Propecia Rally New Zealand, 3-6 October 2002 The Event Just two weeks after the last event in Italy, round 12 of the FIA World Rally Championship starts next week, as teams cross the globe to contest Rally New Zealand. 81 cars are expected to...
Propecia Rally New Zealand, 3-6 October 2002
Just two weeks after the last event in Italy, round 12 of the FIA World Rally Championship starts next week, as teams cross the globe to contest Rally New Zealand. 81 cars are expected to compete in this year's event, which will begin with a ceremonial start at 1915hrs on Thursday 3 October in the host city of Auckland.
Famed for its popular loose-surface, gravel stages, which run through lush countryside, this year's Propecia Rally New Zealand will no doubt, once again, offer a tantalisingly close battle for victory. Last year, after a total of 381.45 competitive km, the top five drivers were separated by less than a minute.
Previously covering both the North and South Islands, Rally New Zealand now takes place in a more concentrated area around Auckland on the North Island. The event comprises 26 special stages and covers 414 competitive kilometres - including the huge 59km Parahi test on Leg 2. Rally HQ is situated at the famous Sky City complex which, measuring in at 168 metres, is the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere.
In 2001 Propecia Rally New Zealand was named the FIA Rally of the Year, jointly with the Swedish Rally. The award was presented by all the FIA registered teams in recognition of the high standards of the rally and its popularity with the drivers.
With just three events remaining this season, the drivers' championship is promising a thrilling climax with Marcus Gronholm, Richard Burns, Colin McRae and Gilles Panizzi all remaining in contention for the 2002 crown.
The 555 Subaru World Rally Team will revert to a two car entry for the Propecia Rally New Zealand. Team regulars four-times World Champion Tommi Mäkinen and Petter Solberg will each contest the event in a Subaru Impreza WRC2002.
Having previously contested this event nine times and having won in 1999, Tommi will be looking to get another victory under his belt at this rally to boost his overall drivers championship standings. Petter, still fresh from his podium finish in Sanremo, will be aiming to build his experience on this rally, which he has contested just once before in 2001. He finished seventh, collecting manufacturers points for Subaru.
Tommi Mäkinen: "Obviously it was very disappointing not to be able to get a result in Sanremo after how well the pre-event test went - but there are positives and you can see the step we took forward by the speed we had on asphalt. We must now concentrate on New Zealand. We did a very good gravel test in Finland last month for five days where we made some positive steps forward. We should be very competitive in New Zealand and I am really looking forward to it."
Petter Solberg: "I am very happy after the result in Sanremo and I am so ready for New Zealand. My confidence is good because we had a clean run and the car felt very good. We have done a lot of work and I am hopeful that the car will perform as well on the gravel as it did on tarmac so that we can really challenge the Peugeot's. I hope we will have a good rally. Even though I am happy with the Sanremo result there is still two places higher to get and now I just want to improve more and more."
Team principal David Lapworth said: "In many ways New Zealand is the purest rally of the year and is quite similar to Finland. You don't get jumps like in Finland but the rally features the best roads of the Championship and the cars, generally, do not get damaged. The roads are properly constructed, not just tracks across the mountains like, for instance, in Greece.
A big factor to be prepared for is road clearing. If the weather is good and dry it is vital to get a good road position to avoid sweeping the gravel from the road at the head of the field. If you are caught sleeping on the first day you will pay the price for the next two days. If the weather is wet then it will be a far more level playing field and it may even be advantageous to run at the front of the field.
Looking at the car, we've continued to refine the set up of the Impreza following changes we identified in Finland. We had a very good development test in September where we used roads representative of New Zealand.
I think the team has had a confidence boost following Petter's result in Sanremo. We were able to compete with the Peugeots on one of their strongest events and that gives us confidence on the gravel in New Zealand, which has always been one of our strongest rallies."
Between the Rallies
Petter Solberg had just 24 hours with his family after Rally Sanremo finished - just enough time to celebrate the first birthday of his son, Oliver - before flying directly from Italy to New Zealand. Petter is at the wheel of an Impreza WRC2002 today and tomorrow racking up miles at a pre-event test before beginning the reconnaissance on Monday.
Tommi Mäkinen attended the Paris Motorshow yesterday where he unveiled the prototype for the Subaru Impreza WRC2003. With revisions to the engine, roll-cage, body panels and aerodynamic package, the prototype is the latest evolution of the Impreza model and is the result of a new integrated design process between Prodrive in the UK and Subaru in Japan. You can see the images of the prototype at www.swrt.com. Tommi is currently on his way to New Zealand where he will take over testing duties on Sunday.