Rally of New Zealand: Mitsubishi preview

Mitsubishi heads south. The FIA World Rally Championship contenders now make their longest journey of the year as Rally New Zealand, the 12th round of the series, marks the first of two consecutive events in the Southern Hemisphere. The rally,...

Mitsubishi heads south.

The FIA World Rally Championship contenders now make their longest journey of the year as Rally New Zealand, the 12th round of the series, marks the first of two consecutive events in the Southern Hemisphere. The rally, which is the longest running World Championship event in the Asia-Pacific region, is a drivers' delight and a searching test of skill, the fast and flowing gravel roads on the North Island being some of the most keenly awaited throughout the season. Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart will be fielding its regular two-car entry however, following Alister McRae's mountain bike accident before Rallye Sanremo, François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup will be partnered by Finns, Jani Paasonen and Arto Kapanen.

Rally New Zealand (3-6 October) remains in springtime but, despite better weather, the 2001 event was still a curious one dictated by road position and tactical manoeuvres. As a consequence of the unpredictability of the weather, tyres also become a major talking point and whether conditions are dry or wet, the Michelin engineers are sure to be kept busy cutting additional grooves in the tread to assist in dispersing gravel or slicing through mud and water. This year's route remains largely unchanged and retains its three service parks in Raglan and Te Kauwhata to the south and Ruawai to the north of Auckland. The stages, which thread their way through lush farmland and forests on a background of rolling green countryside and beautiful coastlines, are also viewed as some of the best in the world and allow drivers to exploit their cars' performance to the full. As a consequence, few begrudge the long haul to the most southerly city in the series, which will also be alive with yachts-people preparing for the America's Cup hosted in what is known as the 'City of Sails'.

The Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart crew of François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup first competed in New Zealand in 1993 and finished a fine second overall in their debut outing. Delecour's following three outings netted sixth in 1995, a retirement in 2000 and 12th last year, when an accident dropped him from a point-scoring sixth.

"I love New Zealand, I think it's the best rally in the world - so fast, so flowing, just fantastic," commented François. "I don't have so much experience there but I have always gone well in the past; I was leading in 2000 before the gearbox broke and was setting times I was very pleased with last year before rolling, so yes, I really love the event and for me the key is to play with the car and get pleasure from driving it to gain confidence and a good feeling."

Team-mates Jani Paasonen and Arto Kapanen make an unscheduled addition to the team in New Zealand, the Finns getting the call-up from Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart less than a week before the start of the recce. Neither Jani nor Arto has previously contested the event, but both are looking forward to a fresh and exciting challenge on what are considered to be the best roads in the world.

"For sure I am excited about going to New Zealand, although I am sorry about the circumstances," said Jani. "I have never done the rally or even been to New Zealand so my knowledge is nothing, but I have always watched the rally on the television and think it is an event that suits the Finnish driving style very well, so hopefully it will be good for me. This is another big opportunity, and the test will at least give me some idea of the roads and how the conditions can be. The recce will obviously be very important, we have to pay much attention to everything and of course I try my best for the team - they now need my help and I will do everything I can for them."

Adding to their comments, Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart team manager Derek Dauncey said: "There's not a lot of change to the route so this could be another tactical event governed by split-second decisions for a good starting position. Theoretically we are well-placed for the first day but, from a sporting side, you then need to decide where you are on the road before the two runs at the super special on Friday night. Tyres often play a key role in New Zealand; tread pattern is obviously important for the conditions but compounds also make a huge difference when the temperature changes. We have a four-day test before the recce and this will obviously be critical for Jani, being that he has not competed in New Zealand before. However, he has worked a lot with the team and knows the car very well, so we're not anticipating any problems. Having successfully carried out development work on the engines for Sanremo, we're looking at building on that for New Zealand and, on paper, the fast and wide stages should suit our car."

The 2002 Rally New Zealand is once again hosted at Sky City, a hotel and entertainment complex which incorporates the 328-metre Sky Tower, the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere. The rally kicks off with a ceremonial start in Auckland city centre on Thursday evening however Friday marks the start of fast and furious action. The opening leg takes the crews south of Auckland for eight special stages and 117.16 competitive kilometres, including the spectacular Whaanga Coast stage, which hugs the coastline near Raglan. The second leg, based in the north around the harbour town Ruawai - famed for its shark fishing - is the longest, both in terms of hours in the car and stage distance. The ten special stages cover 206.69 kilometres, but the 17-hour leg also incorporates the longest stage in the FIA World Rally Championship, the 59 kilometre Parahi which could well prove to be the decider. While the final leg is the shortest with only 90.19 competitive kilometres, it covers eight stages to the south of Auckland, six of which are run in quick succession. Rally New Zealand covers a total of 26 special stages over 414.04 competitive kilometres in a total distance of 1,793.23 kilometres.


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Series WRC
Drivers Daniel Grataloup , François Delecour , Jani Paasonen