differentials locked up. After 15kms of the journey to what would have been a celebration in the service area, the engine wilted under the strain of trying to keep the car going and he was left stranded at the roadside. "I was surprised to be fastest on that stage," he said. "However we said after Greece that we felt this would be a good event and I'm delighted to have recorded Hyundai's first fastest time. Obviously I'm also disappointed that I had to stop, but this has generally been a good event." Team mate Kenneth Eriksson scored Hyundai's second points of the season with fifth place (scoring fourth place points as Petter Solberg's Ford was not registered for the FIA Manufacturers' Championship).

Richard Burns knew that his best chance of overhauling his rivals today was on the first stage but the Englishman spun his Subaru. " There were two 4th gear left-handers," he explained. "The car went over the camber and came out onto the straight at 90 degrees. I've pulled it back from there before on this event but I couldn't manage it this time." Unfortunately the whole Subaru challenge was wiped out at the end of SS21. Both cars emerged from the stage with smoke from the engine bays. The problem has not yet been fully identified, but it seems that some form of power-steering problem occurred in the stage and when the drivers stopped at the end of the stage neither car would restart and both were OTL.

Mitsubishi's fortunes went from bad to worse on the opening stage of today's final leg. Having had to withdraw Freddy Loix yesterday because of safety concerns over his ill-handling car, Tommi Makinen was also pulled out after SS18. The reigning World Champion lost his brakes in the stage, slammed into a bank, and the car sustained sufficient damage to the front sub-frame that the team decided it could not be safely repaired at service.

Other teams
Manfred Stohl won the Group N contest in New Zealand by 9.2s from Australian driver Cody Crocker. Crocker's Subaru completed SS20 with an oil leak and a smoking engine but survived for a top 10 place. Hamed Al Wahaibi was the only finisher in the FIA Teams Cup contest and scored the first points for Arab World Rally Team. Possum Bourne took an expected 'best Kiwi' result on his home event before he returns to his Australian Rally Championship campaign.

Tyre facts
Victory for Michelin drivers on the New Zealand Rally; Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot), Colin McRae (Ford) and Carlos Sainz (Ford). A total of 19 of the rally's 24 stages were won by Michelin drivers (McRae 8, Grönholm 4, Delecour and Solberg 3, Alister McRae 1). On today's last leg, almost all the teams chose the Michelin Z pattern in the hardest compound (9) on a dry and rolling surface.

Pirelli: Richard Burns added another stage win to his tally today but, along with team mate Juha Kankkunen, was forced to retire on the next stage. Despite this disappointment, Burns and Subaru-Pirelli continue to lead the FIA World Rally Championship but obviously with a greatly reduced advantage. Pirelli-equipped cars took all of the podium places in Group N.
Unofficial Final Results Outright
1 Gronholm Peugeot 206 3:45:13.4
2 McRae Ford Focus 3:45:27.9
3 Sainz Ford Focus 3:46:31.8
4 Solberg Ford Focus 3:48:14.1
5 Eriksson Hyundai Accent 3:48:26.1
6 Bourne Subaru Impreza 3:52:08.0
7 Stohl Mitsu Lancer 3:57:05.4
8 Crocker Subaru Impreza 3:57:14.6
9 Argyle Mitsu Lancer 3:58:00.8
10 Trelles Mitsu Lancer 3:58:51.7

Group N
1 Stohl Mitsu Lancer 3:57:05.4
2 Crocker Subaru Impreza 3:57:14.6
3 Trelles Mitsu Lancer 3:58:51.7

Teams Cup
1 Arab World Rally Team Al-Wahaibi Subaru Impreza 4:03:44.9
Provisional FIA World Championship Points
FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers (unofficial positions after 8 of 14 rounds):
Burns (GB) 38
Gronholm (FIN) 34
McRae (GB) 30
Sainz (E) 27
Makinen (FIN) 23
Kankkunen (FIN) 18

FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers (unofficial positions after 8 of 14 rounds):
Subaru 58
Ford 57
Peugeot 41
Mitsubishi 29
Skoda 8
Hyundai 4

FIA Cup for Drivers of Production Cars (unofficial positions after 8 of 14 rounds):
Stohl (A) 41
Trelles (ROU) 32
Pozzo (RA) 16
Campos (P) 13
Menzi (I) 12
Paasonen (FIN) 11

FIA Teams' Cup (unofficial positions after 8 of 14 rounds):
Spike Subaru Rally Team 26
Toyota Team Saudi Arabia 22
F.Dor Rally Team 20
Team Ataken 13
Wisja TV Turning Point Rally Team 10
Arab World Rally Team 10
Stage Winners
SS18 - A.McRae, SS19 - Burns, SS20 - McRae, SS21 - McRae, SS22 - McRae, SS23 - McRae, SS24 - Solberg
Leading Retirements
SS20 Burns, Subaru Impreza Engine
SS20 Kankkunen, Subaru Impreza Engine
SS18 Makinen, Mitsubishi Lancer Accident
SS18 A.McRae, Hyundai Accent Differential
SS16 Auriol, Seat Cordoba WRC Went off road
SS14 Loix, Mitsubishi Carisma GT Mechanical
SS14 Arai, Subaru Impreza Lost wheel
SS11 Delecour, Peugeot 206 Gearbox
SS1 Gardmeister, Seat Cordoba WRC Accident
SS1 Taguchi, Mitsu Lancer Evo VI Accident
SS 18, Te Akau South 31.24km 1st Car: 09:18
1 A.McRae Hyundai Accent 18:46.3
2 Solberg Ford Focus 18:51.9
3 Eriksson Hyundai Accent 18:52.1
4 McRae Ford Focus 18:53.6
5 Sainz Ford Focus 18:57.5
SS 19, Ridge 1 8.53km 1st Car: 11:26
1 Burns Subaru Impreza 4:46.3
2 Gronholm Peugeot 206 4:50.7
3 Kankkunen Subaru Impreza 4:52.7
4 Sainz Ford Focus 4:53.8
5 Eriksson Hyundai Accent 4:57.3
SS 20, Campbell 1 7.44km 1st Car: 11:39
1 McRae Ford Focus 3:55.9
2 Burns Subaru Impreza 3:58.0
3 Gronholm Peugeot 206 3:59.1
4 Sainz Ford Focus 3:59.6
5 Eriksson Hyundai Accent 4:02.1
SS 21, Ridge 2 8.53km 1st Car: 11:57
1 McRae Ford Focus 4:45.4
2 Gronholm Peugeot 206 4:46.2
3 Eriksson Hyundai Accent 4:49.1
4 Sainz Ford Focus 4:49.8
5 Solberg Ford Focus 4:51.1
SS 22, Campbell 2 7.44km 1st Car: 12:10
1 McRae Ford Focus 3:51.8
2 Gronholm Peugeot 206 3:54.7
3 Sainz Ford Focus 3:56.6
4 Solberg Ford Focus 3:57.3
5 Eriksson Hyundai Accent 3:57.4
SS 23, Fyfe 1 8.00km 1st Car: 12:53
1 McRae Ford Focus 4:21.8
2 Gronholm Peugeot 206 4:22.9
3 Solberg Ford Focus 4:23.4
4 Eriksson Hyundai Accent 4:23.6
5 Sainz Ford Focus 4:25.4
SS 24, Fyfe 2 8.00km 1st Car: 13:06
1 Solberg Ford Focus 4:17.7
2 McRae Ford Focus 4:18.6
3 Eriksson Hyundai Accent 4:19.1
4 Gronholm Peugeot 206 4:19.7
5 Sainz Ford Focus 4:20.3

End of Leg 2 Saturday 15th July
Extract from Official FIA Press Release
The weather was the main topic of conversation at the start of today's New Zealand Rally second leg, north of Auckland around Maungaturoto. Forecasts suggested that the day could be wet but, initially, conditions remained similar to yesterday. That meant that early cars continued to sweep the stages of loose gravel and later drivers reaped the rewards. While flying Finn Marcus Gronholm moved into the lead, British drivers Colin McRae and Richard Burns were the fastest drivers on the stages and shot up the leaderboard to end the day snapping at the Peugeot's heels. Today included the longest stage of the FIA World Championship but, while it played a crucial role in changing the overall positions it was not the dramatic stage that many had suspected. Tomorrow's final leg will see a frantic dash for glory over seven stages in the Maramarua Forest. It may prove to be a decisive factor that the last six of those seven stages will be tackled with no service opportunities between them.

Overnight leader Francois Delecour hit gearbox problems on the second stage today and spent 10 minutes at the side of road trying to solve the problem. He started SS11 but lasted only a short distance before being forced to retire. Marcus Gronholm inherited the lead as a result and held on, despite later runners setting faster times and closing the gap. He admitted that he was scared of what might happen on SS12 as the conditions were drying but he still kept the time loss to just 22 seconds. "There was so much gravel that I knew I wasn't going quickly," he said afterwards.

Ford management denied they had attempted to play a tactical game going into the 12th stage of the event when Petter Solberg checked out of service two minutes late. The assumed plan was to force Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm to run first on the road but, unfortunately, as the pair checked into the SS12 start control on the same minute, officials insisted that they start the stage in their original start order. That left the Norwegian with a 20 seconds road penalty and no positional advantage. The team insisted that Solberg's problem was that a coil had failed and that changing the unit had cost more time. Colin McRae had hoped to gain more of an advantage from his position today but still had to watch as arch rival Richard Burns shot past. Both Englishmen admitted that they would still have to work hard to catch and pass Gronholm and praised the Finn's speed. "For sure I don't want to be first on the road tomorrow but even if I go 100% all day I'll still be behind him. Even so it's going to be full attack." Carlos Sainz has had a frustrating day trying to find a good set-up for the Focus. "When I choose hard suspension I have the confidence but the times are not good," he said. "When I choose soft suspension I have no confidence but I'm quicker. The only solution is to stop the rally and organise a test session!"

Richard Burns was a man on a mission today setting fastest time on the first four stages and climbing from a frustrating overnight eighth to second place by the end of SS12. "It's no miracle," he said. You only have to consider the condition of the roads to see why later runners are going quicker." Yesterday Burns suffered because he was running first (as FIA World Championship leader) but today he has benefited from his struggle. He warned, however, that this afternoon's stages wouldn't see such an advantage as they were repeats of the morning runs and so would be 'clean' for everyone. Burns' run of stage wins was halted on SS13 when unexpected rain caused him to spin and then, on stages being used for the second time, his position on the road no longer gave him any special advantage.

Didier Auriol switched his gearbox after SS11 when the SEAT's joystick system became faulty and forced him to run in sixth gear at times when third or fourth would have been more appropriate. "We had to change to the manual gearbox system for a while but that is much slower than the joystick," said Auriol. This was the final event for the Cordoba WRC E2 before the new E3 version appears in Finland next month. Sadly it was not to be a happy swansong for the car. After Toni Gardemeister destroyed his car on yesterday's first stage, Auriol crashed heavily on the penultimate stage today and was unable to continue. Gardemeister's co-driver, Paavo Lukander reflected, "It hasn't been a great year for us so far but we've got the new car to look forward to. It has many improvements and, hopefully, it will mark the start of a new chapter for the team."

Alister McRae has been enjoying himself at the wheel of the Hyundai Accent WRC today. "The car feels good as it's nice to drive. We could do with more power but these are quite flowing stages," he said. Team mate Kenneth Eriksson said that the only problem with the car at present is that there has not been enough testing time. Remarkably Eriksson and McRae set identical times on SS12. Team Principal David Whitehead turned to English football for a view on the team's improving performance in New Zealand. "Up to now you could have said that we were playing in the First Division but I think we've graduated to the Premier League this week."

After yesterday's mysterious handling problems for both Tommi Makinen and Freddy Loix, Mitsubishi switched to last year's suspension settings after a busy night building fresh components. Makinen spent the first stage getting used to the new set up but then felt that things had been improved, if not solved. "Overall it's better but the grip at the rear is better than at the front," he said. He suffered a tyre vibration on SS10 and then spun on SS11. Loix continued to have transmission problems. "The diffs are unlocking themselves sometimes and we are getting snap oversteer in some corners. It's not as bad as yesterday but it's still unnerving." He was also delayed trying to pass Toshihiro Arai who had rolled in SS12 and didn't spot the Belgian's Carisma for the last 12kms on the stage. The transmission maladies proved to be so much of a mystery, and the handling of the car could not be brought under control, that Mitsubishi withdrew Loix after SS14. The team made the decision for safety reasons as it felt that, unless the problem could be solved satisfactorily, to continue would put the crew and spectators at unnecessary risk.

Other teams
Toshihiro Arai (Spike Subaru Team) rolled in SS12 but continued to lead the FIA Teams Cup contest, albeit by just 1.3 seconds from Hamed Al Wahaibi (Arab World Rally Team). On SS14, however, the Japanese driver lost his left rear suspension and retired at the end of the stage. Kiwi ace Possum Bourne maintained his place just outside the top 10 but was still the highest placed local driver and top privateer. He gained road penalties while a transmission oil leak was fixed. Cody Crocker lost the Group N lead and slipped to second behind Manfred Stohl after SS12.

Tyre facts
Starting this morning on a slightly damp track, because of the night rain, most of the Michelin runners chose the Michelin Z pattern in compound 8 for the first stage loop, before changing to the harder compound 9 for SS12 to SS14. Despite the start of the rain in SS14 Ford-Michelin driver Colin McRae set fastest time on SS13 and SS14, while Peugeot-Michelin driver Marcus Grönholm finished the leg setting three scratch times in the wet. All Michelin runners went back to Z8 for the last stage loop. The Finnish and Scottish drivers are the overnight leaders of the provisional general classification.

After conceding day one to its rivals Pirelli hit back today with Richard Burns claiming the fastest time on the first four stages and moving up to second overall before his run of success ended with a spin in the rain on SS13. The combination of Pirelli's PZero K and KM tyres were used to the maximum in several compound options to keep Burns in the hunt with one more day to go.
Unofficial Results at the end of Leg 2 Outright
1 Gronholm Peugeot 206 2:59:58.6
2 McRae Ford Focus 3:00:21.5
3 Burns Subaru Impreza 3:00:36.0
4 Sainz Ford Focus 3:01:08.8
5 Kankkunen Subaru Impreza 3:01:37.6
6 Solberg Ford Focus 3:02:48.9
7 Eriksson Hyundai Accent 3:03:05.4
8 Makinen Mitsu Lancer 3:03:13.9
9 A.McRae Hyundai Accent 3:03:27.5
10 Bourne Subaru Impreza 3:05:54.0

Group N
1 Stohl Mitsu Lancer 3:09:44.4
2 Crocker Subaru Impreza 3:10:05.4
3 Trelles Mitsu Lancer 3:10:35.2

Teams Cup
1 Arab World Rally Team Al-Wahaibi Subaru Impreza 3:14:50.0
Stage Winners
SS9 - Burns, SS10 - Burns, SS11 - Burns, SS12 - McRae, SS13 - McRae, SS14 - McRae, SS15 - Gronholm, SS16 - Gronholm, SS17 - Gronholm
Leading Retirements
SS16 Auriol, Seat Cordoba WRC Went off road
SS14 Loix, Mitsubishi Carisma GT Mechanical
SS14 Arai, Subaru Impreza Lost wheel
SS11 Delecour, Peugeot 206 Gearbox
SS1 Gardmeister, Seat Cordoba WRC Accident
SS1 Taguchi, Mitsu Lancer Evo VI Accident
SS 9, Waipu Gorge 1 11.24km 1st Car: 09:28
1 Burns Subaru Impreza 6:32.8
2 McRae Ford Focus 6:35.1
3 Gronholm Peugeot 206 6:35.2
4 Sainz Ford Focus 6:38.2
5 Kankkunen Subaru Impreza 6:39.8
SS 10, Brooks 1 16.03km 1st Car: 09:46
1 Burns Subaru Impreza 9:49.9
2 McRae Ford Focus 9:52.7
3 Gronholm Peugeot 206 9:56.8
4 Kankkunen Subaru Impreza 9:59.8
5 Sainz Ford Focus 10:00.4
SS 11, Paparoa Station 1 11.64km 1st Car: 10:14
1 Burns Subaru Impreza 6:18.5
2 McRae Ford Focus 6:20.1
3 Gronholm Peugeot 206 6:21.7
4 Kankkunen Subaru Impreza 6:22.7
5 Sainz Ford Focus 6:25.0
SS 12, Parahi/Ararua 59.00km 1st Car: 11:37
1 Burns Subaru Impreza 34:04.5
2 McRae Ford Focus 34:11.2
3 Gronholm Peugeot 206 34:26.7
4 Kankkunen Subaru Impreza 34:42.9
5 Sainz Ford Focus 34:43.1
SS 13, Cassidy 20.12km 1st Car: 14:20
1 McRae Ford Focus 11:35.9
2 Gronholm Peugeot 206 11:40.2
3 Kankkunen Subaru Impreza 11:47.5
4 Sainz Ford Focus 11:48.8
5 Burns Subaru Impreza 11:53.9
SS 14, Batley 19.82km 1st Car: 15:13
1 McRae Ford Focus 11:09.0
2 Burns Subaru Impreza 11:12.0
3 Gronholm Peugeot 206 11:13.4
4 Sainz Ford Focus 11:17.2
5 Kankkunen Subaru Impreza 11:23.1
SS 15, Waipu Gorge 2 11.24km 1st Car: 16:16
1 Gronholm Peugeot 206 6:33.9
2 Burns Subaru Impreza 6:36.2
3 McRae Ford Focus 6:37.0
4 Kankkunen Subaru Impreza 6:37.6
5 Sainz Ford Focus 6:39.5
SS 16, Brooks 2 16.03km 1st Car: 16:34
1 Gronholm Peugeot 206 9:56.8
2 Burns Subaru Impreza 9:58.3
3 McRae Ford Focus 9:59.5
4 Sainz Ford Focus 10:02.8
5 Kankkunen Subaru Impreza 10:05.4
SS 17, Paparoa Station 2 11.64km 1st Car: 17:02
1 Gronholm Peugeot 206 6:24.5
2 McRae Ford Focus 6:25.2
3 Burns Subaru Impreza 6:27.0
4 Sainz Ford Focus 6:27.5
5 Kankkunen Subaru Impreza 6:30.7

End of Leg 1
Friday, 14 July 2000
Extract from Official FIA Press Release
Following last night's spectacular opening ceremony in central Auckland the New Zealand Rally got underway in earnest this morning on six stages around the coastal town of Raglan, due south of Auckland, before returning to Manukau for a pair of stages at the familiar showground superspecial. Although cloudy the weather remained dry which was not good news for the early runners on the stages as they had the task of sweeping the roads clean of the loose gravel for following crews. Today's leg included two long stages but it is tomorrow when the drivers' stamina will be tested to the limits when they encounter SS12, the 59kms Parahi/Ararua stage.

François Delecour lived up to pre-event speculation that he could be a dark horse for victory this weekend by leading the rally over all of today's eight stages. The mercurial Frenchman was delighted with the handling of the 206WRC and boldly stated that, even if he'd been first on the road he'd still be leading! He did, however, admit that he was taking big risks during the day and doesn't fancy running at the head of the field tomorrow if it's wet. Marcus Gronholm suffered right front suspension problems after the jump on SS1 and was finding the stages quite slippery. Team orders are clearly in place in the French camp to make best use of Gronholm's championship placing. Delecour admitted at lunchtime that, "In the end it doesn't really matter what I do because I'll have to let Marcus through anyway."

Once again it has been Ford's apprentice driver Petter Solberg who has put the team's registered drivers Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae in the shade. The young Norwegian has been setting fastest times and, after the forest stages today, lay second overall to split the Peugeots. He said: "I've got good notes for this event and I'm able to run my own set-up. I'm under no pressure and even if Peugeot slows its drivers and I find myself first on the road tomorrow then that will just be another valuable lesson." Sainz found his suspension too soft on the opening stage and had a half spin but then had a big scare on stages 5 and 6 where, like some other crews, his tyres were down to the canvas. McRae had a fractured turbo waste gate early on but was able to make a temporary fix with some wire he found in the tool kit. "All I can say about today is that I'm looking forward to tomorrow!" he said.

Richard Burns' position as Championship leader worked against him today. Running first on the road he was left frustrated as he was getting the worst of the conditions while later runners benefited from the roads cleaning with each car. Burns admitted that the conditions weren't as bad as he'd expected but he warned that, while he will be well placed to bounce back if it's dry again tomorrow, there could be problems if the weather turns to rain. Juha Kankkunen has enjoyed slightly better fortunes than his team mate because of his position further back. Apart from a puncture near the end of SS6 he has had a trouble-free day.

Both Accent WRCs lost turbo boost on the opening stage (Eriksson over the last 5kms, McRae just 3kms into the stage) but once they had been tended to at service the pair were flying over the next few stages. On SS3 Eriksson set fourth fastest time to uphold his belief that this event could establish the new car's performance levels while McRae was often beating his older brother on stage times. Eriksson was another driver to suffer excessive tyre wear on stages five and six while McRae again suffered a loss of power at the end of the Whaanga Coast road when the turbo manifold broke.

Tommi Makinen complained that his rear differential was making an odd noise on the opening stage. "It feels like it is locked all the time and it's making the car oversteer quite badly," he said. The opening stages were proving to be quite slippery and the Finn clearly hadn't got his settings properly sorted. Freddy Loix got off to a good start on SS1 but after 20kms his brakes were overheating and not working properly. After SS4 Makinen had his centre and rear differentials changed, while Loix needed a gearbox swap. However neither car was significantly improved by the changes and the team was left to ponder the possibility that the handling maladies were attributable to an electronic problem in the transmission.

There was bitter disappointment for Toni Gardemeister who retired on the first stage today. The undoubted star of last year's New Zealand Rally first suffered a puncture 10kms into the stage. After twice spinning he stopped to change the wheel at 14kms but then crashed heavily off the road with 13kms to go, destroying the Cordoba E2 in the process. "Not even the steering wheel is salvageable," explained team manager Jaime Puig. Gardemeister's team mate Didier Auriol suffered initially with turbo waste gate problems that cost him power and the Frenchman has suffered a frustrating day at the foot of the top 10.

Other teams
One of the leading FIA Asia-Pacific contenders, Katsuhiko Taguchi, was sidelined by an accident at the same place as Toni Gardemeister, the Mitsubishi driver crashing out after the big jump at the most tricky part of the stage. In the FIA Teams Cup contest it is Toshihiro Arai who leads Hamed Al Wahaibi by almost 30 seconds. Group N is currently in the hands of Australian driver Cody Crocker's Subaru ahead of Manfred Stohl, Al Wahaibi and Reece Jones. Reigning Group N Champion Gustavo Trelles is fifth after suffering brake problems.

Tyre facts
On the surprisingly dry track of today's first leg, all Michelin runners chose the Michelin Z and Michelin ZE patterns in the hard compound. Michelin drivers set the fastest time on all of today's first six stages (Peugeot's French driver Delecour on SS1, SS5 and SS6, Ford's Norwegian driver Solberg on SS2 and SS4 and Peugeot's Finnish driver Grönholm on SS3). They respectively fill the top three places on the overall classification with SS7 & 8 s till to run.

Pirelli: Faced with the problem of running first on the road with the inevitable time loss to following cars, Richard Burns tried a variety of Pirelli PZero tyres during the day in both the K and KM pattern. Different compounds were also tried as the Englishman attempted to stay close enough to the leaders that he can mount a challenge tomorrow. However, while a softer compound was felt to be the solution to the 'cleaning' problem it also led to increased tyre wear but Pirelli was happy to find that its tyres survived without problems. If the weather stays dry then the 'cleaning' problems will remain. If it should turn wet, the conditions should equalise the performance of each driver.
Unofficial Results at the end of Leg 1 Outright
1 Delecour Peugeot 206 1:16:36.2
2 Solberg Ford Focus 1:16:45.9
3 Gronholm Peugeot 206 1:16:49.4
4 Sainz Ford Focus 1:17:06.3
5 Kankkunen Subaru Impreza 1:17:28.1
6 McRae Ford Focus 1:17:35.8
7 Eriksson Hyundai Accent 1:17:36.3
8 Burns Subaru Impreza 1:17:42.9
9 Makinen Mitsu Lancer 1:18:00.8
10 Auriol Seat Cordoba 1:18:14.1

Group N
1 Crocker Subaru Impreza 1:18:58.9
2 Stohl Mitsu Lancer 1:19:34.5
3 Al-Wahaibi Subaru Impreza 1:19:53.4

Teams Cup
1 Spike Subaru Team Arai Subaru Impreza 1:19:17.4
2 Arab World Rally Team Al-Wahaibi Subaru Impreza 1:19:53.4
Stage Winners
SS1 - Delecour, SS2 - Solberg, SS3 - Gronholm, SS4 - Solberg, SS5 - Delecour, SS6 - Delecour, SS7 - C.McRae, SS8 - C.McRae
Leading Retirements
Gardmeister (Seat Cordoba WRC) - accident 14km into SS1 Taguchi (Mitsu Lancer Evo VI) - accident on SS1
SS 1, Te Akau North 32.37km 1st Car: 08:18
1 Delecour Peugeot 206 18:08.1
2 Gronholm Peugeot 206 18:10.6
3 McRae Ford Focus 18:16.5
4 Sainz Ford Focus 18:17.9
5 Solberg Ford Focus 18:19.1
SS 2, Maungatawhiri 6.52km 1st Car: 10:26
1 Solberg Ford Focus 3:41.7
2 Sainz Ford Focus 3:42.6
3 Gronholm Peugeot 206 3:43.1
4 Delecour Peugeot 206 3:43.9
5 McRae Ford Focus 3:44.9
SS 3, Te Papatapu 1 16.75km 1st Car: 10:49
1 Gronholm Peugeot 206 11:13.6
2 Delecour Peugeot 206 11:13.9
3 Solberg Ford Focus 11:15.3
4 Eriksson Hyundai Accent 11:15.4
5 Sainz Ford Focus 11:16.0
SS 4, Te Hutewai 11. 32.00km 1st Car: 11:22
1 Solberg Ford Focus 8:06.3
2 Eriksson Hyundai Accent 8:11.4
3 McRae Ford Focus 8:12.9
4 Kankkunen Subaru Impreza 8:13.3
5 Gronholm Peugeot 206 8:13.9
SS 5, Whaanga Coast 29.52km 1st Car: 12:53
1 Delecour Peugeot 206 21:23.7
2 Solberg Ford Focus 21:29.0
3 Gronholm Peugeot 206 21:34.9
4 Sainz Ford Focus 21:36.0
5 Eriksson Hyundai Accent 21:36.3
SS 6, Te Papatapu 2 16.75km 1st Car: 13:36
1 Delecour Peugeot 206 11:04.2
2 Burns Subaru Impreza 11:05.4
3 Gronholm Peugeot 206 11:05.5
4 Kankkunen Subaru Impreza 11:05.9
5 Solberg Ford Focus 11:08.1
SS 7, Manukau Super 1 2.10km 1st Car: 18:15
1 McRae Ford Focus 1:22.3
2 Sainz Ford Focus 1:22.6
3 Burns Subaru Impreza 1:23.4
4 Kankkunen Subaru Impreza 1:23.8
5 Solberg Ford Focus 1:23.8
SS 8, Manukau Super 2 2.10km 1st Car: 18:45
1 McRae Ford Focus 1:20.5
2 Solberg Ford Focus 1:22.6
3 Burns Subaru Impreza 1:22.8
3 Kankkunen Subaru Impreza 1:22.8
3 Sainz Ford Focus 1:22.8

The Propecia Rally of New Zealand gets underway tonight with a ceremonial start from Auckland but with no special stages. The first special stage starts tomorrow at 8:18am (GTM +12).

Extract from Official FIA Press Release
Rally New Zealand 2000 may be the furthest round of the FIA World Rally Championship from the registered manufacturer teams' European bases, but it is most likely to be one of the closest fought events in the 14-round series. Six of the regular teams have made the trans global trek to Auckland (only Skoda is absent this time) and between them they boast every winner of the New Zealand Rally for the last decade. Of those drivers, Championship leader Richard Burns and his closest rival, fellow Briton Colin McRae, have taken four wins. On current form these two drivers would appear to be the likely pace setters, but there are many other drivers lined up to try to topple the British duo. Following last year's successful move of the rally base to Auckland's Sky City (where the spectacular 328 metre Sky Tower dominates the city skyline) the rally has stayed in town and, after this year's Propecia-backed rally, will carry named sponsorship from Sky City over the next three years.

Subaru (58 points)
Subaru's run of gravel wins was broken in Greece last month so the Banbury team is eager to get back to its successful ways and extend its Championship lead. FIA Drivers Championship leader Richard Burns can be considered one of the favourites for the event but admits: There are five very good drivers behind me and they'll all be pushing to close the gap. I'll be giving it 100% as this is a good chance to score a maximum 10 points." Team mate Juha Kankkunen was second here a year ago and the veteran Finn loves the rally. "It's got the kind of flowing stages I like," he said. "We've had a good test in Finland for these kind of roads and I think the Impreza is ideally suited to the conditions."

Ford (47 points)
The lack of reliability in the Ford Focus was a problem that threatened to end the team's chances of the title before half distance, but Ford has recently appeared to have found the answers. A dominant 1-2 result in Greece last month brought Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz right back into the hunt and the Scot believes that he can close the gap even further. "I think the tide is turning now that we've found reliability and consistency," he said." Sainz has the best win total for this event among the drivers on this year's event, with four victories to his credit and it's no surprise that he likes the rally. "It's a pure driving event and the roads are fantastic," he said. "They're quick, flowing and the camber encourages you to go quickly. You can really concentrate on your lines and car control." A third, non-registered, Focus has again been entered for the rapidly developing Norwegian driver, Petter Solberg, who is making his New Zealand debut.

Peugeot (31 points)
"This is a rally where outright speed counts for everything and the only realistic tactic is to go flat out," said Finland's Marcus Gronholm before the start. "It's without a doubt one of my favourite events of the year." Team mate Francois Delecour agrees. "The event uses the best roads in the world and it's always a pleasure to compete here." Gronholm will need to use every ounce of that speed as he must look to this event and next month's Rally Finland to capitalise on a flying start to the year before he moves onto events where he and the Peugeot team are considered to be handicapped by a relative lack of experience. We made mistakes in Monte Carlo and Catalunya that might have cost us 20 points," admitted team boss Jean-Pierre Nicolas. "We've used up any more mistakes. New Zealand should suit the styles of our drivers which will make up for our own lack of experience here."

Mitsubishi (29 points)
Reigning FIA World Champion Tommi Makinen claimed his first New Zealand win a year ago and appears to be fully confident of a repeat this time out. "We found good suspension settings last year and so I know very well what I have to do to make the car work properly," he said. He's likely to find the Lancer a little slower than the Finnish air force jet fighter he recently rode in. "It was an e," he said before the rally. "The problem that I know want a lot more power in my rally car because it feels very slow in comparison!" Team mate Freddy Loix as had a tough season far but everyone in the team is hoping that he can put that behind him and live up to his 'Fast Freddy' nickname. "It was a difficult event last year because I didn't know the stages but now things are a lot better for me. It's important to have the suspension just right for this event though."

SEAT (7 points)
Last year Toni Gardemeister stepped aboard a works SEAT Cordoba for the first time on a WRC event and cam away with third place behind fellow Finns Tommi Makinen and Juha Kankkunen. Not surprisingly he is hoping for better things this time. "This event is quite similar to my home event and so I'm quite confident. It suits m as many of the stages haven't changed since last year, I will be able drive flat out all the time." Perfectionist Didier Auriol is also happy and did just two test runs at the pre-rally shakedown before declaring that the car was fine and needed no more work before the event. This is the final event for the current E2 version of the Cordoba WRC before SEAT debuts the E3 option in Finland next month.

Hyundai (1 point)
Kenneth Eriksson can claim an impressive record on this event as the only driver among the leading pack to have finished every New Zealand Rally he has started. He is hoping not only to extend that record but also that the Accent WRC can start setting times consistently in the points-scoring positions. "It's quite a smooth event which will be easier on the car than in Greece," he said. "We've tested well and so I'll be trying very hard." Alister McRae agrees with the Swede's comments and added: "This is a rally where our car's relatively undeveloped specification - like not having active transmission for example - shouldn't put us at a disadvantage. I'm really looking ay sharp and concentrate hard on SS12, the marathon Parahi/Ararua stage. "It's the longest in the Championship at 59kms and it will mean we are driving for a long time. If concentration drops then you find yourself with a very slow time at the end of it."

Other teams
The New Zealand Rally is unique in that it is the only round of the FIA World Rally Championship to also count for the FIA Asia-Pacific series this year. This means that there is additional interest in the private battle between top Kiwi Possum Bourne (Subaru) and Asia Pacific series leader Karamjit Singh (Proton) with Bourne just one point adrift of Singh at this stage of the series. The FIA Teams Cup entries feature two Subarus, one for rapid Japanese driver Toshihiro Arai (Spike Subaru Team) and Omani ace Hamed Al Wahaibi (Arab World Rally Team).Manfred Stohl (Austria) and Gustavo Trelles (Uruguay) on their Mitsubishis, lead the Group N competition.

There were many delays bringing the containers carrying team equipment from Rally Argentina. The freighter originally hired was rescheduled, a second boat (travelling the other way round the world) had an accident, a third had engine trouble and was then delayed by storms in Sydney. Finally the freighter arrived in Auckland lunchtime 6th July and within three hours the containers were released by Customs s. Ford and Mitsubishi started testing three days before the reconnaissance started but Peugeot had to wait until their containers arrived. The organisers have asked the FIA for permission not to make attendance at the official Shakedown test mandatory, if the teams tests are behind schedule for this reason. Rally NZ in 1990 (ten years ago) was the first world championship rally which four times champion Tommi Makinen finished. His Group N victory was the first of many successes to come. 20 years ago the world championship Rally New Zealand was held in the South Island. On that occasion it was a wet rally, noted for a remarkable number of deep river crossings. In recent weeks the North Island has been subjected to torrential rains as well! 100mm of rain recently fell on the stages to be used on the Saturday - in one day. The 59km long stage 12 is the longest stage held in world championship rallying since the stage-shortening measures introduced in 1986.

Local curiosity: although 12 local drivers are entered with Mitsubishis in Group N and another five with Subarus, New Zealand is unusual as many drivers enter near-production specification cars in Group A. Morrie Chandler, not only the event Clerk of the Course but also President of the New Zealand National Sporting Authority, explained: "Our national championship encourages people to run with more powerful cars, and this is the best way for them to do this. There are hardly any World Rally Cars in our country."
Special Stage Itinerary
Leg 1 - Friday 14th July (612.99 km)
SS 1 08:18 Te Akau North 32.37km
SS 2 10:26 Maungatawhiri 6.52km
SS 3 10:49 Te Papatapu 1 16.75km
SS 4 11:22 Te Hutewai 11. 32.00km
SS 5 12:53 Whaanga Coast 29.52km
SS 6 Te Papatapu 2 16.75km
SS 7 18:15 Manukau Super 1 2.10km
SS 8 18:45 Manukau Super 2 2.10km

Leg 2 - Saturday 15 July (581.42 km)
SS 9 09:28 Waipu Gorge 1 11.24km
SS 10 09:46 Brooks 1 16.03km
SS 11 10:14 Paparoa Station 1 11.64km
SS 12 11:37 Parahi/Ararua 59.00km
SS 13 14:20 Cassidy 20.12km
SS 14 15:13 Batley 19.82km
SS 15 16:16 Waipu Gorge 2 11.24km
SS 16 16:34 Brooks 2 16.03km
SS 17 17:02 Paparoa Station 2 11.64km

Leg 3 - Sunday 16 July (424.35 km)
SS 18 09:18 Te Akau South 31.24km
SS 19 11:26 Ridge 1 8.53km
SS 20 11:39 Campbell 1 7.44km
SS 21 11:57 Ridge 2 8.53km
SS 22 12:10 Campbell 2 7.44km
SS 23 12:53 Fyfe 1 8.00km
SS 24 13:06 Fyfe 2 8.00km
15:30 Finish in Manukau
Leading Entries (Top 30)
1 Makinen/Mannisenmaki (FIN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo A8
2 Loix/Smeets (B) Mitsubishi Carisma GT A8
3 Burns/Reid (GB) Subaru Impreza WRC2000 A8
4 Kankkunen/Repo (FIN) Subaru Impreza WRC2000 A8
5 Mcrae/Grist (GB) Ford Focus WRC A8
6 Sainz/Moya (E) Ford Focus WRC A8
7 Auriol/Giraudet (F) Seat Córdoba WRC E2 A8
8 Gardemeister/Lukander (FIN) Seat Córdoba WRC E2 A8
9 Delecour/Grataloup (F) Peugeot 206 WRC A8
10 Gronholm/Rautiainen Fin Peugeot 206 WRC A8
14 Eriksson/Parmander (S) Hyundai Accent WRC A8
15 Mcrae/Senior (GB) Hyundai Accent WRC A8
16 Solberg/Mills (N/GB) Ford Focus WRC A8
17 Bourne/Vincent (NZ) Subaru Impreza WRC98 A8
18 Arai/Freeman (J/GB) Subaru Impreza WRC99 A8
19 Taguchi/Ringer (J/GB) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI A8
20 Trelles/Del Buono (ROU/RA) Mitsubishi Carisma GT N4
21 Stohl/Muller (A) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI N4
22 Al Wahaibi/Sircombe (OM/NZ) Subaru Impreza N4
23 Papadimitriou/Petropoulos(GR)Subaru Impreza A8
24 Menzi/Galindo (RA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI N4
25 Pozzo/Ortiz (RA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI N4
26 Mendez/Muzio (ROU) Mitsubishi Carisma Evo VI N4
27 Nutahara/Hayashi (J) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI N4
28 Argyle/Fallon (NZ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI A8
29 Herbert/Ryan (NZ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI A8
30 McAndrew/Boyle (NZ) Subaru Impreza A8

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