Hyundai World Rally Team crew Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets maintained their confident drive on leg two of Rally New Zealand to bring their Accent WRC" to overnight parc ferme in fifth position overall after 150 kilometres of competition. The ...
Hyundai World Rally Team crew Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets maintained their confident drive on leg two of Rally New Zealand to bring their Accent WRC" to overnight parc ferme in fifth position overall after 150 kilometres of competition.
The torrential rain experienced on leg one of the event disappeared for the second day, making way for blue skies, sunshine and only a few showers. As a result the stages were much drier with more loose gravel on the surface. This also meant that the cars at the head of the field had the job of sweeping the stages clear of loose gravel, leaving a smoother and cleaner road for those behind.
Freddy and co-driver Sven were fourth on the road for the second day -- not the best position -- but set out to attack from the start. With all the rally leaders running further down the starting order benefiting from the driving line made by the frontrunners, it was difficult for the Belgian crew to really challenge the fastest times, but Freddy's Accent WRC" was reliable, running well throughout and his times were competitive.
The longest stage of the world series opened leg two -- the 59km Parahia-Ararua -- and Freddy challenged hard. He said: "I went into this stage ready to attack form the start because even though it is long, you can't take it easy -- you have to go flat out and you only ease off if you feel your tyres weakening. Unfortunately we had to back off a bit as the handling softened but the car's balance felt great."
Following some suspension setting changes in service, Freddy preferred the next set of stages. "We changed the settings to how they were before the first stage and the handling felt much better, although I would like more top-end power as many of the bends can be taken very fast," he explained.
"The stages are much drier than yesterday so you really have to keep on the line - if you go off it, then its lambada," continued the 32-year-old Belgian looking forward to the final day of the rally. "If it's dry tomorrow our starting position will be more favourable. We finished in a good position today -- I'm really happy to be fifth - but I can't let up. Tomorrow I have to keep pushing to stay ahead of Alister [McRae] and Toni [Gardemeister] is right behind him -- we can't afford to ease off."
News from our rivals
An uneventful morning preceded a dramatic afternoon as special stage 14 saw three leading retirements. Perhaps the biggest disappointment was Markko Martin (Ford) who retired with a loss of engine compression while lying in second position overall, but the Estonian clearly demonstrated the potential of the recently-launched Focus RS WRC03, setting three fastest stage times.
Harri Rovanpera (Peugeot) exited the road only four kilometres before the end of the same stage and Kristian Sohlberg (Mitsubishi) crashed causing a small fire and the stage was stopped for safety reasons. Four-time New Zealand winner Carlos Sainz (Citroën) went off the road on the opening 59km stage -- he lost over 14 minutes in the process but managed to continue.
The opening stage also caused problems for others - Subaru team-mates Petter Solberg and Tommi Makinen both had punctures, Petter's causing a bad vibration affecting his visibility; Ford youngster Mikko Hirvonen spun in the stage and Didier Auriol (Skoda) had a problem with a differential sensor. Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) was also fortunate to escape unscathed after a roll in SS13 during which he lost 35 seconds.
Tommi Makinen (Subaru) incurred a five-minute penalty for two road traffic infringements after leaving the first service of the day and now lies ninth.
Despite his roll, Marcus Gronholm managed to hold onto his lead to Markko Martin but following Markko's retirement, Marcus' lead is now a comfortable minute ahead of team-mate Richard Burns. Petter Solberg (Subaru) lies 49 seconds adrift in third and Sebastien Loeb (Citroën) and Freddy Loix hold fourth and fifth respectively.
The third and final leg takes crews south of the host city of Auckland. Two long stages southwest of the Te Kauwhata service on the west coast start leg three, with a repeat of two forest stages in the heart of the Maramarua forest to complete the event. Crews reach the Manukau Stadium finish ramp at 15:30hrs.