Milestones noted as Rally New Zealand ready to start The world's top rally drivers are looking forward to tackling the best rally roads in the world on this weekend's Rally New Zealand, Round 5 of the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship ...
Milestones noted as Rally New Zealand ready to start
The world's top rally drivers are looking forward to tackling the best rally roads in the world on this weekend's Rally New Zealand, Round 5 of the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC).
After two days checking the 21 high-speed special stages in the 2010 Rally New Zealand, the drivers are itching to get cracking on the first test in Waipu Gorge, south of Whangarei on Friday morning.
Multiple world champion and 2010 series leader, Frenchman Sebastien Loeb, will be the first driver out of the blocks, in his factory team Citroen C4 WRC, and is anticipating a close battle among the international stars.
He says the nature of the roads always guarantees a close fight for victory. "It is difficult to make a big difference (in times between cars) on these roads. All the drivers like the New Zealand roads and so everyone will be going very fast," said Loeb during the pre-event press conference.
Loeb knows how difficult it is to win the New Zealand Rally, and in 2007 lost the event by three-tenths of second to works Ford Focus WRC driver, Marcus Gronholm, on the event's final special stage at Mystery Creek.
Kiwi rally fan favourite, Norwegian Petter Solberg, who is driving his privately-entered Citroen, says he'll be doing everything he can to take championship points away from Loeb, and is encouraged by his car's pace against the works teams in the rallies run so far this season.
Ford factory driver Jari-Matti Latvala likens driving on the New Zealand roads to dancing with the car, as it darts from corner to corner. As the car crosses the camber in the road it sometimes becomes a little airborne. "It's just like it's turning all the time and that's why I say it's a bit like dancing."
New Zealand's top rally drivers start the event in confident mood, looking for placings on the production class podium. Subaru drivers Richard Mason and Emma Gilmour and their Mitsubishi rivals, Hayden Paddon and Chris West, will vie for supremacy with Japan's Toshi Arai (Subaru), a former production car world champion.
Friday's competition includes eight stages in the Maungaturoto area in Northland, ending with an evening stage in the Auckland Domain. There are eight stages in northwest Waikato on Saturday, and four stages at Raglan on Sunday, ending with the world-renowned Whaanga Coast test.
The field includes 27 international drivers from 17 countries, and with a total competitive distance of 396 kilometres, Rally New Zealand 2010 is the longest event on the World Rally Championship calendar since Rally Deutschland in 2004.
The New Zealand event is celebrating its 40th inclusion in the international rally calendar. First held in 1969, the rally has been a round of the WRC since 1977. Former winners include Hannu Mikkola, Walter Rohrl, Stig Blomqvist, Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz, and Sebastien Loeb.
The rally is headquartered at SKYCITY and the teams will service the cars at the Queens Wharf on the Auckland waterfront at the end of each day. The rally ends with a ceremonial finish on the Eastern Viaduct at 3pm Sunday.