FIA World Rally Championship 24 - 27 July 1998 28th Rally New Zealand Saturday 25 July 1998 After an all-day battle with Spaniard team-mate Carlos Sainz and Subaru's Scot Colin McRae, Frenchman Didier Auriol brought home his Toyota Corolla...
FIA World Rally Championship 24 - 27 July 1998 28th Rally New Zealand
Saturday 25 July 1998
After an all-day battle with Spaniard team-mate Carlos Sainz and Subaru's Scot Colin McRae, Frenchman Didier Auriol brought home his Toyota Corolla in first position at the end of Leg One of the 28th Rally New Zealand.
This ninth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, which ended this afternoon at 16h25 in Manukau City after 223 kilometres, of which 48 kilometres were on 8 special stages, saw no less than 6 changes of lead, as the 79 competitors tackled a short series of stages in the green and undulating North Island countryside south-east of Auckland.
A heavy rain fell all day, together with high winds, making conditions far from easy for the drivers over the fast flowing stages.
Even the two-kilometre spectator special stage in Manukau City became a mudbath in the wet conditions, and Auriol managed to win it and to climb into the lead of the rally, just 2.2 seconds ahead of team-mate Sainz.
A major accident happened during stage 7, when Belgian driver Bruno Thiry rolled his Ford at high speed. Although the car was badly damaged, both Thiry and his co-driver Prevot were uninjured.
A 07h00 restart await drivers in the morning before a long and arduous day, with ten stages covering 157.91 km north of Auckland and an improved weather forecast promises drier conditions. The competitors will return to Manukau for the final overnight halt at 21h05.
Carisma driver Richard Burns finished the day fourth, after a troublefree run, 13 seconds adrift of the top. ""We have been going at a good pace and the narrow tyre was definitely an improvement as the condition got worse," said the Briton. "That last stage was just a mudbath!"
Reigning champion Tommi Makinen started cautiously in his Lancer Evo5, as he is not keen to repeat last year accident. "No problems at all," said the Finn. "There are still two days to go and I have been a little bit careful, although I lost 15 seconds in a spin. Tomorrow stages are quite different and there should be less mud."
Scot Colin McRae finished the opening leg in third position, 4.4 seconds adrift of overnight leader Didier Auriol. "We have been pushing hard, but at a good pace," said McRae. "The times are pretty close and, although today's stages have all been short, if you get into a good rhythm from the start, you can make up a bit of extra time.
Team-mate Piero Liatti, who concluded the day in ninth position, feels he can be competitive in New Zealand: "When we started this morning I was trying too hard and the car was oversteering all over the place," said the Italian. "Once I started to relax, drive in the ruts and let the car really flow, the speed came with it. Driving here it's like to be racing: the speed comes from being neat and taking the right line."
New team's recruit, Finn Juha Kangas, eased himself into the pace of his first World Championship outside Scandinavia, to finish overnight in fourteenth.
Bruno Thiry, driving for only the second time in this event, was gradually acclimatising to the New Zealand stages when his rally ended with a heavy accident on stage 7, the penultimate of the day.
"We approached a long left-hand bend at around 120 kmh and, as we entered the curve the road narrowed," said the Belgian. "The Escort clipped a rock on the inside of the bend, the car went up onto two wheels and rolled over into the ditch."
Finn Juha Kankkunen, after holding fifth position through the day, returned to the rally's Manukau base just 16.1 seconds behind the leader.
"Some of the roads had small streams flowing down them, but it was not too bad for us," said Kankkunen about the rain soaked stages. "Our tyre choice was ideal throughout the day and the rubber was able to get through the mud and grip onto the harder road surface."
With a total of four stage win, Frenchman Didier Auriol claimed first place at the end of first leg. "it's good to be leading but, perhaps for the first time in my career, I would prefer not to be at the front of the field," said Auriol. "If tomorrow is dry, it could be a disadvantage, to be first and having to clean the loose gravel for the other cars; but if it stays wet, then I'm not too worried about it."
Team-mate Carlos Sainz today swapped three times the lead with chief rival Colin McRae.
"We switched to narrower Michelins (tyres) during the day and the performance was strong, because they could cut through the muddy conditions a lot better," said the Spaniard. But it is still very early in the rally and I'm sure there will be a big fight until the finish on Monday."
Finn Harri Rovanpera has constantly been in the lead of 2-Litre category in a Seat Ibiza Kit Car.
Uruguayan Gustavo Trelles, reigning Gr.N World Champion and current leader of the Drivers of Production Cars Championship, leads the category being 16th overall in his Mitsubishi.
Finn Marcus Gronholm, seventh overall driving a Toyota Corolla of Grifone Team, leads the FIA Teams'Cup category, closely followed by Swedish team-mate Thomas Radström, eighth.
Local drivers are well represented by Possum Bourne (Subaru), placed in tenth place.