Dream start ends in disappointment for Alister McRae in New Zealand After a dream start to his one-off return to the FIA World Rally Championship in New Zealand, when he won the New Zealand Rally Championship category of the event...
Dream start ends in disappointment for Alister McRae in New Zealand
After a dream start to his one-off return to the FIA World Rally Championship in New Zealand, when he won the New Zealand Rally Championship category of the event convincingly, Alister McRae was cruelly denied the overall Group N win of the event at the last moment. Having lead the class from the beginning of the second leg, the former works Hyundai and Mitsubishi driver suffered a puncture 10Km from the end of the penultimate stage and the time lost in changing the tyre meant that he dropped from a convincing lead to ninth in class and 21st overall.
Alister had already clinched both Friday and Saturday's heat wins of the NZRC category of the event and with them, the overall win in the national class. With seven stages between him and the finish ramp in Hamilton, he knew exactly what he needed to do to secure the outright Group N win on his first WRC event in almost a year.
Rain throughout the preceding night and during the morning meant that the first loop of three stages was very slippery and treacherous. However, Alister started the day with an almost-30 second lead over Niall McShea in Group N. He and co-driver Erin Kyle settled into a pace that would ensure they remained ahead of the Irishman, as well as the FIA Production car World Rally Championship leader, Toshi Arai.
While Arai managed to close the gap slightly during the morning, the second loop of stages were beginning to dry and Alister maintained his lead and even opened it slightly, to almost 40seconds entering the last 'proper' stage of the event before the final superspecial, the 30Km Whaanga Coast test.
However, 20Km into the stage, the front-right tyre on the Taylor Motorsport-run Mitsubishi Lancer EvoIX caught a rock in one of the ruts and punctured. With 10Km of the stage left to run, over tight and twisty sections, the crew was forced to stop and change the tyre to avoid damaging the car or going off the road. The resulting three-minute time loss dropped them from the convincing class lead and 12th overall to ninth and 21st overall, by the time they returned to the finish ramp in Hamilton.
McRae was understandably bitterly disappointed; having already achieved the double win in the NZRC class and coming so close to the WRC Group N class win as well. "It's a pity we didn't get the result," he said, "especially when we were so close. The car set-up and the Silverstone tyres had been working extremely well all day. There was just a small rock step in one of the ruts and the tyre must have caught it at a funny angle and punctured. We had to stop and change it, otherwise we could have damaged the car or had an accident, which would have been far worse.
"Of course, winning both the heats, on Friday and Saturday and taking the overall win in the New Zealand Rally Championship class was a fantastic result and one which I was delighted to be able to achieve for our sponsors KPMG New Zealand, Waikato Milking Systems and for the team. KPMG and Waikato were delighted with that and the Taylor Motorsport team did a fantastic job of preparing and running the car during the event. Erin also did a superb job co-driving for me this weekend, on an event that is very challenging for an experienced crew, let alone one competing together for the first time. I have to thank all of them for their support and efforts in making this weekend, and the results we achieved, possible.
"The most frustrating thing for me is that we'd had such a good event up to that point and it looked like we were on for the result which I believe we deserved. It was a small team running the programme and it would have been fantastic to add the Group N win to the achievements this weekend. But I think we showed what we can do, even when we haven't competed in the WRC since Wales Rally GB last year and we should all be extremely proud of that."