A dozen happy rally fans have just returned home after RallySport Magazine’s ninth annual tour to Repco Rally New Zealand.

Arriving in Auckland on Wednesday, the group stayed overnight before an early morning drive to Hamilton on Thursday.  On arrival at Mystery Creek Entertainment Centre, rally headquarters for the week, the RallySport Mag crew enjoyed a number of activities as well as watching the rally Shakedown. It was also an ideal opportunity to get autographs from the WRC drivers and co-drivers, and even have a chat. 


First up was a drivers’ forum where Suzuki WRC driver Toni Gardemeister and PWRC driver Patrick Sandell spoke about their rally experiences.  The forum, which lasted about 45 minutes, was very informative and gave us a good insight into the life of a driver on the WRC circuit.

Following the drivers forum, it was time to head across to the Subaru World Rally Team service area where we met with Aussie driver, Chris Atkinson.  As usual, Chris was very obliging to the RallySport Mag group, happily signing autographs, answering questions and posing for photos. So impressed was he with the model Subaru rally cars some of the group were having signed, we quickly snuck out and purchased one which we then presented to Chris!  He was rapt!


Next we ventured across to the ISC centre, home of the television crew for the rally, where Simon Larkin (former manager of Rallycorp), showed us around and explained the workings of the WRC TV crew.  From here, we visited the Suzuki WRC Service area, where P-G Andersson spoke to us.  We then enjoyed an informative chat with team manager, Paul Wilding, and one of the technicians, who were happy to answer all our questions.

After a busy few hours at Mystery Creek, it was time to head into Hamilton and check into our motel.  We had time to unpack and have a short rest before heading to Hood Street for the rally show and Ceremonial Start.  With the buzz of the WRC circus fresh in our minds, we headed back to the motel to rest up before our first day of full-on rally action.

Despite New Zealand experiencing endless rain for a month, Friday dawned with no clouds in sight, although there was a wintery chill in the air.  Our day’s spectating started with a private viewing spot about 2km into SS2, and already the group were impressed.  Those that hadn’t witnessed WRCars first hand before were amazed at the speed and handling. 


We watched the whole field pass through, before being treated to a delicious BBQ lunch, cooked by the farmer whose property we were on.  It was then onto SS3 for more rally action on the roads around Pirongia, before making our way back to Mystery Creek for the Super Special Stage.  This also gave those who were interested the opportunity to watch the cars being serviced, and most headed to the Subaru service area to see if there was any chance of Atko re-joining the rally after his roll on SS3.

Saturday’s stages were held in the Franklin and Te Akau area and two excellent spectator points were in store for us.  Both involved entering the stage on the actual rally route before the zero car, and then leaving the stage after the sweep car had gone through.  These arrangements were made with rally organizers and naturally, only the ‘official rally tour’ coaches could access these points. 

With the added bonus of the Possum Bourne Memorial Rally cars competing on Saturday, there was plenty of action to be seen.  We were all happy to see Atko back in the event, and the other Aussie drivers, Bruce Fullerton and Brendan Reeves, were also going really well.  Although it was very cold, the rain held off and we headed back to Hamilton at the end of a long day, having enjoyed another fantastic day’s rally action.

With just one day of the rally to go, we departed early to drive to Raglan for the final stages of the event.  Again we spectated from an ‘exclusive’ viewing point where we watched the entire field, before heading into the small township of Raglan for lunch.  From here we made a quick trip to the remote Service Park, where we saw a number of the cars servicing before their final two ‘road’ stages. 

It was then back to Mystery Creek for the last Super Special Stage and the Ceremonial Finish.  It was on the trip back we heard the news of Atko’s retirement and Mikko Hirvonen’s spin, so we arrived at Mystery Creek knowing that unless something drastic happened on the last 3.1 km of the rally, Sebastien Loeb had won the event.

Returning to the motel, we had a couple of hours rest before the group headed out to dinner at the Lone Star restaurant for a final farewell.  A hardy few then headed next door to the Coyote Bar for the official rally after-party, where we danced the night away and rubbed shoulders with the Solberg brothers, Mikko Hirvonen and others!

On Monday, after enjoying a rare sleep-in, it was time to return to Auckland for our flights back home to Oz, ending what was another fantastic RallySport Magazine Rally New Zealand Tour.

Thanks to the wonderful group of rally fans who joined us in NZ and made the tour so much fun; to our fantastic drivers, Bernie and Alan, who got us there safely and on time, every time; and of course, to Atko, for making the time in his very busy schedule to meet with us. 

Thanks also to Ian McLean of Southern World Vacations, and Greg Paul, for their assistance in organising another wonderful tour.

Roll on Rally Australia 2009!

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