Today's second leg was longest day of the rally, consisting of eight stages split into two groups of four. The roads were generally faster than yesterday's route with some flowing cambers and lots of loose gravel. Despite clouds in the morning,...
Today's second leg was longest day of the rally, consisting of eight stages split into two groups of four. The roads were generally faster than yesterday's route with some flowing cambers and lots of loose gravel. Despite clouds in the morning, the weather stayed unexpectedly hot and dry throughout.
47 of the original 58 competitors left Auckland parc ferme at 0530hrs this morning.
Overnight leader Petter Solberg (Subaru) enjoyed a troublefree day but saw his lead cut back by the charging Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot), who set four fastest times, and Märtin. However, quickest time on the final stage enabled Solberg to regain some of his lost time and he leads the Finn by 19.5sec. Grönholm lost some seconds this morning with a centre differential problem, which affected the car's handling. Former leader Harri Rovanperä (Peugeot) was unable to match his pace of yesterday and slipped to fourth. He is being reeled in by joint championship leader Sebastien Loeb (Citroen), who suffered handling difficulties this morning but set a faster pace this afternoon. The Frenchman is followed by team-mate Carlos Sainz, who complained his car felt nervous for much of the day. Mikko Hirvonen (Subaru) completed the manufacturer entries in eighth after a troublefree day.
Petter Solberg delivered a sparkling performance in his Subaru Impreza WRC2004 today to retain the overall lead of Rally New Zealand and pull further ahead of the second placed car. The 29-year-old Norwegian collected another stage win, his fifth of the rally and will start tomorrow's final Leg with a 19.5 second advantage over his rivals. Petter's Subaru team-mate Mikko Hirvonen also enjoyed a trouble free day. The young Finnish driver collected more valuable experience of the rally and his car, and in eighth place overall is on course to collect Championship points tomorrow.
Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: "That was a very tough day. I've been working harder than usual out there, and everyone's been on the limit. We have a very good tyre but in this weather I knew we'd struggle a little on the rock hard smooth sections and be better on the twisty stuff, and that's exactly what happened, it's no problem. The car has been perfect. Tomorrow is going to be very exciting, there are a lot of determined drivers out there, so I'm going to try and get an early night!"
Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen: "Quite okay, in fact a much better day than yesterday. I've learned a lot about the tyres and my driving, - especially in slow corners. The pace I have managed on the loose surface is a real improvement over Leg one, and it's one I feel comfortable with. I haven't been taking many risks. My plan for tomorrow is to carry on as we are and see what happens."
Peugeot driver Marcus Gronholm is poised for a strong podium finish at the end of leg two of the Rally New Zealand. Marcus is second overnight, just 19 seconds behind the leader, while his team mate Harri Rovanpera finishes the day in fourth.
Marcus Gronhölm / Timo Rautiainen: "We're going to be pushing hard again tomorrow," said Marcus. "I don't know what chances we have of winning or not - it's going to be difficult - but I'm certainly going to be trying hard. I've had a very good feeling with the car and the stages today and we've been able to set some quick times. Now it is a question of trying to do the same tomorrow."
Harri Rovanperä / Risto Pietiläinen: "It's been a good day for us and I'm learning more about the 307 WRC all the time. I didn't feel so confident about attacking this morning's stages because there was a lot of loose gravel and it would have been very easy to go off. I don't want to take any unnecessary risks - the most important thing is to finish the rally in a good position."
Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Markko Märtin and Michael Park will start tomorrow's third and final leg of the Rally New Zealand in the midst of a three-way battle at the head of the leaderboard after today's thrilling second leg. They returned to Auckland tonight in third place in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car after having won two of the day's eight speed tests during a fierce fight for supremacy over the sweeping gravel roads of the North Island.
Duval and Prévot, who started this morning in sixth, extended their advantage over Carlos Sainz on the opening two tests. However, in the third stage the Belgians lost time in the dust of Antony Warmbold's car. Warmbold stopped with a throttle problem and re-started just in front of Duval, leaving the Ford BP driver a frustrating journey to the end of the stage as he was unable to get close enough to the German to pass. The incident cost Duval about 25 seconds and dropped him behind Sainz into seventh.
Markko Martin / Michael Park: "We've had a much better day than yesterday," said Märtin. "I've been driving like hell to keep the pace at the level I need to, but I'm back with the leaders now, so that's good. The car has been great but the competition has been very strong. My road position was better than yesterday, the stages were much cleaner and I think that, generally, everything has clicked into place. Maybe I just prefer Saturdays!"
Francios Duval / Stefan Prevot: "After 2km we caught Antony and as he didn't know I was there, I had to sit behind until the finish," said Duval. "I went off the road two or three times in the dust but I was lucky the stage was only 11km. This afternoon it wasn't necessary to take risks so I drove sensibly and carefully to ensure I stayed on the road. I felt confident and the stages were good and fast."
Having spent yesterday morning 'sweeping' the road for those following him, Sébastien Loeb took advantage of the end of the first leg to draw up a report on the behavior of his Xsara over the very specific conditions found in New Zealand. These first conclusions resulted in a number of changes, which had to take place during the 45-minute service which, due to the "Mille Pistes" format, took place this morning instead of yesterday evening.
Sébastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: "I am pushing as hard as I can. We have made a number of little changes, which are all going in the right directions, even if I wish they would make even more difference as far as the times are concerned. We are not far behind the best times^Å We still need to find some grip, and to try and stabilise the rear of the car."
Carlos Sainz / Marc Marti: "The service stop half-way through the day really helped," the double World Champion explained. "During the first loop, I must admit that I did not drive particularly well. I did not make as many changes as Sébastien. However, I felt much more confident during the second part of the day. Tomorrow morning, I will go as far as Sébastien did in the set- up changes. It will be interesting to see how our cars behave in the special stages which, the first time round, will be significantly less 'clean' than those of this afternoon."
Retired leg 1.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution driver "Dani" Solà has been the star of the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship today and the Spaniard not only now leads the registered contenders, but set six fastest times in the eight stages run in the second leg of Rally New Zealand. Australian Cody Croker is just 6.3s from the lead in his Subaru followed by Lancer driver Marcos Ligato 10.1s adrift, with former leader Manfred Stohl, driving a Lancer Evolution with the OMV World Rally Team, third. Australia's Dean Herridge and Japan's Tosihiro Arai in Subaru's round out the top 6.
Remaining Event Timetable
The final leg returns to territory near Raglan on the west coast of North Island, south of Auckland, that was not used in 2003. It comprises two identical loops of three stages, covering 114.74km. The final test of each loop is the classic Whaanga Coast, one of the most spectacular stages in the entire championship, which runs alongside stunning coastal scenery for much of its route. Drivers leave Auckland at 05.00 and return for the ceremonial finish at 17.00.
For the final leg sunny conditions are expected with maximums in the high-teens or low 20's.