Lion on the Prowl
2001-07-17 - By Philip Byrne
Europe's second largest car manufacturer, Peugeot, goes into the 2001 Safari Rally seeking to end a twenty-three year barren run on the famous Kenyan classic.
The French outfit was a formidable proposition in the sixties and seventies, winning the event six times in a fifteen-year period. They have entered three 206 World Rally Cars in this year's event set for July 20-22.
Marcus Gronholm, the reigning world champion, will drive one example, and should feel a lot more comfortable this time round than when he debuted last year. The lanky Finn was, by his own admission, off the pace and on a steep learning curve in his first foray, but he will benefit greatly from the experience gained, and from Peugeot's extensive test programme conducted in April.
The Catalunya Rally winner, Didier Auriol, on the other hand, has been very consistent on the event, finishing in the top four on each of his four previous appearances. He was quickest on the opening stage of the event last year in a SEAT WRC, the first and only time the Spanish manufacturer has led a world championship event, and should once again be a serious contender for top honours.
The third car will be entrusted to Finland's Harri Rovanpera. Rovanpera, 35, won the Swedish Rally in February, his first ever world championship event win, and has been proving a match, in some cases surpassing, his more illustrious team-mates on gravel rounds, prompting the team's management to pencil him for all loose surface events.
Peugeot's Achilles heel last year were the rough and arduous events. Things, though, should be different, for the Total Oil-backed team has refined the 206, which now boasts improved cooling, a better engine and superior suspension.