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A new venue and a new date for Rally New Zealand means a whole new challenge for the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team.  For the first time, the rally has left the familiar surroundings of Auckland and headed south to the town of Hamilton; it’s also the first time the event has been run in November.  Known as one of the most stunning in the championship, Rally New Zealand is loved by spectators and drivers alike.
 
Whilst most of the stages on the Friday and Saturday have not been run since the '90s and one stage not since the early '80s, it is of little consequence for 19 year old Matthew Wilson for whom every event in the WRC so far has been a new experience. Wilson wants points on the North Island next week. And he wants lots of them. Wilson is competing at the very top of the game; taking the world’s finest and most high-tech rally car and hurling it down gravel-strewn roads at well over 100mph. Starting on Friday next week, Wilson and his Stobart team-mate Luis Perez Companc (Argentina) will be doing just that for three days of fast and furious competition.
 
It will be Companc, and his co-driver Jose Maria Volta’s eighth rally this season and the second time they have ventured to the antipodean island of New Zealand.
 
Once again both crews will be taking part in the 06 spec Ford Focus and hoping to add to their recent points haul which has boosted the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team’s fifth position in the WRC Manufacturer Championship, 14 points ahead of nearest rival Red Bull Skoda.
 
 
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team driver Matthew Wilson said:
“New Zealand is another fast rally, so it’s one that I’m really looking forward to. Most of the stages are going to be new to pretty much all of the drivers this time, so it’ll be interesting to see who makes the best job of making new notes and gets off to a fast start. Like on the last round in Australia, I’m keen to push harder on the opening leg to try and avoid running first on the road later in the rally. Unlike Australia, I’m keen not to make a mistake on the opening leg! The last round was really tough.
 
“Everybody said conditions in Australia were as bad as they had seen for years – and we spent two days at the head of the field! I was pretty despondent about things at the time, but looking back on it, I learnt loads about driving the car in a low-grip situation and how and where to find the grip. There were plenty of positives to come out of the last round, not least spending more time in this fabulous Ford Focus. I can’t speak highly enough of the 2006 car – it’s just amazing. On my way to New Zealand, I stopped over in Dubai to relax for a couple of days. Having done that, I’m raring to get into these stages and start experiencing those legendary cambered roads for myself!”
 
 
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team driver Luis Perez Companc said:
“Australia didn’t quite go to plan for me. There was a mistake on the first day and then some tricky conditions. I had some good time in the car, though and I feel ready for New Zealand. The car felt fantastic – and what I really like are the faster roads. In Australia, in the quicker stages, everything felt good. I am sure I can keep this feeling for this week. I did New Zealand last year, but it was in a different place, so I will have to make some new notes this time. It’s going to be interesting.”
 
 
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“Rally New Zealand is a great rally run by really friendly people. It’s always a nice atmosphere down there. On top of that, there are some fantastic roads; I remember when I drove down there, the stages are fabulous. There’s a job to do for the drivers down there, though. This is a good chance for Matthew and Luis to grab some drivers’ points and a really good chance to move further ahead of the Red Bull team in the manufacturers’ race.”
 
 
Propecia Rally New Zealand
This event is, and always has been, one of the favourites in the World Rally Championship. New Zealand provides some of the fastest and most challenging roads in the sport; and those roads dissect breath-taking countryside which has to be seen to be believed. Aotearoa, which is the Maori name for New Zealand – and roughly translated means: land of the long white cloud, has run a round of the WRC since the drivers’ championship was formalised in 1979. The event was actually running before that, too, when it was known as the South Pacific Rally.
 
The days of the event running the length and breadth of the North Island, before hopping across Milford Sound to have a crack at some stages on the South Island have long gone. As regulations governing the sport have changed, so Propecia Rally New Zealand has altered to conform.
 
There’s more change this year; it’s out with Auckland and in with Hamilton. Moving the event 126 kilometres south has simplified the route and cut down the number of liaison kilometres the crews had to complete between the competitive sections. The move also means using stages which haven’t been competed on by the world’s fastest drivers for a number of years. A couple of roads were used last season – like the legendary Whaanga Coast, which hugs the cliff tops overlooking the Tasman Sea – while Te Akau was around in 2002; Port Waikato is back for the first time since 1982 and Klondyke and Waimarama are new for this year.
 
Entry list:
1 Xevi Pons/Carlos del Barrio (Citroen Xsara WRC)
2 Dani Sordo/Marc Marti (Citroen Xsara WRC)
3 Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen (Ford Focus RS WRC 06)
4 Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen (Ford Focus RS WRC 06)
5 Petter Solberg/Phil Mills (Subaru Impreza WRC 2006)
6 Chris Atkinson/Glen Macneall (Subaru Impreza WRC 2006)
7 Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor (Peugeot 307 WRC)
8 Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud (Peugeot 307 WRC)
9 Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr (Ford Focus RS WRC 06)
10 Luis Perez Companc/Jose Maria Volta (Ford Focus RS WRC 06)
 
Event Information
Date: November 17-19
Round: 15 of 16
Based: Hamilton
Surface: Gravel
Total distance: 1354.26km
Number of stages: 17
Stage distance: 358.48km
Stage surfaces: loose gravel
Longest stage: 43.88km (stages two and four Te Koraha)
Highest elevation on stage: 560 metres (on stages one and three Pirongia West)
Permanent Service Park: Mystery Creek, Hamilton
Ceremonial start: Thursday November 16, 1930, Hamilton city centre
Leg one: Friday November 17. The cars leave Hamilton at 0830, tackling 131.66km.
Leg two: Saturday November 18. The cars leave Hamilton at 0700, tackling 131.34km.
Leg three: Sunday November 19. The cars leave Hamilton at 0615, tackling 103.32km. The event finishes in Hamilton at 1500.
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