Former Group N World Champion Manfred Stohl, driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, took victory in the third round of the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship, Rally New Zealand. The Austrianâ€™s victory marks a hat-trick of PWRC wins for...
Former Group N World Champion Manfred Stohl, driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, took victory in the third round of the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship, Rally New Zealand. The Austrian’s victory marks a hat-trick of PWRC wins for the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution this season. Despite retiring in the final leg, Ralliart Italy driver "Dani" Solà retains his lead in the series, now one point ahead of Jani Paasonen and Toshihiro Arai.
The third leg of Rally New Zealand took 14 of the original 20 PWRC crews 157 kilometers south of Auckland to the service park in Raglan, base for the day’s action. The route took in two loops of three stages, including one of the most famous and scenic of the event, Whaanga Coast, which also proved to be the scene of a host of accidents and retirements throughout the field of contenders.
Dani Solà began the day leading the production car crews and the Spanish Lancer Evolution driver maintained his advantage until stage 20, when he went off the road on a fast right-hand corner. To add to his disappointment, Britain’s Niall McShea did exactly the same thing, his Subaru sliding off the road and hitting Solà’s Lancer leaving the pair stranded down a bank. Both were forced into retirement.
"We had a little problem with the brakes going into the stage, but I was driving carefully anyway", said Dani. "The car slid off the road and there was no damage but it took a long time to get help to push us out. Then Niall crashed into us and the car was too damaged to continue. But we are leading the series which is good, and I am happy with the way the team is working; everyone is pushing very hard".
Manfred Stohl started the final day of competition in third position, but fastest PWRC time in the second stage of the leg elevated him to second, 12.2 seconds adrift of leader Dani Solà. However, when the Spaniard went off the road, the lead was handed to Stohl and the Austrian cruised to the finish with a one minute 16.3 second lead over second-placed Marcos Ligato.
Alister McRae reached Auckland this afternoon in third while Stohl’s team-mate Jani Paasonen claimed fourth in his Lancer Evolution. Toshihiro Arai lost time in the final stage to drop from second to fifth in the standings and Xavier Pons, driving the third Mitsubishi in the top six, claimed sixth position.
"It has been a difficult rally, very tough stages, but we have just kept going and I am pleased to get to the finish", said Pons.
The remaining points-scoring positions were taken by reigning Middle East Rally Champion Nasser Al-Attiyah and Karamjit Singh. Three other Lancer Evolutions, piloted by Sergio Lopez-Fombona, Georgi Geradzhiev and México’s Ricardo Triviño, finished 9th, 10th and 11th respectively.
"We have tried as hard as we can but it is very difficult when you do not know the roads", commented Fombona. "The car has been very good and at least we are at the finish".
San Marino driver Mirco Baldacci finished third of the non-registered Group N crews. "I’m so happy", he said. "We came to this rally to learn; I never thought it would be possible to get a result like this. The car has been very good and it’s has been a great experience".
The FIA Production Car World Rally Championship contenders now take a break until July when they contest Rally Argentina (July 16-18), the fourth round of their series and the eighth of the FIA World Rally Championship.
The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports crews will however be back in action next month when they contest the Cyprus Rally (May 14-16). Kristian Sohlberg and Kaj Lindström will once again join Gilles and Hervé Panizzi in the two registered Mitsubishi Lancer WRC04s for this rough gravel event.