Alexa

Marcus Gronholm leads Sebastian Loeb at Rally of New Zealand

Marcus Gronholm leads Sebastian Loeb at Rally of New Zealand

World Rally Championship leader Marcus Gronholm of Finland held a 13 second lead over his closest championship rival, Sebastian Loeb of France, after Friday's first day and five out of 18 stages of the Rally of New Zealand.
Ford's Gronholm, who leads Loeb by eight points after 10 of 16 world championship events, won the first two stages on the rally's opening day to put himself in a strong position to win the New Zealand event for a record sixth time.
Tire choices proved important on the first two stages on sweeping, gravel roads through the Waikato district on New Zealand's North Island. Gronholm chose soft compound tires and Citroen's Loeb softer tires and both were relatively satisfied with their handling and performance.
Third-placed Mikko Hirvonen of Finland, in a Ford, used tires less suited to the conditions and was more than half a minute behind Gronholm after two stages. He was 49.2 seconds down in third place by the end of the day's final stage.
Australian Chris Atkinson, whose Ford finished day one in fourth place, had trouble with the balance of his car throughout the day while fifth-placed Jiri-Matti Latvala hit a rock near the end of stage two and finished the day with his Ford's front bumper missing.
Eighth-placed Henning Solberg, also in a Ford, punctured twice on stage one _ over 18.3 kilometers (11.4 miles) _ while Briton Matthew Wilson, who finished the day in 10th, slid off into a fence on an early stage. He was able to reverse onto the road and to continue.
"Fortunately the farmer has built a good fence and that stopped us going too far off the road," Wilson said.
Loeb won the day's third and fourth stages and was only 13.5 seconds behind Gronholm entering the last, 3.5 super special stage, at Mystery Creek on which he picked up a further half second on his Finnish rival.
"I was better in this stage than this morning when I lost a lot of time to Marcus," Loeb said.
"The tires were the difference. This morning we had too soft (tires) and this afternoon it was a good choice, the same as Marcus.
Atkinson was fastest over the last, super special stage and was 1 minute, 21.4 seconds down on Gronholm by the end of the day, 32.2 seconds behind Hirvonen. Latvala was only 7.8 seconds behind Atkinson in fifth place and Daniel Sordo of Spain a further 4.3 seconds back in sixth.


Updated : 2020-11-30 14:18 GMT+08:00