Kankkunen and Loix score Hyundai double honours in New Zealand. Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team crews Juha Kankkunen/Juha Repo, Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer drove a fantastic Rally New Zealand scoring three points...
Kankkunen and Loix score Hyundai double honours in New Zealand.
Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team crews Juha Kankkunen/Juha Repo, Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer drove a fantastic Rally New Zealand scoring three points for the Korean manufacturer on the teams best result of the season. Kankkunen and Loix also scored equivalent driver points with their fifth and sixth respective finishing places and team-mate Schwarz brought his Accent WRC" to the finish ramp in 10th position.
On an event where the Hyundai Accent WRC has a history of good performance, this year was no exception with the WRC"s speed challenging the Fords, keeping Mitsubishi and Skoda well at bay and the rewards reaped were well deserved. Hyundai was also the only manufacturer to achieve a 100% finishing rate, bringing all its cars to the end of the rally.
The roads in New Zealand are considered by most as some of the best in the FIA World Rally Championship. The gravel is fine on a hard bedrock with constantly changing camber that the driver can use to his advantage. The main difficulty with the stages is that they are dry, dusty with lots of loose gravel which are characteristics adopted since the event was moved from its traditional winter setting to the New Zealand springtime when rain showers are few and far between, which means that whoever runs first on the road acts a sweeper for crews behind.
Hyundai's Finnish crew drove perfectly from beginning to end. Kankkunen stepped up the pace gradually over the first leg and a problem-free run permitted the Finn to set a string a competitive times throughout. Kankkunen has finished Rally New Zealand on the podium on six occasions and the experience combined with the sheer enjoyment of driving the Kiwi roads was a great recipe to success, and Kankkunen was pleased to boost Hyundai's overall point tally.
"I am delighted for everybody because the improvements we have made to the car and reliability here have been the best thing about this rally," said a pleased Kankkunen. "On other events we had little problems which put us out of the points but now we have changed that. I am looking forward to the next two rallies - I have won them both before, Freddy knows them well and Armin will go well, especially in Great Britain, so I think we can be certain there are more points to come," he added.
Juha's closest rival throughout the rally was team-mate Freddy Loix with whom he was level-pegging on almost every stage. Loix enjoys the special stages the South Pacific island has to offer as much as team-mate Kankkunen, and the Belgian also recorded a string of competitive times amongst which were a number that were sixth and seventh fastest. Loix and Kankkunen consistently took time from Mitsubishi and Skoda, and a host of their stage times challenged the Fords.
Freddy started the rally as he meant to go on and it was only a bad tyre choice on the opening stage and a spin on SS3 which prevented immediate progress. But the Belgian was fired up enough to make up lost time and was relentless in fighting back.
"I have been fighting for points for a long time and I hope this result is the start of many more to come," said 31-year-old Loix. "But the team deserves this result so much. We have been close before but bad luck has spoilt things for us. Now we have some rewards for all the hard work everyone has put in."
Team-mates Armin Schwarz and Manfred Hiemer had a more difficult drive and having not contested the event since 1995, Schwarz was working from brand new pace notes for the rally in its entirety so he made a cautious start, preferring to find a rhythm, which paid off with a sixth fastest stage time by SS5.
Running among the first few cars on the road on leg two and first on the road on the final day really prevented the German pair from setting any further competitive times and the drive to finish in 10th was a challenge. "It can only get better in Australia, but I am pleased we got all three cars back in the top ten," said a philosophical Schwarz.
Praising the performance of the Accent WRC" he said, "The car was perfect throughout and only road position has spoilt my rally. The car is better in every way and I am looking forward to the next two rounds because the road position issue can't be any worse than this and the car gives us a real chance to compete. Australia isn't one of my favourites but then we have GB and that's a rally I really like."
Buoyed by the team's performance, David Whitehead, Team Principal, added in conclusion, "This is the result we wanted before the event started. These points take us level with Mitsubishi and that has been our target since the beginning of the year. The performance improvements we have made and the excellent reliability we have shown is testimony to all the hard work that everyone in the team has put in this year."
News from our rivals
The final leg delivered a flurry of excitement on the last few stages of the day when Carlos Sainz (Ford) went off the road damaging the suspension. The Spaniard lost 10 seconds but held onto his position and repairs allowed him to continue. Hydraulic problems for Harri Rovanpera (Peugeot) meant his car reverted the active differential and automatic gearbox to their manual counterparts and combined with a lack of power steering made competitive progress difficult for the Finn. Rovanpera's lead was comfortable enough to hold onto second place however behind team-mate Marcus Gronholm and ahead of Tommi Makinen (Subaru) who was promoted to third after team-mate Petter Solberg's sudden retirement on the penultimate stage of the day. The win for Gronholm also clinches the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers in conjunction with his team taking the Manufacturer's title. (Note: Both titles subject to FIA confirmation)
The penultimate round of the FIA World Rally Championship stays in Australasia for the final dose of Championship sun at Rally Australia, running from 4-6 October.