Rain, rain and more rain for Ford in New Zealand Ford World Rally team drivers Juha Kankkunen and Bruno Thiry made a solid start to the Rally New Zealand, round nine of the FIA World Rally Championship, which began with a solitary super special...
Rain, rain and more rain for Ford in New Zealand
Ford World Rally team drivers Juha Kankkunen and Bruno Thiry made a solid start to the Rally New Zealand, round nine of the FIA World Rally Championship, which began with a solitary super special stage on the fringes of Auckland this evening. Kankkunen's Valvoline-backed Escort was sixth fastest, just 2.8 seconds behind stage winner Carlos Sainz, with team-mate Thiry 5.5 seconds behind his Finnish team-mate.
Heavy rain failed to deter the spectators, a large crowd braving the elements to watch the spectacular 2.10km floodlit stage in which two drivers at a time raced head-to-head over a treacherously muddy track. The stage was tackled in reverse seeding order and the mud dragged onto the road by the lower numbers made conditions incredibly slippery for the big-name drivers, several of whom failed to break into the top 10 times.
Both Kankkunen and Thiry are driving brand new Escorts. The team has no plans to build further new cars this season so those in action in New Zealand are likely to be the last-ever works Escort rally cars, ending a glorious history which dates back 30 years. Next year the Ford World Rally team will compete with an entirely new model, currently under development.
Torrential rain during the past few weeks has left the stages in slippery condition, although Kankkunen, winner of this rally in 1986, said the roads during the recce earlier this week were not as wet as he feared. "Yes, they're slippery but considering the vast amount of rain which has fallen on this part of New Zealand recently, the stages were drier than I thought," said the 39-year-old Finn, who is co-driven by Juha Repo.
Thiry and co-driver Stephane Prevot are competing on only their second Rally New Zealand but the Belgian is already a fan of the event. "They're beautiful roads here, perhaps the best in the world to drive on, along with Finland. It will be a tough rally, because the second and third legs are both very long but we know the Escort is highly competitive on smooth gravel so we're confident," said Thiry.
The rally begins in earnest tomorrow when the opening leg continues in the Maramarua Forest complex to the south-east of Auckland. Drivers restart at 09.30 returning to the city at 16.30 after six gravel stages and a repeat of tonight's super special stage. The shortest leg of the rally, tomorrow's action offers only 46km of competition, the entire day containing fewer stage kilometres than the opening test of Monday's final leg - a daunting 47.43km.