The duel between rally leader Marcus Gronholm and second-placed Sebastien Loeb becomes a real nail-biter in Rally NZ.
September 1, 2007, 3.15pm. World Championship leader Marcus Gronholm leads Sebastien Loeb by four seconds as the cars head for the west coast of Waikato in the Rally of New Zealand.
Loeb (Citroen) had closed to within 3.6 seconds of Gronholm going into the Mystery Creek super special this afternoon, but the Finn pushed his Ford Focus RS around the three-kilometre test six-tenths of a second faster than the Frenchman.
Gronholm’s teammate Mikko Hirvonen is third overall, ahead of 22-year-old fellow Finn, Jari-Matti Latvala (Ford).
Hirvonen is 53 seconds behind Loeb, and a similar distance ahead of Latvala.
Then come Subaru’s Chris Atkinson and Dani Sordo in the second works Citroen.
Gronholm said that as the day warmed he got excessive wear in his tyres, and he dropped 11 seconds to Loeb in the 31-kilometre third stage.
“I took tyres that were too soft and didn’t work on the long stage,” he said.
“The car was like a snake and was sliding a lot. I lost my rhythm and lost time to Loeb who had a harder, more suitable tyre.
“Tyre choice was crucial but it’s hard to make the right decision standing here (in the Mystery Creek service park) when the stages are two hours and more than 100km away.
“I have to try to take back some of that time now.”
In the NZ championship section of the event, Richard Mason (Subaru Impreza WRX STi) leads, followed by Scotsman Alister McRae (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9) and Sam Murray (WRX).
McRae passed Murray for second place in the Mystery Creek super special.
Photo of Marcus Gronholm by Euan Cameron.