Misfortune strikes after solid Hyundai drive by Loix in New Zealand. Hyundai World Rally Team crew Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets drove a confident Rally New Zealand but points were stolen from them when they went off the road while lying in fifth...
Misfortune strikes after solid Hyundai drive by Loix in New Zealand.
Hyundai World Rally Team crew Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets drove a confident Rally New Zealand but points were stolen from them when they went off the road while lying in fifth position overall.
The Belgian crew drove solidly, confidently and consistently throughout Rally New Zealand, steadily working their way up the leaderboard to fifth position which would have boosted the point tally for the crew and the Korean manufacturer by four points.
After three days of reconnaissance in warm sunny weather, leg one proved to be a challenge for all competitors as they had to endure grey skies and rain varying from light drizzle to torrential. It made conditions inconsistent and unpredictable, and tyre choice proved difficult as conditions changed throughout a stage. Roads became muddy and very slippery and the leg's conditions eradicated no less than seventeen competitors from the rally.
Legs two and three gave way to blue skies and sunshine with only a few autumnal showers gracing the scene on leg two. The Hyundai crew, preferring the warmer and drier conditions, made steady progress despite running fourth on the road which was not the most favourable position considering the amount of loose gravel. Making changes to suspension settings throughout the day, Freddy was promoted from ninth to fifth position overall after an eventful SS14 and ended the leg in style by setting a second and fourth fastest stage time on the Manukau Stadium superspecial stage.
The Belgian crew were unlucky on leg three however, as they went off the road 12km into SS18 - Te Akau North. Freddy explained what happened: "We stepped out at the rear, clipped a bank and rolled a few times. The car was quite damaged as we were rolling at a high speed before we stopped. I wasn't very happy with my time on the first stage of the day. I looked at the time for Toni [Gardemeister] and knew that I had to push hard to keep him behind me. Obviously I'm disappointed as I was driving well and we were making good progress but as soon as you see others taking time off you, you have to step up the pace a little and I didn't want to be behind a Skoda."
"But I'm not disappointed in myself as I'm happy with the way I was driving," added the 32-year-old Belgian. "It's a pity to not be able to drive the Maramarua stages as I know them much better than those on legs one and two and last year we set some very good times. It's a pity and I'm sorry not to score points for the team -- they have worked hard a definitely deserve it, but that is rallying. Now I have to look to Argentina -- the Accent has gone well there in the past so hopefully we can go well there again," he concluded.
German team-mates Armin Schwarz and Manfred Hiemer saw their rally come to a premature end when they spectacularly rolled out of the opening stage of the rally. "We were flat out in sixth gear going about 170-180kph and we hit a bank after going a bit too wide. It ripped the front right wheel off then we rolled about seven times. It was my mistake -- we just got off line. It's very disappointing as this rally is one of my favourites, the Accent was feeling very good but you have to be very accurate at such high speeds and even the slightest mistake costs."
Hyundai privateer Jussi Valimaki and co-driver Tero Gardemeister, who were nominated to score points for the Hyundai, also retired on their debut outing to the South Pacific Island. They slipped down a bank after going wide and despite minimal damage, with no assistance to get the car back on the road, were forced to retire. Jussi said: "This was my first time to drive in New Zealand in a world rally car and it was an experience I really enjoyed. I know this car can be competitive so I am looking forward to showing that on my next rally in Greece."
David Whitehead, Hyundai World Rally Team Principal commented: "Sadly both Freddy and Armin were caught out by the unique conditions on the stages in New Zealand. There is very little margin for error and at such high speeds there is no opportunity to correct it."
"But I am heartened by the improvements we have made to the car and we have clearly made progress with the suspension and the turbo," he added. "I feel very sorry that Freddy lost the chance of a good top five finish and championship points. We have to keep up the pressure to make further progress and hope that our hard work will pay off."
The fifth round of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship takes teams to the foothills of the Andes for the highest altitude event of the series, Rally Argentina running from 9-11 May.