Rally NZ Toyota Castrol preview

Toyota Castrol Team back in action after mid-season break Following the six-week break from World Rally Championship competition, the Toyota Castrol Team returns to action in New Zealand, round nine of the 1998 championship. Carlos Sainz and ...

Toyota Castrol Team back in action after mid-season break

Following the six-week break from World Rally Championship competition, the Toyota Castrol Team returns to action in New Zealand, round nine of the 1998 championship. Carlos Sainz and Didier Auriol, drivers of the two Toyota Corolla WRCs, continue their bids to secure the Drivers' title. In a tradition which has proved popular this year, the two Corollas will carry a locally-themed livery -- for New Zealand, red and green Kiwi birds will feature on the flanks of the cars.

Refreshed from the mid-season break both men believe that the red, white and green Corollas will be in the heat of battle when the rally begins from Manukau, just south of Auckland on New Zealand's north island. "The performance of the cars in the gravel rallies this year - Portugal, Argentina and Greece - has been very competitive," says Auriol, who finished second in Greece's Acropolis Rally. "I think that we will be strong again in New Zealand although the conditions there are a little bit different to the ones on the other rallies this year."

"I am hoping for a good performance in New Zealand. I think that I have been driving very well in the recent rallies, although I was unlucky in Argentina and then Greece, where I feel I should have won. Perhaps New Zealand will be my chance," says the Frenchman, who will be partnered by regular co-driver Denis Giraudet.

Both Auriol and Sainz have good records in New Zealand. Auriol finished second in 1995, his last visit to the rally. The Spaniard's first entry netted victory in 1990 on his way to the World Champion's crown. Since then he and co-driver Luis Moya have been on the top step of the podium on three other occasions, even though his most recent visit -- in 1997 -- resulted in second place after a spectacular encounter with a sheep.

"Last year was not the best memory of New Zealand, I prefer to remember the victories" admits the 36-year old Spaniard. "Now though I feel good about our chances. We had a good test in June where we were able to work on the suspension, and New Zealand is one of the rallies where you have to be able to get a good balance with the car. The stages are quite flowing but the camber of the road changes a lot, so it is important to have the car floating across the surface. Sometimes, when you are going quickly, it is like a roller coaster ride."

With his victory in Monte Carlo and Auriol's success in Spain, plus a number of top three finishes between them, the Toyota Castrol Team lies well-placed in the Manufacturers' series. Following the cancellation of the Rally of Indonesia, schedule for September, only five rounds of the 1998 championship now remain. Toyota Motorsport's president Ove Andersson admits that the battle to the end of the year will be a tough one.

"Everything is still so close between Toyota, Mitsubishi, Subaru and Ford. It is a tribute to the championship that the competition is so close -- you never know who is going to win each round of the series" he admits. "We are working hard to find improvements, and we know the opposition is as well. You cannot afford to stop thinking ahead."

In an attempt to find an advantage over the opposition, the Toyota Castrol Team has worked hard on development. Test driver Freddy Loix, who stormed to success in the Ypres rally in his native Belgium in June at the wheel of a Marlboro Toyota Castrol Team Belgium Corolla WRC, completed a number of successful engine tests in July.

Rising German star and winner of the recent Deutschland Rally Matthias Kahle also lent his support, completing the final shakedown testing on the two New Zealand cars before they were freighted out from Toyota Team Europe's base in Koln, Germany.

Alongside the two factory-entered Toyota Castrol Team Corollas in New Zealand, former Safari Rally winner Yoshio Fujimoto will make his Corolla WRC debut. The Japanese, partnered by Tony Sircombe, is contesting the Asia Pacific Rally Championship, of which New Zealand is a round.

The ninth round of the World Rally Championship is based in Manukau City, south of Auckland, where the first, Super Special stage will be held on Friday 24th July. The next day the rally heads into the forest stages at Maramarua, completing eight short runs before the return to Manukau. Day two bases itself north of Auckland in Mangaturoto with 10 special stages, prior to the third day's run south, including the longest stage Te Koraha which is over 47 kilometres in length. The winner will be crowned at 19.00 local time, back at the finish in Manukau.

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Carlos Sainz , Freddy Loix , Didier Auriol , Luis Moya , Tony Sircombe , Denis Giraudet