Rally New Zealand: Hyundai preview

Hyundai welcomes return to New Zealand. Hyundai World Rally Team crews Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer head to the other side of the world for Rally New Zealand, the World Rally Championship's farthest destination from...

Hyundai welcomes return to New Zealand.

Hyundai World Rally Team crews Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer head to the other side of the world for Rally New Zealand, the World Rally Championship's farthest destination from it's European home, running from 11-13 April.

Rally New Zealand is a drivers' rally and is considered a firm favourite by most competitors. Its characteristics are similar to Finland with relatively fine gravel but without the jumps. Speeds are high and the New Zealand terrain provides some of the smoothest and most flowing roads in the Championship. The rally is relatively kind on the rally car which means it is really the driver who can make a difference.

The Hyundai Accent World Rally Car has performed well in the past in New Zealand and a stage win in 2001 promoted Hyundai to lead the rally overnight on leg one. In 2002 the three crews set competitive stage times throughout, permitting a wholesale finish in the top ten. Hyundai was also the only manufacturer to achieve a 100% finishing rate, bringing all its cars to the end of the rally, two of which scored points.

Rally New Zealand has changed position in the championship over the last few years. Previously a wet and muddy event, last year saw the rally became a dry and dusty one. The fine gravel sits on top of a hard bedrock with constantly changing camber which the driver uses to his advantage. The dry and dusty loose gravel means that crews leading the field act as sweepers thus road position becomes important.

This year the event has moved from local springtime to autumn so a variation of weather conditions can be expected. Auckland city and its environs have seen both warm sunshine and rain over recent weeks and the weather pattern could be expected to continue. After a change in FIA regulations stipulating that no pre-event testing is permitted on longhaul rallies, all teams head to the South Pacific Island with comparatively less up-to-date knowledge than has previously been experienced.

Freddy Loix and Armin Schwarz have only contested Rally New Zealand six times between them among those finishes have been regular points-scoring finishes. Following a recent development test on Spanish gravel, the Hyundai World Rally Team drivers head to New Zealand with some modifications to their Accent WRC". A new turbo housing that is smaller than the previous one has given the engine an improvement in response and driveability and a new turbo pressure sensor has refined the performance of the engine ECU.

The suspension has also seen revisions and the Accent WRC" will now be using new MSD-built shock absorber units. Testing has shown greater control in terms of set-up and wheel-control, and better grip and traction is allowing more of the available power to be used.

Freddy Loix loves the roads that the country has to offer and following testing, is looking forward to the rally. "It's been a while since we did any testing so it was good to be able to get back in the car and start working on things again. I was quite happy with the test and the modifications that have been made to the engine are an improvement. We have more torque and more response so the engine is pulling better. The shock absorbers are a bigger step though and they give a lot more grip," explained the 31-year-old Belgian. "As we don't know what the weather will be doing next week it's hard to know what the rally will look like as a whole but I like the event, I have a good feeling with the car so I am confident we can score points."

Team-mate Armin Schwarz is also a fan of the antipodean rally. "I like New Zealand as it's a very natural rally to drive as it's quite smooth and not hard on the car. We had a very good test and the engine has improved a little bit. It definitely feels better than it was, especially in the mid-range where the torque is more linear," said Armin.

"For me the shock absorbers are the main thing. I feel more confident with them meaning I can push more and I have more feeling from the car with better control. Commenting on the characteristics of the rally, Armin added: "If it's dry our road position at the start is ok but if it's wet and slippery it will be difficult."

Hyundai privateer Jussi Valimäki will also be contesting Rally New Zealand and has been nominated to score points for the Korean manufacturer.

Key Issues

According to Sven Smeets, co-driver to Freddy Loix: "One of the main points about Rally New Zealand this year is that it has a new date so we will have different weather.

"If it's dry, like last year, our road position will be important because the roads will need cleaning a lot more and you want to be able to benefit from cleaner roads. In the north last year there were a few stages that were very dirty which took a lot of cleaning. If you are behind you can set very good times but it will be really difficult being at the front.

"If it's wet you really want to be among the first cars on the road. In the rain in New Zealand the conditions can be as bad as in GB - rutted, muddy and slippery - the kind of conditions where we often see a lot of accidents. There are also much bigger stage time differences in the wet - last year when it was dry we saw the guys at the front fighting for only seconds.

"As nobody will have done any testing there before the rally it will be equally difficult for all the teams. Since last year we will all have moved on with our suspensions, for example, but we will all be guessing a bit with the shock absorbers this year and we only have a few hours at the shakedown to fine-tune the set-up. But the shakedown road is very good - it's fast, twisty with lots of camber so quite representative of the rally stages."

The Rally

This year the rally route has been modified with legs one and two featuring stages north of Auckland and only leg three heads south for the traditional Maramarua forest stages. The well-liked stages of the Whaanga Coast (previously based around Raglan) have been scrapped as the event strives to keep up with the revised WRC format, ultimately aiming to service out of a central service park.

Leg one comprises nine stages north and east of the Paparoa service park, three of which are repeats with the longest of the day, the 21.64km New Cassidy sandwiched in between. Leg two starts with the 59km Parahi-Ararua, arguably the longest special stage of the championship and is followed by four stages northeast of Paparoa, three of which are over 20km before crews return to Auckland for the double run of the superspecial stage at Manukau Stadium. Two long stages on the west coast open leg three, with a repeat of two forest stages in the heart of the forest completing the event. Crews reach the Manukau Stadium finish ramp at 15:30hrs. New Zealand is GMT+12hrs.


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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Freddy Loix , Armin Schwarz , Jussi Valimaki , Sven Smeets