Hyundai World Rally Team crew Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets made a confident start to Rally New Zealand, the fourth round of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship, bringing their Accent WRC" to overnight parc ferme in 12th position overall.
Hyundai World Rally Team crew Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets made a confident start to Rally New Zealand, the fourth round of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship, bringing their Accent WRC" to overnight parc ferme in 12th position overall. Unfortunately team-mates Armin Schwarz and Manfred Hiemer retired on the opening stage of the day.
This year Rally New Zealand moved from springtime, it's date for 2002, to autumn and the weather is arguably more unpredictable than usual. Auckland is known to regularly experience four seasons in one day and the frequent weather changes experienced by crews on leg one made conditions difficult.
After a dry reconnaissance, competing crews were prepared for a dry event but the sunshine of recent days disappeared in the Northland that is home to the stages of legs one and two, and irregular and intermittent rain made consistency and tyre choice more difficult.
Freddy Loix made a good start to the rally, running trouble-free throughout the opening leg. He made changes to the settings to adapt to the conditions, opting for a stiffer suspension. Freddy explained: "It was quite difficult this morning and even though the car was handling really well, we were having some difficulty with top-end speed. The engine changes have done a fantastic job in the mid-range and it's allowing me to really attack in the corners but as soon as it turned to mud we lost power. The stages this afternoon were better because we changed to a stiffer spring which gave much better grip and the handling was excellent. Our problem now is top-end power."
Freddy continued to explain: "To try and go quicker I need to take a higher gear into the corners but if I do we don't carry the speed all the way through the bend. I'm having to take a lower gear to carry the power but that means I am up against the red, at maximum revs. The engineers are going to look at what we can do to allow me to take a higher gear and keep the power up."
"As for tomorrow, we won't know whether our road position is good or bad until we get into the stages. If it's like today then it should be ok, but if it's drier or wetter we could have problems with the surface so we'll have to wait and see but my aim for tomorrow is to catch Didier [Auriol]," concluded the 31-year-old Belgian.
Team-mate Armin Schwarz and co-driver Manfred Hiemer saw their rally come to a premature end when an unfortunate mistake saw them exit the road only 12km into the opening stage of the day. Armin explained what happened: "We were in a very fast flowing section in sixth gear going between 170-180kph. I got a little wide then there was a corner which was also flat out, followed by another sharper right-hand bend and I had to cut it because I was about 1 metre wide. As I cut the corner there was a low bank which we hit. It threw us across onto the bank on the other side of the road, then we rolled I don't know how many times. Hitting the first bank ripped off the front right wheel."
"It was my mistake -- I just got off line," he continued. "I'm very disappointed because the roads are good and the car was excellent. I didn't hold a tight enough line and when speeds are high, if you don't hold your line it makes it very difficult if something goes wrong as you don't know what's going to happen. I'm really sorry for the team because the work we had done in testing and the changes we made to the car were really going to help." Hyundai privateer Jussi Valimaki and co-driver Tero Gardemeister also saw their debut Rally New Zealand come to a premature end when their Accent WRC" slid off the road.
The Finnish youngster explained: "It was a tight corner and very slippery, my speed was good was I was going too fast for the corner. It was my mistake -- I went wide, slid down a bank and there were no spectators help us get back on the road and we couldn't do it ourselves. The mistake I made was to not change the tyres before that stage [SS7 -- the second of a group of four]. We knew from SS6 that our tyre choice was not right in muddy conditions and we decided to change tyres at the end of the stage but that was the wrong decision."
On his debut outing in New Zealand, Jussi added: "I am very disappointed because our times were starting to improve. But I always knew it would be difficult here in wet conditions. It is my first time to drive in New Zealand in a WRC . It is an experience and I was really enjoying the car. Now I want to look for a few tricks to improve my speed on our next event in Greece as I know that with this car we can be competitive."
News from our rivals
The opening leg saw 17 retirements -- just under a quarter of the original field. The lead retirement was Colin McRae (Citroen) who landed heavily after a jump in SS6 and damaged his suspension beyond repair. Ford youngsters Francois Duval and Mikko Hirvonen, both Rally New Zealand virgins, lost time throughout the day - Duval with a hydraulic problem in the middle set of stages followed by a 20-second penalty upon leaving service late, and Hirvonen with a spin in SS4. Carlos Sainz and Sebastien Loeb (Citroën) both experienced problems on the opening group of stages with a misting windscreen and Toni Gardemeister (Skoda) was slowed down on SS2 when his windscreen wipers failed to work properly.
At the head of the leaderboard, reigning champion Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) set the fastest time on all but two of the day's stages, with team-mate Richard Burns winning SS2 and SS7. Gronholm's lead is a comfortable 38 seconds ahead of Markko Martin (Ford) in his recently-launched Ford RS WRC03. Petter Solberg is only 5.5 seconds adrift in third and Richard Burns (Peugeot) and team-mate Harri Rovanpera hold fourth and fifth positions respectively.
Leg two of the rally starts with the 59km Parahi-Ararua, arguably the longest special stage of the championship and is followed by four stages northeast of Paparoa service area, three of which are over 20km before crews return to Auckland for the double run of the spectator-friendly superspecial stage at Manukau Stadium. Crews return to overnight parc ferme at Sky City Rally HQ base at 20:20hrs.