Participants in RallySport Magazine’s Rally New Zealand Tour were amongst the lucky ones to witness first hand on of the most exciting WRC events in recent times. Petter Solberg lead the charge on day 1, finishing as overnight leader, whilst day two saw a remarkable drive from six-time World Champion, Sebastien Loeb, who made up over a minute twenty on the day’s 155 kilometres to take the lead. No-one could have predicted the dramas that unfolded on day three, though, even Ford’s Jari-Matti Latvala, who clinched victory on the very last stage of the day.

This year’s RallySport Magazine Rally New Zealand Tour was again well supported by 30 rally fans. With the rally based back in Auckland for the first time in five years, for many of the tour participants it was their first opportunity to visit the stages north of Auckland.

Tour members flew into Auckland on Wednesday and checked into their accommodation at Sky City Hotel, which was also serving as Rally Headquarters. There were many comments over the course of the next few days about how accessible the rally teams are. “I was in the lift with Mikko Hirvonen”, “Did you see Sebastien Loeb at breakfast?”, were just some of the comments to be heard. Many commented that there was no way you’d bump into an F1 driver in the hotel lobby, or have the chance to say g’day!

The first item on the tour agenda was a Meet and Greet function on Wednesday evening. This was a great opportunity to meet fellow tour participants, renew old friendships, and find out a little more about what the next few days had in store. Rally passes and programs were distributed along with the official tour merchandise – polo shirts and beanies – and the ever-important daily itinerary.

Thursday dawned fine and sunny and we left the hotel at 8.30am for the short drive to Auckland Domain, a large parkland on the edge of the CBD, surrounding the War Memorial. Here we watched as the teams put their cars to the test in their rally Shakedown. The tarmac Domain stage (which was again used on Friday night as a Super Special), was only 1.5 kilometres long but it gave spectators the chance to get an insight into what was to come over the following days. There’s nothing quite like getting up close to a WRC car to really appreciate the speed and skills of the drivers.

After a couple of hours getting our first dose of WRC action, we made our way to the Service Park, located alongside Auckland harbour. As guests of the Petter Solberg World Rally Team, we enjoyed an informative talk by Team Manager, Ken Rees (formerly of Prodrive), who gave us an insight into the running of a privateer WRC team and shared some stories from his rally past. We then had the priviledge of a private autograph signing session with Petter Solberg, who graciously posed for photos and signed everything we stuck under his nose! His outgoing personality endeared him to all.

A chat from ISC TV and New Zealand front runner, Hayden Paddon, were also on the agenda, as was the opportunity to wander around the Service Park and get autographs and photos with other WRC drivers and co-drivers. We then returned to Sky City for an hour or two’s rest, (a visit to the Rally HQ Communications Centre was also available to those interested), before heading to Auckland Viaduct for the pre-event Rally Show and Ceremonial Start.

Friday morning saw us all aboard our three Transit vans at 6.15am for the trip north to the day’s stages. The day’s spectating included three excellent spectator points, a delicious lunch at a golf club in the middle of nowhere!, and the chance to take a helicopter flight following the rally cars. A number of Tour participants took the opportunity to spectate from above, with some even witnessing Sebastien Loeb’s collision with a bridge! We then made our way back to Auckland for the Domain Super Special stage.

A slightly earlier start was on Saturday’s agenda as we travelled south for Leg 2. With Sebastien Loeb in seventh place after his altercation with a bridge the day before, everyone was looking forward to seeing who would be the leader at the end of the second day of competition. It is fair to say that no-one would ever have imagined that even a six-time World Champion could make up so much time in one day and finish the day on top! We watched in awe at each of our private spectator points as the Frenchman clawed back place after place, and then waited in anticipation for the stage times to be revealed. It was without doubt one of the greatest drives in rallying history. Due to the close association our coach operator has with Rally New Zealand, we were able to enjoy some first class spectator points throughout the rally, and Saturday’s were no exception.

Entering the stage just prior to the Safety Car and leaving the stage after the Sweep Car, means we actually get to drive part of the actual rally route. One of the highlights of Saturday’s spectating was our second spectator point where we could stand atop a tree-less hill and watch the cars approaching for about a kilometre and then follow them as they drove off into the distance and literally circled around behind us. The viewing was so spectacular that no-one minded the icy cold wind that whipped around us! With no Super Special at the end of Day 2, we returned to the Service Park where we had the option of enjoying a buffet dinner aboard a boat anchored in Auckland harbour. An early night was on the cards, though, as Sunday morning’s start was a very unattractive 5am departure!

The two hour trip to Raglan on Sunday morning was dark and wet and very quiet, with quite a few people grabbing a bit more shut-eye (with a 4am rise, who could blame them?), but everyone was excited as we had been granted permission to spectate on the famous Whaanga Coast stage. Not only that, we would actually be driving on the stage to get to our viewing point. With Loeb starting the day as the rally leader, and his fellow Frenchman, Sebastien Ogier, just 5.3 seconds adrift, most were expecting a Citroen 1-2, but the day turned out to provide more twists and turns than we could have imagined. Finn Jari-Matti Latvala started the day in third place, 33.2 seconds behind Loeb, but given his road position, he was confident of making up some time on his rivals. Petter Solberg was also in with a chance of a podium place, and the first two stages of the day, saw the lead change as Sebastien Loeb made another rare mistake, hitting a bank and tree. He was able to continue on, but Ogier was now in the lead, followed by Latvala and Solberg, with Loeb fourth.

After a service for competitors in Raglan whilst we enjoyed a delicious spit roast meal overlooking the rugged Whaanga coastline, crews returned for a repeat of the day’s two stages. The final stage of the day, the re-run of Whaanga Coast, saw plenty of drama. Just three corners (and about 100 metres) from the end of the final stage, rally leader, Ogier, spun, losing valuable time. With third place in the bag, Petter Solberg decided to pull out all stops on the final stage, hoping to propel himself into second, or even first place. It wasn’t to be, however, as he collided with a telegraph pole, ending his rally with just a few kilometers to go. With Ogier’s error, Latvala had claimed victory, despite not winning any of the rally’s 21 stages. His persistence and consistency had paid off, and his victory was sweet – a reverse of fortunes from 2008 when his own error on the final stage had robbed him of his maiden Rally New Zealand win.

There was a real buzz in the air as our trusty Transit vans followed the sweep car out of the stage. We had actually driven the whole Whaanga Coast stage and now had a real appreciation for just how difficult it is. There are so many tight, twisty corners to negotiate that drivers cannot afford to lose concentration for even a second, and we found this out first hand as w e came across a couple of cars whose rally had ended abruptly on the final stage of the rally!

With the rally run and won, we headed back to Auckland for a welcome shower and a rest before our farewell dinner at Sky City. A few hardy souls then headed to the rally after-party at Sky City where we mingled with the crews who were finally able to relax after an intense weekend. Notable absences were the Citroen team who flew out of Auckland at 11pm on Sunday night, headed for testing in France on Tuesday!! The life of a WRC driver and co-driver is certainly no easy gig! Breakfast on Monday morning was a much more leisurely affair and was the ideal opportunity to bid farewell to new friends and old as we all headed for home with promises to return to the WRC circus again soon.

The RallySport Mag team would like to extend our thanks to all participants in this year’s Rally New Zealand Tour. Tour members came from all corners of Australia and all bonded well due to our common interest in rallying. We thoroughly enjoyed your company and hope to see you again on another RSM Tour. Thanks also to our fantastic drivers, Bernie, Richard and Dave, for a job well done, and as always, a big thanks to Greg Paul (our ‘man on the ground’ in NZ) and his assistant Deborah, for ensuring providing a fantastic spectator experience and ensuring that everything ran to plan.

See you all again soon!

VISIT OUR PHOTO GALLERY FOR MORE PHOTOS FROM RALLY NEW ZEALAND

 

SUBSCRIBE BELOW TO READ THE FULL STORY

RallySport Magazine Subscription
Select Subscription Level
Select Subscription Length
Recurring Subscription Cost
A subscription to RallySport Magazine give you access to all our rally content from Australia, New Zealand and around the world – with news, features and experiences nobody can match. Our team are dedicated to providing an unrivalled experience which shares, supports and promotes the sport of rallying.
Already have an account?

By clicking "Subscribe Now" you agree to receive news, offers and updates on RallySport Magazine. If you do not wish to receive marketing communications, you can update your preferences in My Account.

We will commence charging your payment method after the 7 day free trial expires. If you cancel after expiry of your trial, cancellation will take effect from the end of your current monthly subscription period. You will not be refunded any fees paid to RallySport Magazine unless otherwise set out in the terms and conditions.

Account Details
Payment Information

By clicking "Subscribe Now" you agree to receive news, offers and updates on RallySport Magazine. If you do not wish to receive marketing communications, you can update your preferences in My Account.

We will commence charging your payment method after the 7 day free trial expires. If you cancel after expiry of your trial, cancellation will take effect from the end of your current monthly subscription period. You will not be refunded any fees paid to RallySport Magazine unless otherwise set out in the terms and conditions.

Show Your Support

Author

Title