Rally New Zealand – Stobart preview
- 27th August 2007, 8:54am
Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr will be looking for another fine performance across the hemisphere after a high-placed finish last year despite retiring from day 1. They will also be in high sprits after a well driven ninth place in Germany last weekend.
Set in the land of the long white cloud, or Aotearoa as it is most widely known in the Maori form, New Zealand is the second of just two events to be held south of the equator. Its 353 kilometres of competitive distance runs through the breathtaking Waikato region in the north island, with Rally Headquarters based out of Hamilton.
Stages are traditionally fast, gravel roads with lots of camber and very loose gravel on top which can disadvantage frontrunners who are given the job of ‘sweeping’ the road. Erratic weather patterns also make things challenging, keeping weather crews on their toes at all times.
For Solberg this will be his third attempt at the event as he looks to perform well after a quick performance on the last gravel rally in Finland earlier this month. Currently running fifth in the Drivers’ Championship, the Norwegian will be looking to maximise his points haul sitting just one point behind his brother Petter who occupies fourth.
2006 was the second time Latvala had visited New Zealand roads but this didn’t discourage the 22-year-old as he comfortably won the GpN Production class and finished eighth overall. While this will be the young Finn’s first attempt at the rally in a world rally car, he is confident as this year’s route will be exactly the same as it was last year.
Returning for the second time in as many years, Wilson will be looking for a good result here as he continues to show improved pace on gravel. If it weren’t for the loss of water from his engine due to an impact with a rock, he would have finished well inside the top-ten at last year’s event; evidently the 20-year-old still finished 13th overall.
All three Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC06 cars will run on low and medium-wearing BFGoodrich g-Force gravel tyres. Tyre choice can play a vital role on these stone-covered gravel roads and with stages as long as Waitomo, at 43.88 kilometres, correct rubber will certainly determine the top places on the overall leaderboard come Sunday afternoon.
'Kia Kaha' is an expression in the Maori language meaning 'stand strong', a term that many drivers will be holding onto on this fast flowing but often demanding rally.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
“Germany was a difficult rally but I think that driving on asphalt has taught me some things that will actually help to improve my driving on gravel, so with that in mind, I think New Zealand should be quite good. Some parts of this rally are difficult with the high speeds and the narrow roads but generally I enjoy the stages and we will probably start with a similar setting to Finland; we made some good improvements with the suspension there which should also work in New Zealand. Top-five is definitely my target for this rally; I think it’s a really good chance to collect some more points for both myself and the team.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Jari-Matti Latvala said:
“I’m really looking forward to New Zealand, it’s a very nice rally and the roads are fantastic. I have a good feeling for the stages and know them quite well as I won there last year in the Production class. It is a similar car set-up to Finland and the car felt really positive there so I think we should be able to start the rally well prepared. The roads in New Zealand are typical driver’s stages; very fast and flowing and you can carry a lot of speed through the corners as the roads are very cambered. Sometimes it feels like you are dancing with the car. The only issue may be the weather. If there is rain then the roads can get very slippy indeed, this isn’t good with the high speeds involved.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
“For me New Zealand and Finland are probably my favourite roads to compete on and apart from the 24 hour flight, I’m really looking forward to the trip down south. This year the whole route is exactly the same and with last season being run at the end of the year our notes should still be fairly recent. I think it will be better if there is a bit of rain about because the first cars on the road can really be disadvantaged when it’s dry, with all the loose stuff on top of the road. It will be an interesting rally. In Finland we had a good feeling with the car so I’m confident we can go well in New Zealand and get to the end of the rally which is my main aim here.”
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“This is an event where the Stobart team could potentially do very well. I think it certainly could be the best event for all three drivers because they have experience here and all showed good form on the last gravel event in Finland. These roads really suit the car which could see guys like Henning and Jari challenging the likes of Sordo which for the Stobart team and the BP Ford team could be quite helpful in the Manufacturers’ Championship. Still, it is important for Jari to finish the event. He has reasonable experience of the rally, winning GpN here last year, which puts him in a good position. This is a good chance for both the drivers and the team to score highly.”
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