After a gala launch in Monte Carlo the World Rally Championship kicks off in earnest this weekend with the traditional season opener Rally Monte Carlo.

With several new elements to the Championship all the major players will be looking to get an early advantage on this notoriously tricky event.

Citroen Total World Rally Team starts the year with an unchanged line up, 2007 World Champion France's Sebastien Loeb driving the Number 1 Citroen C4 WRC and Spain's Dani Sordo again driving Car 2.  After the C4 WRC's successes in its first year in the Championship the French team is looking to add another Manufacturers title to Loeb's 4 Driver's Championships and their wins in 2003, 2004 & 2005 with the Xsara WRC.

All of the teams including Citroen will be adapting to the new Pirelli control tyre.  The new tyre promises to bring the field closer together by putting all of the competitors on an even footing using the same tyres.

Reigning Manufacturers Champions BP-Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team retain young Finnish driver Mikko Hirvonen and add his countryman Jari-Matti Latvala to replace the retiring Marcus Gronholm in the very fast Ford Focus WRC.  Hirvonen who was the only driver to beat Loeb and Gronholm to rally wins in 2007.  He will be stepping up to challenge Loeb for the championship.  Latvala comes from the Stobart Ford team to the factory outfit looking to continue his impressive progress.  The former PWRC winner in New Zealand was fast at times in 2007 and in 2008 the Finn will be looking for his first win.

Subaru World Rally Team continues with a development of their ageing 2007 car and the focus within the team is on the new car due mid-year.  Crowd favourite Petter Solberg of Norway stays with the team together with Australian Chris Atkinson who was the fastest Subaru pilot for much of the year and whose spectacular style makes him a real crowd pleaser.  Early reports are that the Japanese manufacturer's new hatchback Impreza STi is much faster than its predecessor.  With past rally winner Markko Martin joining the team as test driver and focussing on development plus the return to the team of team boss David Richards and engineer David Lapworth, Subaru are on the way back up.  They have already confirmed that New Zealand fans will definitely get to see the new car in action for August's Rally New Zealand.

New to the Manufacturers ranks is Suzuki World Rally Team.  Led by Nobuhiro "Monster" Tajima who is well known to New Zealand fans through his domination of the Race to the Sky, the team have adopted a conservative outlook for their first season in the big league.  After winning the Junior World Rally Championship several times, they have opted for a mixture of experience and youth for their first line up.  Finn Toni Gardemeister who has been a works driver for a number of WRC teams including SEAT, Mitsubishi and Ford is their Number 1 driver.  The experienced Gardemeister has formerly placed 3rd in Rally New Zealand.  He is joined by young Swede Per-Gunnar Andersson.  The reigning and two time JWRC champion with Suzuki is rewarded with a step up to the big time.  The Suzuki SX4 WRC is a completely new car and development will continue during the season.

In addition to the big four a number of other teams are confirmed for the Championship with Rally New Zealand included in their plans.  They include the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team who finished fourth in the 2007 Championship close behind Subaru.  The team has added the charismatic Italian Gigi Galli to replace Latvala in combination with the returning Matthew Wilson and Henning Solberg.  The team have confirmed a 3 car entry for Rally New Zealand and with Galli behind the wheel their performances will certainly be spectacular. 

A third Citroen C4 WRC will be seen on all events of the WRC driven by Zimbabwe's Conrad Rautenbach who has previously competed in the FIA Junior World Rally Championship.  Argentina's Munchis Ford Team is confirmed for 10 rounds of the championship with their Ford Focus WRC's.  Rally New Zealand is also included on their calendar with drivers still to be confirmed. 

Rally New Zealand General Manager Paul Mallard said the increased entry for this year's championship as well as the quality of the field means that the 2008 edition of Rally New Zealand which will run from 28 - 31 August will be more anticipated than ever before.  "With Subaru's new car taking on Ford and Citroen as well as the wild cards of the Suzuki and Stobart teams, the competition will go further down the field then ever before, with at least 14 WRC cars confirmed." 

"With the 2009 and 2010 WRC calendars now announced and New Zealand confirmed as part of the new alternating years WRC calendar for 2009 and 2010 this years event is the last chance for New Zealanders to see these cars and stars until 14 - 17 May 2010

Rally New Zealand Clerk of the Course Willard Martin confirmed that final decisions are currently been made with the structure for the 2008 event which is expected to use a similar format to the successful 2007 event  "We saw in 2007 that New Zealand's fantastic roads were key in an amazing result with the iconic Whaanga Coast stage again proving decisive before the teams tackled the Mystery Creek Superspecial where the closest finish in the history of the Championship occurred with  Marcus Gronholm beating Sebastien Loeb by 0.3 seconds after 350km of rallying.  We are working to continue that formula" 

Rally New Zealand will again be based in Hamilton at Mystery Creek Events Centre using stages in the Pirongia, Waitomo, Franklin, Te Akau, and Raglan areas from 28 - 31 August. 

Get full, exclusive access for only $6.55/month.
  • Full access
  • Exclusive news
  • Store & Tour discounts

Show Your Support


Recent Posts