The Event After the longest break of the season so far, teams will cross the globe this week in preparation for round four of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship, the Propecia Rally New Zealand. 86 crews are expected to cross the ramp at the...
After the longest break of the season so far, teams will cross the globe this week in preparation for round four of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship, the Propecia Rally New Zealand. 86 crews are expected to cross the ramp at the Ceremonial Start which will take place in Aotea Square, Auckland at 1845hrs on Thursday 10 April.
The rally proper gets underway at 0700hrs on Friday morning when drivers will battle it out on the nine special stages that make up leg one. The day's action will take place in the countryside around the Paparoa Service Park, to the north of Auckland. Paparoa remains the base for leg two, which features a further seven stages, one of which is the epic 59-kilometre test at Parahi. Leg three moves south of Auckland and the remaining six stages are based around the Te Kauwhata Service Park. The winning crew is expected to cross the finish ramp at Manukau Sports Bowl at 1530hrs on Sunday.
All of the events 22 loose-gravel, high-speed stages are located on New Zealand's North Island. Rally Headquarters are based at Auckland's Sky City complex, which at 328 metres is the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere.
Rally New Zealand is a popular event, keenly anticipated by drivers and teams alike. In 2001 it was voted rally of the year and 2003 marks the 33rd Rally NZ. This year saw a shake-up of the WRC calendar, which shifted New Zealand six months earlier in the calendar than its usual October date. This change puts the rally in New Zealand's autumn rather than spring, and should mean temperatures of around 15-20°C with a possibility of rain.
Tommi Mäkinen and Petter Solberg will drive for the 555 SWRT on this year's Propecia Rally New Zealand. Both will be eligible to score manufacturers points for Subaru. Tommi has competed in New Zealand ten times previously, winning the event once and achieving two further podium positions. Petter's best finish was on his first outing there in 2000 when he was fourth, but he came close last year when an excellent run saw him heading for second place, before a heart-breaking retirement on the penultimate stage.
Other notable entries for Subaru include local heroes Possum Bourne and Mark Stacey competing in the second round of their Production Cup campaign, and the first WRC outing for Subaru Rally Team USA's young American, Ramana Lagemann, who will be partnered by his new co-driver, Irishman Michael Orr.
Petter Solberg: "There has been a big gap since Turkey so I have managed to do quite a lot. I have done a lot of training, around 2-3 hours each day, as well as spending a lot of time with friends and family. I have also completed three days of testing in the UK, one of which was dedicated to establishing the set-up of the Impreza for NZ. I've been in contact with my engineer every single day since Turkey. NZ is a really good gravel event, I know the stages quite well now and have a good road position on Leg One, so hopefully it should be a good event for us."
Tommi Mäkinen: "We are looking to get a good result in New Zealand. It's difficult to know what conditions to expect as it is such a different time of year but the team are prepared for anything and I think we have a good set-up on the car. I did some testing in the Lake District in England where I was able to test some new tyres and the set-up for New Zealand. It's the first time we'll be running the car on fast gravel so it should give us a good idea of its capabilities - it's feeling good so far though."
The Car / The Challenge
555 Subaru World Rally Team Principal, David Lapworth: "I think the rally will be faster this year. We expect that the roads will be in better condition than usual. This is due to the weather - normally the rally is held after winter, when the roads are emerging from 6 months of accumulated mud and rain. This year though it's autumn, and although the trend will be towards deteriorating conditions, the roads are generally fine after the drier summer months.
"The character of the stages is very good, they're smooth and not too hard on the cars. The rate of attrition is generally low, which makes it a real drivers rally and an extremely competitive event - I'd say that any of the top-8 drivers in the championship could give stiff opposition here. The rally is also much more open than in previous years. It used to be very twisty, but a route change for leg one now means that it's more flowing, and therefore quicker.
"As far as the car is concerned, the set up has some similarities to Finland - but is far less compromised. In NZ we don't have to factor in the big jumps or the occasionally rough ground. It's a performance event so we're effectively building a gravel-racing car. Turkey was a rally of attrition, but that's not the case in New Zealand. If you don't push hard here, then you're unlikely to win.
"Each of the last three rallies has been special in it's own way, but New Zealand is the first classic gravel rally of the year and a guide to form for the next four or five loose surface events. We've developed this year's car with just this kind of event in mind."
Between the Rallies
Since Turkey, the 555 Subaru World Rally Team has travelled to the Lake District twice to undertake two separate gravel development tests. Petter Solberg carried out the first, which took place on 4 and 5 March and concentrated mainly on tyre development. Tommi Mäkinen and Petter took the wheel for one day each on the second test on 20 and 21 March which was the drivers' last chance to refine the fast gravel set-up of the Subaru Impreza WRC2003's before Rally New Zealand. Between them on both tests, Tommi and Petter notched up a total of 711 kilometres of loose surface testing.
Following his performance on February's Swedish Rally, Tommi was the recipient of the Inmarsat Star of the Rally Award. He was given US$5,000 to donate to a charity of his choice. He chose JYRÄ, a paralysis sports group based in his hometown of Jyväskylä that organises events like wheelchair rugby tournaments. Tommi presented the cheque to the chairman of JYRÄ at the Finnish Ice Hockey League play-off match on Tuesday 18 March. An additional gift arrived in the SWRT offices this week - a framed celestial view of the star that Inmarsat have named after Tommi!