Solberg has overnight lead in Rally New Zealand Norwegian Petter Solberg, driving his privately-entered Citroen C4 world rally car, leads Rally New Zealand, after the first day of competition on ultra-slippery gravel roads north of ...
Solberg has overnight lead in Rally New Zealand
Norwegian Petter Solberg, driving his privately-entered Citroen C4 world rally car, leads Rally New Zealand, after the first day of competition on ultra-slippery gravel roads north of Auckland.
Solberg, a firm favourite with New Zealand rally fans, set the pace in the fifth round of the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship from the outset, winning stage one and opening a narrow lead over Sebastien Ogier's similar car, despite running second on the road.
For world champion and 2010 series leader, Sebastien Loeb who was driving first on the road in his works Citroen, the thick gravel on the dry Northland roads was a nightmare. "There was absolutely no grip," he said. "It was like driving a boat." After stage one he was fourth overall.
Worse was to come for Loeb on the morning's final test on Cassidy Road when the Frenchman hit a bridge and completed the stage holding the door shut with his left elbow. He dropped to eighth overall, 1m 40.3 seconds behind the then rally leader, his teammate Dani Sordo.
Loeb fought back strongly in the four afternoon gravel stages, which included three repeat runs through the morning's tests. He took one stage win and finished second in three. By the end of the day he was seventh, 1m 19.8s behind the rally leader. "I push it really, really hard but it's difficult to make (up any time)," he said after the final gravel stage.
Loeb will face a mammoth task to claw his way through the field tomorrow, but will benefit from running seventh on the road.
Works Ford Focus WRC driver Jari-Matti Latvala finished the day second, handily placed behind Solberg, with Ogier third, ahead of Sordo and Ford drivers, Mikko Hirvonen and Matthew Wilson.
Loeb and Ogier finished the day with the same time for the Auckland domain tarmac stage in front of a massive crowd. Solberg starts tomorrow's eight special stages in the north-western Waikato in the unenviable position of first car on the road, as the second day's starting order is determined the positions in which drivers finish day one. Like Loeb today, Solberg will sweep the special stages clear of loose gravel.
Solberg is unfazed by running as first car. "This is just how it is -- no choice." He says he can still set fast stage times even though he'll be "sweeping" the road. His lead over Latvala is a slender 1.4 seconds.
Finn Jari Ketomaa leads the Super 2000 World Rally Championship class for non-turbo four-wheel-drive cars in his Ford Fiesta S2000, from the similar cars of Xavier Pons and Martin Prokop.
New Zealanders are firmly in control in the Production World Rally Championship (Group N) category, with Pirelli Star Driver Hayden Paddon (Lancer) leading Emma Gilmour (Subaru Impreza STI) and Kingsley Thomson in a Czech-entered Lancer. Paddon is 15th overall, Gilmour 18th and Thompson 23rd.
Former Production Car World Champion Toshi Arai withdrew his Subaru after wrecking the rear suspension cross-member when he clouted a bridge on the morning's final test, and the early Group N leader, New Zealander Richard Mason, dropped out of the event 8.8 kilometres into stage six after going off the road, and both crews are expected to re-start tomorrow under the SupeRally rules.
The first New Zealander at the end of day one was Auckland's Mark Tapper in a Group A Mitsubishi Lancer. Tapper finished the day 12th, having started 29th.
Rally New Zealand continues with eight stages on Saturday around the Franklin and North Waikato, including a full day of motorsport action at the Hampton Down super special carnival. The 40th running of this iconic event finishes on Sunday with four high-speed special stages near Raglan, and the cars will cross the finish ramp at Viaduct Harbour on the Auckland waterfront at 3pm Sunday.