Rally New Zealand onboard with Barratt and Moscatt The 2006 Propecia Rally New Zealand proved to be a high speed, slip and slide through the beautiful and lush Waikato region of New Zealand's North Island. Rain falls made the...
Rally New Zealand onboard with Barratt and Moscatt
The 2006 Propecia Rally New Zealand proved to be a high speed, slip and slide through the beautiful and lush Waikato region of New Zealand's North Island. Rain falls made the event a true challenge but it was gearbox failure that stopped Natalie Barratt and Dale Moscatt, just three stages from the finish line!
With 358 kilometres of competition roads ahead, Natalie and Dale began Friday morning's stages with an electrical gremlin and a puncture but the duo toughed out this rough start to make it through 14 of the 17 stages on offer, before gearbox failure ended their rally late on Sunday.
A 27th fastest time among the fierce WRC and local competition on stage one was followed by a plummet down the order on stage two, when the OMV CEE team's Lancer cut out mid stage. This was coupled with a puncture near the end of that same stage, making for a frustrating start to the event.
"I think frustrated and disappointed are both words that come to mind but the whole team felt it, not just us in the car. The car just stopped about 18 kilometres into stage two and then refused to start again. It had battery power to crank over but wouldn't run," explained Dale. "We obviously tried everything we could that was fuel or electrically related to that sort of issue but nothing seemed to work."
"In the end I was checking all of the hose plumbing, air filter, etc when it mysteriously roared back into life. When it came good it was remarkably back to 100 percent and away we went," said Dale. "But around 5 minutes had unfortunately been lost and just to kick us while we were down we picked up a front left puncture near the end of the stage, which we drove out on."
Stage three again saw the team slowed to 35th on stage but by stages four and five, they were back into a rhythm. "Our mechanics went to work at the mid-day service and, without finding the actual source of the problem, replaced all the usual suspects and we were on our way again," explained Dale. "We stopped a few kilometres before the first afternoon test to do our tyre pressures only to find that when we went to leave the car wouldn't start again."
"Eventually the gremlin went away again and we made it to the stage without penalty but left the car running for the rest of the day, hoping it wouldn't happen again. At the evening service the lads traced the problem to a faulty isolation switch, that when heated up would open circuit to some of the outputs. It's bad when such a small inexpensive part can bring down the whole show the way it did but the guy's did a great job in finding the fault," said Dale gratefully.
As leg one drew to a close, Natalie and Dale were back in 35th position and quickly set about raising this during leg two. The first stage of Saturday however, also saw the team slowed to 38th on stage by the extreme conditions, as tyres quickly became the issue of the day during an unexpected down pour. "It was certainly, in hindsight, a bad tyre call for the conditions that eventuated but the call had to be made so far in advance that it is always a gamble with the fragile weather on the rugged West Coast of New Zealand," said Dale.
From here the team climbed up ten places by the end of the day, after setting steady stage times in the pouring rain. For the remaining five stages of Saturday the team managed times in the mid twenties and were happy with their efforts to get back up to 25th place by the end of leg two.
"The stages were extremely difficult in those conditions and I ended up getting under the car (and covered in mud in the process) mid morning to adjust the damper settings between stages. It did improve the setup a little which gave us a little more confidence," said Dale.
At this stage of the event Marcus Gronholm had a strong lead and with team mate, Mikko Hirvonen in second, it looked more than likely that Ford would finally take the home the constructor's title for the first time since 1979! Valentino Rossi was also making his mark on rallying, setting a seventh quickest time on stage eleven and showing that confidence at speed can transcend from two wheels to four.
Leg three and the excitement was building, almost as much as the relief of crossing the finish line in the tricky conditions. Many had crashed, with even some of the more experienced local drivers falling foul of the conditions, including national champion, Chris West and rising star, Emma Gilmour. Natalie and Dale again hovered around the mid twenties in the stage times and were pleased with their progress.
"Sunday's stages were back to the famous roads we all know in the Raglan area and we were really happy to be heading into familiar territory," said Dale. "Natalie drove extremely well on the first two tests and I was really looking forward to the famous Whaanga Coast stage next, which is the scene of where Cody (Crocker) and I took our historic Group N victory at last year's event."
"Natalie admits to also loving this stage, despite remarking that it hasn't always bought her so much luck. We fired off into the stage and all was certainly going well until we exited a bend at around the seven kilometre mark and struck a very large rock in the middle of the road. It made a big thump under the sump guard but we stayed on the road and kept pushing on."
"Unfortunately around one and half kilometres later we lost all drive and had to park up next to the stage and withdraw from the rally. It is amazing that luck can deal you such a nasty hand at some events, especially after getting through so much drama earlier in the rally but this time it was terminal," explained Dale.
"We were about as far away from the service park as you could get but Natalie's father, Frank was up in a nearby chopper and came to our rescue. So the weekend ended with a nice spot of spectating in style from the air," grinned Dale. "We managed to follow our team boss, Manfred Stohl through the repeat of the Whaanga Coast stage in the chopper and witness as Manfred and co-driver, Ilka Minor achieved a well earned 3rd place podium finish in their Peugeot WRC."
"It has got to be the most fantastic way to see the cars and the stages and I also got to follow my good friends, Jari-Matti (Latvala) and Mikka through this stage as they recorded their second straight PWRC victory. So I guess if it was our job to steal all the bad luck so these two crews could have a good run, then we did a fantastic job," joked Dale.
By the stage seventeen finale it was Marcus Gronholm in first, 56 seconds ahead of team mate Mikko Hirvonen in second, with Manfred Stohl in third. Pons took fourth, Sordo fifth, Petter Solberg sixth and Perez Companc seventh. First PWRC and eighth outright was won my Jari-Matti Latvala, with Richard Mason taking tenth position and the honour of first New Zealander home.
Rossi finished his second rally much better than his first, to be just 18 seconds outside of the top ten and eleventh. Australian Championship favourites, Kevin Shaw and John Allen were the only Aussies home in 25th, after Chris Atkinson damaged his roll cage when a wheel was pushed back into the chassis. The type of damage sustained meant that Atkinson was unable to restart on Sunday.
For Ford it was a double celebration after Marcus and Mikko had spent the weekend teasing team boss, Malcolm Wilson who was rather stressed until Ford secured the Constructor's title come Sunday afternoon. Drenched to the skin in champagne and close to tears, Malcolm Wilson was one very happy man as the two Focus's crossed the finish line.
In the PWRC championship, it was Al-Attiyah who has now won the 2006 title despite finishing the event with the car in the super-rally impound after problems during the final leg. His nearest rival, Fumio Nutahara crash out shortly after Al-Attiyah suffered engine failure, leaving the title safe in the hands of Al-Attiyah and co-driver, Chris Patterson.
As the WRC now returns to Europe for the season finale in Wales in a fortnight's time, Dale has returned to Sydney for a much needed break. With no mathematical chance of taking the Chinese Championship title with Xu Lang, Dale has now opted to sit out what would have been his final rally in China because of commitments at home in Australia.
"This has been an epic year for me to say the least," said Dale. "There has been obvious highs and lows throughout the season but the experience I have gained through all of the international events and dealing with the social and cultural differences you find overseas has only strengthened my passion to expand my career and push on down this path even faster into the future."
"I am so grateful to everyone who has helped me this year and would like to take this opportunity to thank them all whole heartedly," said Dale. "It is your support and enthusiasm that helps to keep me focussed on my goals for the future and I look forward to sharing that journey with all of you again soon."