McRae Third after Leg 1 of Rainy Rally of New Zealand Auckland, New Zealand, Saturday, July 25, 1998 --There were three 555 Subaru World Rally Team crews competing today but that didn't improve the odds of a potential podium finish, with only...
McRae Third after Leg 1 of Rainy Rally of New Zealand
Auckland, New Zealand, Saturday, July 25, 1998 --There were three 555 Subaru World Rally Team crews competing today but that didn't improve the odds of a potential podium finish, with only Colin McRae and Nicky Grist cracking the top three spots in Leg 1 of the 1998 Rally of New Zealand. The British team-mates are currently in third position, 4.4 seconds behind overnight leader Didier Auriol, while Italians Piero Liatti and Fabrizia Pons, driving the second registered Subaru Impreza 555 WRC98, sit ninth, and new recruits Juha Kangas and Pentti Kuukkala of Finland lie 14th in their first World Championship rally outside Scandinavia.
Pouring rain did little to dampen the competition and veteran racers McRae, Carlos Sainz and Didier Auriol roared into action from the start, streaking ahead of the field though the Maramarua forests, although less than 10 seconds separated the top eight crews after two stages. McRae held the lead for four of the eight stages on the first leg, but the leading crews drove hard to reel in precious seconds over stages no longer than 8.88 km.
"We've been pushing hard but at a good pace," said Colin. "It was maybe a bit of an advantage running first on the road for the opening stage today, but other than that it hasn't made too much difference. The conditions weren't too slippy overall, instead they were inconsistent, which meant that you got grip on one corner and then lost it on the next. There was also a difference when we went over the stages for the second time. Initially there was standing water in the ruts in the road, which caused us to aquaplane in places, but then the conditions got better when we re-ran them. The times are pretty close and although today's stages all were short, if you got into a good rhythm from the start, it was possible to make up a bit of extra time. I'm pleased with our overnight position and I'm looking forward to tomorrow's longer stages."
Liatti eased into the pace on the smooth and fast-flowing stages just outside Auckland. Podium placings from both previous outings in New Zealand bodes well for the Italian who knows he can be competitive in the southern hemisphere. "When we started this morning I think I was trying too hard and the car was oversteering all over the place," said Piero. "Once I started to relax, drive in the ruts and let the car really flow, everything just happened more naturally and the speed came with it. Driving here has to be like racing; the speed comes from being neat and taking the right line."
Subaru's new recruits, Juha Kangas and co-driver Pentti Kuukkala, are not only competing in their first World Championship rally outside Scandinavia, but also for the first time in a World Rally Car. Kangas is faced with a steep learning curve and the young Finn is determined to maintain a competitive but sensible pace in his first outing with the 555 Subaru World Rally Team. "The car feels very good to me but I am still learning a lot about the way it behaves and how I can get the most from it," said the 24-year-old. "We were unlucky on stage two because the intercom broke and we had to do the whole section with no pace notes, but other than that I am happy with the pace we ran. My goal is to finish in the top 10, gain lots of experience with the team, and anything else will be a bonus."
Leg 2 of the 1998 Rally New Zealand starts at 07:00 hrs (local). The crews will contest 10 special stages over 157.91 competitive kilometres north of Auckland.