Hyundai prepared for return to gravel in New Zealand. Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team crews Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer, Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Juha Kankkunen/Juha Repo next week leave the European home of the FIA World Rally Championship...
Hyundai prepared for return to gravel in New Zealand.
Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team crews Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer, Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Juha Kankkunen/Juha Repo next week leave the European home of the FIA World Rally Championship and head to the first of two longhaul gravel events, Rally New Zealand, from 4-6 October.
Rally New Zealand is a drivers' rally and is considered by most competitors one of the firm favourites. It has characteristics not dissimilar to Finland with high speeds and relatively fine gravel but without the jumps, and New Zealand provides some of the smoothest and most flowing roads in the championship. Technical demands on the car are not high meaning it is the driver who can really make a difference to the overall result.
The Accent World Rally Car has performed well in the past in New Zealand with a fastest stage time last year permitting the Accent WRC" to lead the rally overnight on leg one, providing one of the Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team's shining moments. The team has every confidence that the Accent WRC" can achieve equal or greater success this year considering it's continually improved performance over recent events -- an opinion also echoed by the teams' crews.
The Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team drivers have contested Rally New Zealand a total of sixteen times between them but Juha Kankkunen's vast experience, including six podium finishes, speaks for itself. The four-time world Champion loves the terrain that the South Pacific island has to offer and is looking forward to the rally. "New Zealand is a really nice place and the roads are quite like those in my home country, Finland. They are very flowing and smooth and unlike Finland there are only a few jumps which means you can keep your rhythm more easily. It is also more forgiving as you don't have all the trees so close to the road so accuracy isn't quite so important," commented Kankkunen.
Armin Schwarz and Manfred Hiemer are also keen to return to New Zealand. Armin has contested the event on only two occasions but has taken points on both finishes, one of which was on the podium. In the wake of becoming a father, Armin's spirit is high and he and co-driver Manfred are ready to show exactly what their Accent WRC" can do. "I really like New Zealand and although we don't have much experience here we have had good results before. It is great to drive, a real drivers' rally --it has twisty, flowing stages with lots of grip -- unless it's raining of course, then it can be slippery! But if conditions are like last year then we have a good road position to start so we will have to use that to our advantage. We will be using all new notes so that will require a lot of concentration through the stages on the recce but I really don't feel we have anything to worry about," explained Schwarz. "I have also just become a father for the first time and I can't tell you how good that makes me feel. Maybe my daughter will give me that extra bit of luck!"
Belgian team-mates Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets also consider New Zealand a favourite -- "Along with Sweden and Australia it has to be one of the best rallies in the World Rally Championship," said Loix. "As Armin mentioned we have a good start position here for the first leg of the rally so we should be able to maximise on that. But honestly, the car is going so well at the moment that there really isn't any reason why we shouldn't be able to get a good result here. We have the speed -- we have proved that quite consistently now -- and the feeling is fantastic so I have a good feeling for this rally," said 31-year-old Loix.
According to Sven Smeets, co-driver to Freddy Loix, "If the weather is dry then road position becomes very important. A few years ago when the rally was run in the winter it was always a bit wet so road position wasn't so important. But now the rally has moved nearer springtime the roads are drier with more loose gravel on the surface meaning that the cars which are first on the road lose time having to sweep it clean.
"The roads typically have quite bad camber and it can change from one camber to another quite frequently. In Finland it is the same but only for a few corners -- in New Zealand it is the case on 50-60% of the rally.
"Mechanically the rally is not so hard and it is really the drivers who make the difference. I like the rally -- it's fast and flowing with only a few jumps so you can keep a constant speed more easily. Although the rally is run in three different areas of the country there isn't a big difference between them. The route north on leg two is a bit faster and it also has the 59km stage which I think is the longest special stage this year."
Rally New Zealand uses three different locations for each of the rally's three legs. Leg one takes crews south west of the Auckland Rally HQ base to the forests near the international surfing venue Raglan, covering 117.16 competitive kilometres over eight special stages, concluding with a double run of the spectator-friendly Manukau superspecial stage. Leg two heads north and is the longest of the rally covering 206.69 kilometres of competition over ten timed tests, including the longest special stage of the year, the 59km Parahi/Ararua. Leg two also demands 17 hours behind the wheel with crews starting at 06:00hrs and not returning to the overnight parc ferme until 23:00hrs. The final eight stages and 90.19 competitive kilometres take place in the forests around Te Kauwhata south of Auckland, before surviving crews return to the Manukau finish ramp at 15:30. New Zealand is GMT +12 hours.