Starters Sixty of the original 68 starters left the service park at Mystery Creek, Hamilton, for the third and final leg of Rally New Zealand. Route For Sunday's competition crews headed due west from rally headquarters towards the coast....
Sixty of the original 68 starters left the service park at Mystery Creek, Hamilton, for the third and final leg of Rally New Zealand.
For Sunday's competition crews headed due west from rally headquarters towards the coast. The main action consisted of two loops of three stages. The first test of the day, Maungatawhiri, was short and very fast, but Te Hutewai was a more traditional Kiwi special stage and featured lots of flowing medium-speed bends and corners hidden over crests. The last 'proper' stage of the rally was the famous 29km Whaanga Coast section, after which crews returned to Hamilton for a rally-closing loop of the Super Special.
Overnight rain meant Sunday started damp and overcast in Hamilton, with wet and muddy roads near the coast. There were rain showers during the day, interspersed with sunny periods. Stage conditions and grip levels varied as a result. Temperatures ranged between 13 and 16 degrees Celsius.
No WRC retirements.
Subaru World Rally Team summary
Subaru World Rally Team drivers Chris Atkinson and Stephane Prevot finished Rally New Zealand fourth today, after a thrilling battle with Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala that went right to the line.
The stunning coastline around Raglan was the setting for a nail-biting final leg, which started with Atkinson 10 seconds adrift of fourth-placed Latvala, but determined to snatch back the position he held on leg one. In contrast to yesterday's dry and dusty roads, today's seven gravel speed tests were largely damp, with rain showers making some sections slippery and muddy. Tyre choices played an important part in the day, but ultimately, success came down to nerves and pure speed as the drivers duelled on the spectacular North Island roads.
The pair set off at a lightning pace, and with the rain lashing down on the first test, SS12, Latvala beat 27-year-old Atkinson to extend his advantage to 11.4sec. But the Subaru driver was quick to respond, and clawed back seven seconds over the next two tests. After the mid-point service, and on fresh BFGoodrich rubber, Atkinson was on electric form - joint second-fastest on SS15, he set exactly the same time as Mikko Hirvonen and current World Champion Sebastien Loeb. The decisive stage, however, was the second run through Whaanga Coast, the longest test of the day, when Atkinson took almost seven seconds out of Latvala, and vaulted ahead by 2.7sec. Another excellent time on the Super Special at Hamilton consolidated the result.
After their frustrations of Friday and Saturday, Petter Solberg and Phil Mills enjoyed their most competitive form on today's final leg and ended the rally seventh. Solberg set the third fastest time on the opening test, and was far happier with the handling of his Impreza WRC2007.
The rally was won by Marcus Gronholm, who took first place from overnight leader Sebastien Loeb on the penultimate stage. Gronholm won by a margin of 0.3ses, the closest finish in the history of the WRC.
SUBARU WORLD RALLY TEAM MANAGING DIRECTOR Richard Taylor:
"Of course we won't be fully satisfied until we're fighting at the top of the podium, but we're confident that the way the car is working now we'll soon be able to do that. The pace that Chris has been able to show today has been very encouraging, and we're delighted that he's been able to fight so hard and get the fourth place. His performance on SS17 was particularly impressive. To finish right behind Gronholm and Loeb -- who were both going absolutely flat-out -- just goes to show how close we are. It was disappointing that Petter could only begin to fight on today's last part of the rally. It's clear that the package is not working for him, and we need to work to help him become competitive with the car. We have more development work ahead of us now, with asphalt and gravel tests planned in September. There is still more performance to unlock in the WRC2007, and we're looking forward to the next round in Spain."
CAR NUMBER 8 Chris Atkinson:
"That was a great fight for fourth, and I'm very happy that we came out on top. It's great for the guys in the team too, and it shows we're getting closer all the time. It would have been nice to be on the podium, and hopefully that's no far away. I think we've had enough fourths now - we want some thirds, seconds and firsts! Overall it's been a pretty good rally. We've battled hard all weekend, tried to fight when we could and be cautious when things haven't worked so well. We did our best, and that's all I can do. It's back to asphalt next, and I'm certainly looking forward to that."
CAR NUMBER 7 Petter Solberg:
"After the service last night the whole chassis felt completely different today. It's working better - still not good enough - but at least it starts to work, you know. It's more like a proper four-wheel-drive car. Whatever the team did has helped, anyway. I did all I could this rally, but I know we can go much faster. The tests we have planned will be very important; we still have a lot of work to do."
BFGOODRICH TYRE TECHNICIAN Didier Martin:
"Congratulations to Chris who did an excellent job and managed to grab the fourth place today. The tyre choices have certainly not been easy to call this weekend, but both drivers have been able to benefit from the performance of the BFGoodrich tyres in these conditions. It's only the third time for the Subaru/BFG partnership on gravel, after Argentina and Finland, and only the second on damp conditions. There is still a lot of work to do, and we look forward to working together before the next gravel round in Japan."
The next event
The WRC moves to Spain for the twelfth round of the championship, Rally Catalunya, which begins on October 5th. The third sealed surface event of the season takes place in the Tarragona region of southern Spain and is the quickest asphalt rally on the calendar. Run in the mountains around Salou, with a service park in the Port Aventura theme park, this is the closest that rallying gets to circuit racing, with wide, flowing stages, high-speed corners and smooth asphalt.