WRC

Rally New Zealand: Round four preview

The WRC crews head to New Zealand for the 4th round of the 2005 World Rally Championship this weekend for a change of scene after the hot and dusty roads of Mexico. Rally New Zealand is one of the longest serving events in the current...

The WRC crews head to New Zealand for the 4th round of the 2005 World Rally Championship this weekend for a change of scene after the hot and dusty roads of Mexico.

Rally New Zealand is one of the longest serving events in the current WRC calendar and is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. The stages are generally regarded as being among the most enjoyable in the championship thanks to their flowing nature. Severely cambered roads allow drivers to really show their skills at high speed and the spectacular North Island scenery through which the event passes, especially on the final day, provides some of the most stunning visual images of the season.

Championship leader Petter Solberg will be gunning for his 3rd win a row whilst Citroen's Sebastien Loeb will be looking for a better result after disappointment on the last 2 events. NZ is Marcus Gronholm's favourite event and he will undoubtedly have the pace to run right at the front whilst Ford's Toni Gardemeister enjoys the fast flowing gravel roads here too.

Citroen

Team Citroën Total has entered two Xsara WRCs, one for defending champions Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and the other for their team-mate François Duval/Stéphane Prévot. This year's visit is the French squad's third trip to New Zealand following consecutive 4th place finishes with Sébastien Loeb in 2003 and 2004. The team has slowly but surely built up its understanding of this event's specific stages which WRC regulars come across just once a year.

Sébastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: "Last year, after serving as 'road sweeper' throughout the first loop of stages and dropping 44 seconds, I knew I wouldn't be able to win. The second loop was identical and I only dropped a further 4 seconds. After Sunday's first group of stages, I was still 47s behind the leader who was battling hard to defend first place. The moral of the story is that practically all that deficit was lost running first on the road on the Friday. That said, the terrain could be different this time round; it could rain, etc. But it will be nice if we are in a position where we are challenging for top spot in New Zealand which is one of the few events that has resisted the team so far."

Francois Duval / Stephane Prevot: "My prime objective will be to build on my experience which is very important over this event's difficult, technically demanding stages. I will be pleased if I finish in the top-five, and delighted if I make it onto the podium. Honestly though, I don't think it will be possible to win in normal circumstances!"

Subaru

Three weeks after winning the most recent round of the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship in Mexico, the Subaru World Rally Team are preparing to cross the globe for the fourth event of the 16-round series, Rally New Zealand. The Subaru World Rally Team will be entering two cars in New Zealand, to be driven by Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) and Chris Atkinson (co-driven by Glenn MacNeall). Stéphane Sarrazin and co-driver Denis Giraudet will complete the recce to gain experience of the event.

Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: "The new car felt good in Mexico, not perfect, but very good. Throughout the event, the team worked hard to improve the set-up so I could get more feeling and, after the second day, I was much happier. There are still some improvements to be made ahead of New Zealand and we're always making lots of adjustments that can make a difference to the overall experience inside the car, so it's looking good. New Zealand will be a difficult rally for me due to running first on the road. I think I'll lose a bit of time on the first day as I sweep the loose gravel roads clean for those behind, but hopefully I'll be able to get it back on Leg two and three. Everything is possible so we'll just have to wait and see. It's a good rally and one that everyone's looking forward to."

Chris Atkinson/Glen Macneall: "I started to understand things a lot more about the car in Mexico and felt as though I was improving. I learned to be more patient and discovered that, it you drop back a little and don't push so hard, it's easier to stay on the clean line. You could see our development in the stage times and hopefully it'll be the same in New Zealand. There were some sections in Mexico that were similar to terrain that I'd contested on before, but many parts felt very new. In terms of the car, everything's feeling better and I'm more comfortable working with the team. All the changes that we made in Mexico seem to have gone in the right direction and the plan is to continue that in New Zealand. Glenn and I have been working pretty closely with Petter. We have quite a similar driving style and want the same things from the car, so it's good. I'm not setting myself any objectives in terms of finishing positions for New Zealand but, similar to the last two events, it's all about getting experience. I'd love to get a good finish and seeing the speed we had in Mexico hopefully that will come soon."

Ford

Vastly different conditions on the opening three rounds have provided a tough start to the 2005 season. Drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen and team-mates Roman Kresta and Jan Mozný have faced asphalt, snow, ice and rock-hard gravel to date. But the all-round versatility of the Ford Focus RS World Rally Car has enabled the BP-Ford squad to claim a strong second in the manufacturers' championship while Gardemeister holds third in the drivers' standings. The journey to New Zealand's North Island is the longest of the season for BP-Ford but the rally more than makes up for the seemingly endless hours spent in the air en route. The roads near the rally base of Auckland are widely regarded as the best in the championship. As smooth as a billiard table and gently winding through the lush, green countryside, they pose fewer mechanical demands than most gravel rallies and invite drivers to attack them.

Toni Gardemeister/Jakke Honkanen: "The last round in Mexico was my first on gravel in the Focus. The result wasn't as strong as I had hoped but the car felt good to drive and I learned a lot. I'm looking forward to driving it in New Zealand, which is a rally I really enjoy. It's quite like my home event in Finland, without the big jumps."

Roman Kresta/Jan Mozny: "Every rally this season has been one of learning for me. But despite this I scored driver points in both Monte Carlo and Sweden and was lying in the points in Mexico before retiring. I'm aiming for another points finish in New Zealand, but the most important aspect for me is to learn as much as I can about the event.

Peugeot

Thanks to its record since the beginning of the season, including a double podium in Mexico, Peugeot is in a favourable situation as it prepares for Rally New Zealand. The French outfit effectively leads the Manufacturers' championship while its two drivers figure strongly in the Drivers' standings. Marcus Grönholm, three-times winner in Auckland with Peugeot, and Markko Märtin, who finished 3rd last year, both have high hopes for the fourth round of the 2005 championship.

Marcus Gronhölm / Timo Rautiainen: "It's a rally I like very much. I can't wait to be back in New Zealand and I'm hoping for a good result. As in Mexico, my main objective will be to finish in the points but that doesn't rule out going for a win. In 2004, I finished 2nd when the 307 WRC was still very new. The situation is different this time."

Markko Martin/Michael Park: "It's a real driver's rally. The grip is good and you can drive flat. To be competitive, you need good knowledge of the stages, and that is our case. But you also need complete confidence in your car and the result we can aim for will depend essentially on that."

Mitsubishi

The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports WRC team heads to the fourth round of the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship in New Zealand third in the series for manufacturers and buoyed by its third consecutive double-points haul in México just weeks ago. Harri Rovanperä and Risto Pietiläinen once again lead the team's assault, while team-mates "Gigi" Galli and Guido D'Amore make the long journey to the other side of the world to pilot the team's second Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05.

Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietiläinen: "I don't really know why New Zealand has been so good to me, but for sure it's one of my best and certainly a favorite. The roads are very nice, it's a quick event and the gravel is also nice; not bumpy or rough. It is quite a technical rally and not so easy because of the constantly changing camber on the road, but it works well for me. One thing that is very important though is to have a really good car and a lot of confidence in everything; then it all comes together".

Gigi Galli/Guido D'Amore: "For us, New Zealand is a very new rally and our experience is very very small. I have already discussed our strategy with the team and everyone agrees that it is important to get to the finish, understand more and have the same philosophy we have had all season. Therefore, our goal will be to finish, look for some points for Mitsubishi, and move further ahead with the development of the dampers and active center diff. That is all, nothing else. I hope to enjoy the rally, but then I enjoy myself every time I sit in the car anyway.!"

Skoda

Rally New Zealand (April 7-10) is the furthest event from the team's Mladá Boleslav base in heart of Europe and for this second long-haul event of the season the team will be represented by Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha and Janne Tuohino/Mikko Markkula. The Skoda Fabia WRC 05 has a revised aerodynamic package that should be ideally suited to the nature of the stages in New Zealand. So far this season the Fabia, both in its current specification and the one preceding it for the first two rounds, has shown significant improvements in pace but has so far been denied the overall result that the team is seeking.

Janne Tuohino/Mikko Markkula: "Although this is my first time competing in New Zealand I made the recce there in 2003. At the time I said that I really wanted to compete on this rally as the roads are really beautiful, very fast and in some places quite like Finland. They can be quite slippery so our starting position on the road will be quite important each day."

Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha: "New Zealand is a real drivers' rally and it should suit our car's handling. It's quite a high-speed event and you need to balance confidence with caution. The quite severe camber of the roads means you can push hard but you mustn't be over-confident, especially if the stages are dry as the loose gravel is very slippery. It is actually better if the surface is a little bit damp which is always possible at this time of year which is autumn in New Zealand as the grip is then much greater."

Facts & Figures

Ten time zones are crossed when travelling from Continental Europe (GMT +2) to New Zealand (GMT +12), which means it is necessary to subtract ten hours from the times listed below to obtain Continental European time. Total length of the 35th Rally New Zealand (the 27th as a WRC qualifier) is 1,128.48 km, including 356 km divided into 20 stages (13 different, including two new tests: Millbrook and Waipu Caves).

Recce takes place over Tuesday April 5th (08:00 - 18:00) and Wednesday April 6th (08:00 - 16:30).

The shakedown test (Thursday April 7th, 08:00 - 11:00) switches from its usual location to a 5.21 km test on Wearmouth Road near the Paparoa service park (150 km north of Auckland).

The ceremonial start (Thursday, 19:30) will take place to the backdrop of Waitemata Plaza (Auckland), close to Viaduct Basin, base of the recent America's Cup. The same location will host the finish and prize-giving ceremonies.

Tyres: two types of pattern are authorised. On Friday February 15th, the teams communicated the lists of the 60 bar-code references corresponding to their drivers' individual choices. In the course of the rally, drivers may use 35 tyres from their quota.

-rallyenewsletter-

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team