Rallying's Hamilton! With just days to go before the start of the 2007 Rugby World Cup, the World Rally Championship heads to a country steeped in rugby tradition for the 11th round of the season. New Zealand's stages are considered to be...
With just days to go before the start of the 2007 Rugby World Cup, the World Rally Championship heads to a country steeped in rugby tradition for the 11th round of the season. New Zealand's stages are considered to be amongst the finest and most technical challenging of the season. Meanwhile, this fixture is practically a second home for the Finns, but Sebastien Loeb and Petter Solberg have also enjoyed their moment of glory here, as has BFGoodrich which secured its first world title in rallying in Hamilton last year in association with its partner Ford.
While Formula 1 has Lewis Hamilton, the world rallying has its annual visit to the Kiwis' Hamilton, the kiwi of course being the flightless bird that has become New Zealand's national emblem, along with the silver fern, a flowerless member of the epiphyte family of which some 13,000 different species exist on the planet.
In Hamilton, the sleepy town situated to the south of Auckland that hosts the 11th round of the 2007 World Rally Championship, it's not a silver fern that the WRC stars will be chasing after. Instead, they will be fighting for golden laurels, a much rarer and far more sought after species...
The WRC drivers see the Rally New Zealand as a special treat, an exhilarating cocktail of fast, challenging stages, cambered corners and 'corkscrew' turns that snake past lush green prairies and giant kauri trees. The roads themselves are covered by a deep coating of gravel over which the mission of the tyres is to ensure faultless cornering stability and also clear the loose top-surface with a view to optimising grip.
BFGoodrich see as one of the most crucial factors. "This year's event takes place at the end of the southern hemisphere winter, two months earlier than in 2006," observes Patrick Letort, BFGoodrich's Chief Technician. "At this time of year, conditions should be fairly dry, whereas we had three days of non-stop rain last year. Although the stages are identical to those used in 2006, it will be a very different rally altogether for us. Indeed, this will be the first and probably only time this season that we see the drivers nominate the full spectrum of compounds available in the g-Force Gravel range."
The change of season and the need for drivers to nominate their individual tyre packages as early as July, two months before the start, left them with little choice than to select a complete cross-section of the tyres made available by BFGoodrich for the different potential conditions.
That said, they do have the opportunity to nominate 12 'joker' tyres today (Friday, August 24) depending on the latest weather forecasts for the Hamilton region. These 12 tyres must replace 12 of the tyres originally nominated in July.
QUOTA. Priority 1 drivers have a maximum quota of 60 tyres, of which they are authorised to use up to 38 (rally + shakedown). These tyres were registered with the FIA on July 16.
12 'JOKER' TYRES. For 'long-haul' rallies, priority drivers have the possibility of trading 12 of their originally nominated tyres for alternative choices. These so-called 'jokers' had to be nominated by today, Friday August 24.
THE COMPLETE RANGE. In New Zealand, BFGoodrich runners will have the full range of g-Force Gravel tyres available, from the extra-soft '8-' compound for rain to the '9+' hard compound should the weather turn out to be fine and hot.
TARGETING A FIFTH WIN. Marcus Gronholm (Ford/BFGoodrich) will be aiming for a fifth victory in New Zealand, an event he has already won at the wheel of three different cars (Peugeot 206 WRC, Peugeot 307 WRC, Ford Focus WRC). This rally has been won nine times by Finnish drivers.
START ORDER. The New Zealand stages are covered by a deep top-coating of gravel. In dry weather, drivers running first on the road are consequently at a disadvantage. As leader of the Drivers' championship, Marcus Gronholm will be the first to tackle Friday's opening two stages (one of which is 43.88km). To clear this top coating in search of good grip deeper down, the patterns of the BFGoodrich g-Force Gravel tyres can be 're-cut' at service.
THE 2006 MANUFACTURERS' TITLE. The BP-Ford team has good reason to remember the 2006 event because it was in New Zealand that it made sure of last year's Manufacturers' crown to give the BFGoodrich brand its first world title in rallying. This year, BP-Ford goes to New Zealand with a 41-point lead over Citroen- Total.
PRODUCTION-WRC. At the season's midpoint, with two second places and one win to his name (in Greece), Japan's Toshi Arai (Subaru/BFGoodrich) tops the provisional standings, 14 points ahead of Mark Higgins.
RALLY POR LAS PAMPAS. During the Rally New Zealand, BFGoodrich tyres will also be contesting South America's Rally Por Las Pampas (round three of the FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup) which runs from the south of Argentina to the Atacama Desert in Chile. Mitsubishi/BFGoodrich's Luc Alphand/Gilles Picard will be looking for a second consecutive win on this event which starts in San Carlos Bariloche on August 27 and finishes in Iquique, northern Chile, on September 5.
RACING IN THE USA. On September 7-8, BFGoodrich tyres will also be active on Nevada's 'Terrible?s Primm 300', penultimate round of the 2007 American Score Offroad series. The 'Class 1' entry list includes former WRC driver Armin Schwarz (Proto/BFGoodrich).