The event Two weeks after the smooth asphalt of Germany, the WRC returns to gravel once more for the 37th Rally New Zealand. The stunning gravel roads of Hamilton are like rollercoasters that carve through the lush green countryside of the North...
Two weeks after the smooth asphalt of Germany, the WRC returns to gravel once more for the 37th Rally New Zealand. The stunning gravel roads of Hamilton are like rollercoasters that carve through the lush green countryside of the North Island. Heavily cambered, they favour the brave, and speed comes with flat-out commitment.
The shift to an earlier slot in the WRC schedule means it will be approaching springtime in New Zealand and consequently slightly cooler than last year's event, which ran in November. The usual conditions for this time of year are approximately 10-15 degrees Celsius with intermittent showers possible.
As on most gravel rallies, running first on the road at this event is generally a disadvantage as the stages are covered with loose gravel, sand and dust. The difference between the first and eighth car on the road can be worth as much as a second per kilometre.
The cleaning effect is normally quite pronounced in New Zealand, but rain can neutralise or even reverse the process. A little rain will bind the loose gravel and dust together and stop the road from cleaning so quickly, while a lot of rain will soak through the loose surface and make the base increasingly slippery.
As in Germany, tyre choice is absolutely critical. However, rather than the very unpredictable weather of Trier, here the choice is largely dictated by road position and calculating how much the surface has been cleaned by the cars ahead. With lots of loose gravel still on the line, an open tyre (with more cuts) is needed for extra traction, whereas once the road is cleaner fewer cuts can be used. Fewer cuts mean there is more rubber in contact with the road, improving general stability and grip through the many fast and flowing corners.
Like last year, the event is based at Mystery Creek near Hamilton, about 100km south of Auckland. It is made up of 18 special stages (including three runs at the Mystery Creek superspecial) and the total competitive distance will be 353.56km. The rally commences with a ceremonial start in Hamilton city centre at 1830hrs on Thursday 30 August, with the finish podium taking place at Mystery Creek at 1515hrs on Sunday 2 September.
The Subaru World Rally Team has entered three Impreza WRC2007s for the eleventh round of the World Rally Championship. The pairing of Petter Solberg and Phil Mills will drive car number seven, Chris Atkinson/Stephane Prevot will drive car number eight, while Xevi Pons/Xavier Amigo will be in car number 14. Chris has competed in WRC rounds here with Subaru since 2004, and Xevi has competed since 2004 but this is his first time with the Subaru World Rally Team. Petter has contested WRC rounds here with Subaru since 2001.
Richard Taylor, Subaru World Rally Team managing director:
"After strong performances by Petter, Chris and Xevi in both Finland and Germany, the objective for Rally New Zealand is to finish with all our cars in points-scoring positions. Chris is on a high at the moment with his recent pace, and New Zealand has historically been a good rally for us. The conditions generally suit us and we'll be looking to exploit the improvements made recently, but at the same time these cars and engines have to run in Japan, which is a critical event for us, so we must take this into consideration."
Paul Howarth, Subaru World Rally Team operations director:
"A lot of the route of Rally New Zealand is flat, but there are also a lot of cambered roads. The challenge for the drivers is to get the cars to flow from corner to corner using the camber to their advantage, and it is very important to have a car that can swap direction precisely and hold the line predictably. Those who are able to build a good rhythm and have the confidence to commit will be quick. Road cleaning does have an effect, but it means that if you slip off-line there is a lot of loose gravel. This coupled with the high speed typical of the rally means that if drivers get the cambers wrong or make a mistake it is usually very costly."
CAR NUMBER 7 Petter Solberg:
"Looking to next week and Rally New Zealand, it will of course be very different to Germany as we return to gravel. While we showed good pace last week on the asphalt, it's not something that naturally carries over to such differing conditions on gravel, but I am looking forward to seeing how we go. If things are working right, then we know we can be fighting for top spots from the start."
CAR NUMBER 8 Chris Atkinson:
"Everyone saw that we had stage-winning pace in Germany, and I hope that we can carry that on to New Zealand. Of course, being on gravel, it is very different to driving on asphalt, but we had a good event in Finland and I am happy with the car. This year, New Zealand is the closest to being my home event and I will be pushing for more stage wins, but the main focus for me this time will be ensuring we are consistently fast throughout the three legs."
CAR NUMBER 14 Xevi Pons:
"I like Rally New Zealand and am looking forward to competing there for Subaru. I won there in PWRC in 2005, and was fourth last year, so I am hoping it will be a good rally for us. For sure the experience of Finland was good for me and I have learned a lot about the car and the team both there and in Germany. I hope that when we get to New Zealand we will be stronger than before as a team and this will help our speed and performance over the whole rally. It is important to finish the rally, and it is only my second on gravel with the team, but I will be pushing all the way."
Between the rallies
In the two weeks between Germany and New Zealand, Chris and Petter have been in Australia at the launch of their new generation Impreza WRX. Held on the east coast town of Port Douglas, Petter and Chris each drove the new car on a demonstration track inside a huge marquee. A major launch event to 300 Subaru dealers in Australia, the timing provides a strong link to Subaru's WRC activities. Petter, Chris and Xevi will arrive in Auckland on Saturday 25th August and travel to Hamilton the following day to prepare for the reconnaissance.