Hyundai shines on New Zealand opening day. Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team crews Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets, Juha Kankkunen/Juha Repo and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer made a confident start to Rally New Zealand to end the opening day in 8th, 9th...
Hyundai shines on New Zealand opening day.
Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team crews Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets, Juha Kankkunen/Juha Repo and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer made a confident start to Rally New Zealand to end the opening day in 8th, 9th and twelfth positions overall.
The Hyundai Accent has performed well in New Zealand in the past and this year is no exception. Loix, Kankkunen and Schwarz set good stage times throughout the day in the Accent WRC" and between them consistently took time out the Fords, Mitsubishis, Skodas and even the Peugeots who are leading the rally.
Driving confidently and with maximum attack from the start, Belgians Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets made a wrong choice of tyre on the opening 32.37km stage and combined with a spin on special stage 3 cost the pair a few seconds, but Loix quickly picked up his pace to set a string of top ten stage times to secure an excellent eighth position.
"The car was a little bit sideways today as it was so slippery so it has been a bit difficult to get a consistency which means I am not pushing as hard as I would like to. But our times got much better and we are in a good position to try and go quicker tomorrow," said Loix.
Four-time World Champion Juha Kankkunen and co-driver Juha Repo also increased their speed over the opening few stages to set a fifth fastest time by special stage 4 followed by more top ten times. Kankkunen, who has contested Rally New Zealand eleven times and finished on the podium on six occasions, was enjoying the first day of the rally.
"We are still not going fast enough but then I always want to faster," said Kankkunen. "The car is going very well, the Michelin tyres are good, and we started to set much better times. The handling problem we thought we had was simply down to the conditions on the stages as the car was running very well -- the stages were just very slippery. But we have quite a good road position and tomorrow's stages will be fast."
Team-mates Armin Schwarz and Manfred Hiemer are working from brand new pace notes this year as Schwarz's last outing to New Zealand was in 1995. The German crew did not drive to the maximum to start with, preferring to find a rhythm, which paid off and the pair were rewarded with a sixth fastest stage time.
"We had some good runs today but I drove the best on the last few stages before the superspecial. I lost a little bit of time on the last of those stages but I don't know where we lost it as we had no problems, we had a clean drive -- the time just didn't come. I had actually hoped to gain at least one place higher up to benefit from the road position for tomorrow as it's going to be difficult," explained Schwarz. "But the car is going really well and I'm feeling more confident so we'll keep pushing to set more good times."
News from our rivals
Leg one saw Colin McRae's (Ford) New Zealand challenge come to an end when he went off the road only 1.5km before the end of SS4 after mishearing a pace note. Kenneth Eriksson (Skoda) lost the brakes to his Octavia at the first bend in SS2 forcing him off the road and into retirement. At the head of the field, the Peugeots dominated with Richard Burns holding the lead throughout. Close behind, Harri Rovanpera and Marcus Gronholm continue to hold second and third position, with Tommi Makinen (Subaru) fourth and Jani Paasonen (Mitsubishi) in fifth.
Leg two is the longest of the rally starting at 06:00 hrs and takes crews north of the Auckland Rally HQ base for 204.13 competitive kilometres over 10 special stages around Maungatoroto. The stages are faster than those of legs one and three and the leg also features the 59km Parahi/Ararua, the longest special stage of the Championship this year. Crews return to overnight parc ferme at 23:00hrs, seventeen hours after starting the day.