WRC

Rally New Zealand: Penultimate round preview

The rally shows major changes with the base moving 130km south from Auckland to Hamilton, close to North Island's west coast. There will be a single service park for the first time at the Mystery Creek Events Centre, a few kilometres south-east...

The rally shows major changes with the base moving 130km south from Auckland to Hamilton, close to North Island's west coast. There will be a single service park for the first time at the Mystery Creek Events Centre, a few kilometres south-east of the city. The event will not journey north of Auckland and instead all the stages are based west of Hamilton, many hugging the Tasman Sea coastline. Some have not been used since the mid-1990s, with two tests on the second leg brand new and another unused since 1982. The opening leg, south-west of Hamilton, is the longest and includes two passes over the 43.88km Te Koraha test, the longest of the season. The second leg is north-east of the city and both days end with a super special stage at Mystery Creek which surrounds the service park. The final leg is the only part of the rally common with 2005, and includes two passes over the classic Whaanga Coast test, regarded as one of the best in the entire championship. There are 17 stages in total, covering 358.48km in a route of 1354.26km.

Kronos Total Citroen

Despite a 19.000 kilometre journey in between Belgium and New Zealand, the Kronos Total Citroen World Rally Team is looking forward to the kiwi round. On 'Aotearoa' - the ground of the long white cloud according to the Maori legend - the complete team will be gathered for the first time since Cyprus and will be able to celebrate its heroes Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena, now three times World champions. Seb and Daniel will be present in Hamilton, the rally's new host city, to complete the reconnaissance of a rather changed route in the aim to prepare next year. Once this finished, Seb will return to Europe, in the rehabilitation centre where he works on his full recovery. For the rally, Kronos Total Citroen entrusts once again its young Spanish squad. Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio and Dani Sordo/Marc Marti will drive in Hamilton the same Xsaras which they have been competing with in Australia.

Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: "In NZ, the stages are very fast. I enjoyed a lot driving there the past two years. For me, it would surely have been easier if nothing had changed. But on another hand, to be a good driver, you have to be capable of posting fast times with only two passes in recce. This is the reason why I will particularly focus on the recce to try and set one more good result to finish the season on a good note."

Dani Sordo/Marc: "Just talking about it makes me think that New Zealand is even further than Australia. It's terrible because the flight time will be even longer! Marc has described the stages like very fast but without trees on the sides of the roads. He has underlined the importance of 'road cleaning' and of the interest to take profit from driving in the rails left by the cars preceding. He also put the stress on the fact that it's 'forbidden' to drive out of those rails. Everybody says that it's an event to enjoy. It's one more territory to discover and this is very thrilling for a young driver."

OMV-Peugeot Norway

The OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team is very confident for the "Propecia Rally New Zealand", the next-to-last run to the FIA World Rally Championship from November 16 to 19. Manfred Stohl and co-driver Ilka Minor are especially motivated to reach the podium once again, following their third place at the Rally Australia. And OMV duo Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud is hot to score points after their retirement in Australia.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "Weather forecasts predict alternating rain and sunshine for the weekend. That means that those will be in front who not only show courage but also prove lucky in the tyre lottery. Even though the new special stages will reduce the tempo somewhat." Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: "I just like it when things get really speedy. And Waahanga Coast is surely one of the most beautiful and racy special stages of all."

BP-Ford

BP-Ford can clinch the FIA World Rally Championship manufacturers' title on next week's Rally New Zealand (16 - 19 November). It goes into the penultimate round with a 16-point lead. A 19-point advantage by the finish of the three-day rally on the flowing gravel roads of North Island will ensure the crown with one round remaining - so if BP-Ford outscores rivals Kronos Citroen by three points in New Zealand, then the Blue Oval will be guaranteed the title. Six victories in the first season with the new Focus RS World Rally Car, five for Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen and a maiden win for team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen in Australia last month, have already made 2006 the most successful WRC year ever for Ford in terms of wins.

Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen:  "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."

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "Having won once I know that I can win again and I want to prove that Australia wasn't just a one-off, that I can fight for victory against Marcus and Seb. 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."

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford

It will be Companc, and his co-driver Jose Maria Volta's eighth rally this season and the second time they have ventured to the antipodean island of New Zealand. Once again both crews will be taking part in the 06 spec Ford Focus and hoping to add to their recent points haul which has boosted the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team's fifth position in the WRC Manufacturer Championship, 14 points ahead of nearest rival Red Bull Skoda.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "New Zealand is another fast rally, so it's one that I'm really looking forward to. Most of the stages are going to be new to pretty much all of the drivers this time, so it'll be interesting to see who makes the best job of making new notes and gets off to a fast start. Like on the last round in Australia, I'm keen to push harder on the opening leg to try and avoid running first on the road later in the rally. Unlike Australia, I'm keen not to make a mistake on the opening leg! The last round was really tough."

Luis Perez Companc/Jose-Maria Volta: "Australia didn't quite go to plan for me. There was a mistake on the first day and then some tricky conditions. I had some good time in the car, though and I feel ready for New Zealand. The car felt fantastic - and what I really like are the faster roads. In Australia, in the quicker stages, everything felt good. I am sure I can keep this feeling for this week. I did New Zealand last year, but it was in a different place, so I will have to make some new notes this time. It's going to be interesting."

Subaru

It's all change as the Subaru World Rally Team heads back to the southern hemisphere for Rally New Zealand, which has a new date, route and base for 2006. Only four of the 17 fast, flowing gravel stages are identical to those used on last year's rally. Of the other tests, Pirongia West and Te Koraha were last used on the 1998 event and the last time Port Waikato was part of the route was back in 1982! The new base is the Mystery Creek Events Centre near Hamilton, 120km south of Auckland on New Zealand's North Island. The venue will play host to the rally headquarters, indoor service park, plus a Super Special which is part of the route on Friday and Saturday night.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "I'm very confident about New Zealand, because it has always been a good rally for us in the past. We were strong in Australia and hopefully can improve a little bit more on that. I'm really hoping to win again soon, but we have to take things step-by-step, and I know the team is working very hard, so we'll just have to wait and see how things turn out. We'll be using some stages that I haven't driven before, but all the other drivers will be in the same situation, so it won't be a problem. The pace notes will help us to get into a rhythm quite quickly. I'm sorry that it's going to be a little bit colder in New Zealand now that the rally has moved from April to November!"

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "It's going to be a tough rally with some long stages. We'll be looking to continue the good pace we showed at the beginning of Rally Australia, although I'll be looking forward to a bit of a change of fortune too. I've done Rally New Zealand twice before - last year I finished seventh with Subaru and the year before that I was driving a Group N Impreza - but we're going to be using some new roads for this year. In terms of a result, we'd hope to be running in the top five and if we can do that, there's always the chance of being in the hunt for a podium."

Red Bull Skoda

Skoda are not entered in New Zealand

-credit: www.rallye-newsletter.com

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , Sébastien Loeb , Timo Rautiainen , Manfred Stohl , Daniel Elena , Mikko Hirvonen , Marc Marti , Jarmo Lehtinen , Henning Solberg , Cato Menkerud , Ilka Minor , Matthew Wilson , Michael Orr , Chris Atkinson , Jose Maria Volta
Teams Citroën World Rally Team , M-Sport