Alister McRae third in group N after day one in New Zealand Scottish rally driver Alister McRae completed the first of three days of competition in this year's Rally New Zealand in an excellent 14th place overall and third in Group N, and took...
Alister McRae third in group N after day one in New Zealand
Scottish rally driver Alister McRae completed the first of three days of competition in this year's Rally New Zealand in an excellent 14th place overall and third in Group N, and took the heat win in the New Zealand Rally Championship category to boot. The former British Rally Champion, partnered by co-driver Erin Kyle and driving the KPMG-sponsored Taylor Motorsport Mitsubishi Lancer EvoIX, set competitive times throughout the leg, over the soft New Zealand stages.
Heavy rain overnight before the start of the event gave way to clear skies but low temperatures. This had the effect of binding the famous loose gravel together, giving early cars on the road an advantage. However, it did mean that for later cars like Alister, the roads would be muddier and looser and therefore, traction would be harder to find.
New Zealand is McRae's favourite event in the WRC and he was obviously at home on the fast and flowing gravel stages. His experience on the event, when driving for the works Hyundai and Mitsubishi rally teams showed, with a string of top ten stage times in the Group N category. However, it's not just stage times which make for success, as Alister knows and a pragmatic approach ensured that he not only set impressive times in his first outing in the car and with Kyle, he avoided incidents which cost other competitors significant time and places.
Following the first of the day's five stages, he was lying in 21st place overall and eighth in Group N. However, despite a split engine turbo boost pipe on the second stage for seven kilometres, his performance, combined with staying out of trouble meant that he climbed up the leader-board by two places.
It would be the second run through the 44Km Waitomo stage that would give him the biggest advantage though, even with further problems. The Scot clipped a rock which had been pulled out of the bank at the side of the road and bent his Mitsubishi's steering, completing 15Km of the stage with the suspension geometry damaged.
However, two of the regular FIA Production car World Rally Championship runners ahead of him, Toshi Arai and Juho Hanninen suffered problems on the stage, as did local driver Richard Mason, promoting Alister by three places in the category and to 15th overall. A short blast round the Mystery Creek Superspecial in Hamilton gave the Scot another overall position, to 14th, as Manfred Stohl suffered problems in the Citroen Xsara World Rally Car.
Arriving back at the Hamilton service park, McRae was understandably pleased with the day's work; "It's been a pretty good day today," he said. "I was a bit disappointed to bend the steering in the penultimate stage, as we were only a few seconds behind Niall [McShea] going into the stage and we were having a big push to get in front of him. But we've been improving the car throughout the day and have made more changes this evening, so I'm hopeful we'll be able to close the gap tomorrow.
"The road conditions today were quite slippery, as the overnight rain and the cars before us meant they were quite churned up. But it hasn't rained today and I hope it stays dry overnight. This will mean that the roads will dry out and hopefully, we'll have an advantage over the earlier runners, which will again help us to improve our position."
There was more to celebrate for McRae at the end of the first leg, as he won the first of the event's two heats that form part of the New Zealand Rally Championship round. There are points awarded for the finishing positions in the NZRC category on both Friday and Saturday, as well as an overall result from both days. So there are potentially four results Alister is fighting for; two NZRC heat wins, the NZRC overall win and his WRC result.
"I'm delighted to take the NZRC heat win today, on the first event with Erin co-driving, with Taylor Motorsport and of course with our sponsors, KPMG and Waikato Milking Systems. We'll obviously be trying hard to win tomorrow's heat as well, along with the overall NZRC round win. We'll also push hard for the best result we can in the WRC category."