Three Lancer Evolutions in The Top Six of The PWRC Austrian Manfred Stohl leads PWRC cars after leg one; "Dani" SolÃ third Lancer drivers "Gigi" Galli and Fumio Nutahara retire after rolling Panizzi and Sohlberg retire Manfred Stohl, driving a...
Three Lancer Evolutions in The Top Six of The PWRC
Austrian Manfred Stohl leads PWRC cars after leg one; "Dani" Solà third
Lancer drivers "Gigi" Galli and Fumio Nutahara retire after rolling Panizzi and Sohlberg retire
Manfred Stohl, driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution for the OMV World Rally Team, leads the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship contenders after the opening nine special stages of Rally New Zealand. The Austrian former Group N World Champion has set four fastest stage times in his Lancer and leads Argentina's Marcos Ligato and Mitsubishi's Dani Solà back in Auckland this evening.
The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports team suffered the cruelest blow in the first section of the opening leg however and both Gilles Panizzi and Kristian Sohlberg were forced into retirement after the first run of Thursday night's super special stage. "Both cars suffered the same electrical problem. It is too early to say the exact reason", commented Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports Technical Director Mario Fornaris.
Rally New Zealand got underway on Thursday night in Manukau where thousands of fans were treated to fast and furious action as the crews raced head-to-head around the purpose-built stage on the outskirts of Auckland. Today, however, the crews headed 140 kilometers north to the service park at Paparoa, base for five rolling farmland stages, before heading back to Auckland late in the afternoon for another two runs at the super special. Picturesque countryside, rolling hills, warm sunshine and blue skies provided fantastic scenery, but Auckland will certainly have been a welcome sight for the crews who have spent more than 15 hours behind the wheel of recce and rally cars during the first day of a World Championship rally run to the Mille Pistes format.
Manfred Stohl started the day in fifth position but fastest time in the first stage this morning elevated him to second, just 1.1 seconds adrift of early leader Gigi Galli. A string of top times then enabled the Austrian to take the lead and he now has 13.6 seconds in hand after 141.92 competitive kilometers. Stohl's team-mate Jani Paasonen holds fifth position in the third Lancer Evolution in the top six.
Dani Solà, driving the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution prepared by Ralliart Italy, has also moved up the leaderboard during the day and now holds third position. Like five other Production Car drivers, Solà was delayed in stage three when Jari Viita's Focus ended up blocking the stage, but the Spaniard went on to set fastest time in stage seven and now has more than 10 seconds in hand to fourth-placed Toshi Arai.
"The only problem was when we were stuck behind Viita this morning", said Dani. "Apart from that, we have improved all day".
Overnight leader Fumio Nutahara of the ADVAN-PIAA Rally Team was forced into retirement, the Japanese driver out after rolling his Lancer Evolution. "We rolled in stage five after approaching a corner too fast", said Fumio. "We managed to get to the end of the stage but the roll cage was too badly damaged for us to be allowed to continue".
Gigi Galli, driving for Ralliart Italy, has been another victim of the New Zealand stages, the Italian's retirement all the more disappointing after briefly leading the PWRC contenders in his Lancer Evolution. "Three kilometers before the end of stage five, on a fast left-hand corner, we touched the edge of the grass, rolled and ended up on the roof", said Gigi. "Unfortunately there was no one around to help us".
The second leg of Rally New Zealand starts from Auckland on Saturday and takes the crews back to the service base at Paparoa for another eight stages and 138.84 competitive kilometers.