Works Ford drivers Marcus Gronholm and Mikko Hirvonen have one clear focus in the 2006 Peoprecia Rally of New Zealand which begins in the Waikato on November 17 – clinch the FIA World Rally Championship manufacturers’ title.
The injured Sebastien Loeb has already won the drivers’ title, but Ford goes into the NZ event with a 16-point manufacturers’ series lead over Loeb’s Citroen team.
It needs to extend that to 19 to give it an unassailable lead going into the year’s final event in Britain.
So the two Finns’ focus will be on outscoring their Citroen rivals by three points. Loeb isn’t starting the NZ event as he continues his recovery from a broken arm, and Citroen’s fortunes lie in the hands of Xavier Pons and Daniel Sordo.
Gronholm, who has already secured second in the drivers’ championship, says that “of course I would like to win the rally because I start every event hoping to win.
“But my priority here has to be scoring good points for the team in the manufacturers’ championship. Maybe I can do both. I have to be more careful than I was on the last rally in Australia when I crashed. I must avoid making any stupid mistakes.”
Gronholm says that in its first season, the all-new Ford Focus RS has shown excellent reliability.
“I really hope we can take the title. But it’s not something we are taking for granted. Mikko and I have to go out and earn it because our rivals won’t make it easy.”
Gronholm says the new Rally NZ format, with roads in the Waikato and a central service park at Mystery Creek in Hamilton, makes it a new rally for everyone.
“I have driven a few stages before in 1998 but much has changed since then so we will make new pacenotes for the whole rally,” says the three-times NZ Rally winner. “I’m sure the new stages will be just as good as the others were. The roads are fast, the surface is good and they are nicely cambered. It’s easy to attack.
The hard part is not attacking too much.”
Hirvonen, who won the last round in Australia, says he’s “ready for fresh battles. I want to prove that Australia wasn’t just a one-off, that I can fight for victory. But in New Zealand, the important thing to remember is our challenge for the manufacturers’ title.
I must not risk losing points by pushing too hard.”