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WRC Brother Rally New Zealand was the toughest yet for England's Louise Cook.

The third round being so close to Rally Acropolis meant Louise only had two weeks to bring in the budget required to compete in WRC Brother Rally New Zealand. With some amazing support, a lot of determination, hard work and a lack of sleep, somehow, Louise and her co-driver boarded a flight to arrive  just in time for the final signing on for the rally.

“It was madness. I was phoning UK companies by day and New Zealand companies by night. I was so shattered, sometimes I forgot to eat for the whole days as I was so focussed on making it happen and avoiding exclusion and the massive fine. The support was overwhelming, from both people in the UK and also when I got out to New Zealand, I cannot thank everyone enough who made this happen.”

The crew had no time to adjust to the time difference and were straight into recce the morning after they arrived. Louise had fell victim of plane flu on the journey over and developed a dreaded chest infection.  The three long days of reconnaissance were carried out despite the suffering, but the human performance was definitely impacted.

“The recce is the most important part of the rally and you have to be 100% switched on. I drive through stages at a maximum of 80 km/h and have to describe where the car should be placed, what speed and what angle to take the corners. The problem is the next time you see the stage is flat out and if you describe things wrong at 80 km/h they become very wrong at 160 km/h.  I was so ill on the recce and I was struggling with the energy to walk. I was completely zapped from the infection, far from ideal.”

This was not the best start for Rally Team GB but they were just thankful to make it to the event and the nasty flu was nothing compared to exclusion from the WRC and the whopping big 16,000 euro fine that they would have received had they not made the rally.

Last minute seat alterations mean t Louise’s first run in the car would not be on shakedown as planned, but on the road section to the first stage.

“I had to push so hard, I had to go into a robot mode in the stage and drive quite instinctively, very hard to concentrate with a temperature. I actually can not remember much from the first day. A few mistakes were made as you can imagine, but we got through day 1, so I was pleased.”
Louise was setting good times and amazingly set a time only 3.62 seconds per km off the fastest 4WD PWRC car on stage 3.

Saturday’s stages brought much more typical New Zealand roads with crazy angled cambers, crests and flowing corners.

“Saturday started off really well, I came within 3.5 seconds a km of the 4wd’s, that’s the closest I have been all year, and with it being only my 8th gravel rally, in a different Fiesta and also not feeling on great form, I was pleased with my performance. Again, the day was full of mistakes, quite big mistakes at times lol, but managed to get away with the car unscaved, sometimes you need a bit of luck on your side. It is the first time I have pushed that hard on gravel and I guess my inconsistency is a reflection of my lack of experience on gravel and seat time, but hey, it will come with time, it was just nice to see some fairly quick times, despite all the moments and the whole situation.”

Louise also closed the stage times to local hero Ben Hunt who was in a similar Fiesta ST. Louise got within 2.27 seconds a km of the local driver who was in his own car in his own back yard, so another great show of pace for the young Brit.

Sunday’s stages were extremely slippy and with being 7 minutes a drift from the Mitsubishi Evo 9 in front and a 4 minute gap stretched between the car behind, Louise was in a good position just to hold her result.

“In these conditions the only way to have a go would be to purchase a whole set of softer compound tyres, it sure would have been a lot less stressful with these tyres as it felt like we had pram tyres on the car. The temperature had dropped a lot and the rain was down-pouring all day. I decided to minimise cost and maximise the result, the main objective of the season really.” Said Louise.

The crew took a cautious approach to bring the Stadium Cars Fiesta ST home in 2nd front wheel drive, 6th place in PWRC and 29th overall in the Brother Rally New Zealand.

“We are very pleased with the result, we was so worried we could not even get to New Zealand. I never gave up and people worked some miracles to get me here, then to get a solid result and growth in pace was amazing. There have been a lot of positives to take from this rally I have a lot of thanking to do. I just need to push on as soon as I get home to raise the rest of the budget with Rally Germany not long around the corner. This time I have a little longer than 10 working days! So, fingers crossed.”

Cookie continues her WRC campaign in 6 weeks time for WRC Rallye Deutschland.

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