New Zealand gravel rush excites Ford’s Finnish drivers

New Zealand gravel rush excites Ford’s Finnish drivers

BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team will tackle the longest round of the FIA World Rally Championship for almost six years when it makes the arduous journey from Britain to New Zealand next week.  Organisers of Rally New Zealand (6 – 9 May) have fully embraced new-for-2010 rules to increase the competitive distance in the North Island to just under 400km, the most since Rally Deutschland in August 2004.

 

Not that Ford drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen and team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila will complain as the flowing, cambered gravel roads are regarded among the best in the world.  Despite spending more than 24 hours in the air en route to the rally base in Auckland, the Finnish quartet eagerly awaits the opportunity to tackle New Zealand‘s speed tests in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars on the rally’s return to the WRC after a year’s absence.

 

The event returns to Auckland after being based further south in Hamilton since 2006.  The move allows the route to venture north onto roads in the Whangarei and Kaipara districts that have not been used since 2005.  Short remote service zones away from the city are a feature on each of the three legs and mixed surface special stages are also prevalent as organisers give the rally format a shake-up.

 

The roads in the Land of the Long White Cloud are as smooth as a billiard table and wind through lush, green countryside, inviting drivers to attack.  The scenery is as stunning as the roads, and the picture postcard views over the Tasman Sea from the classic Whaanga Coast stage on the final day are among the best in the championship.

 

Hirvonen, who climbed to second in the drivers’ standings after his podium finish in Turkey earlier this month, has a strong record in New Zealand with a second and two thirds from his last three starts.  The 29-year-old is a confirmed fan of New Zealand‘s stages.

 

"I’m excited to be going back there again," he enthused.  "It’s a great country and we always receive a warm welcome in Auckland.  Then, when I get out on the stages, I remember just why it’s alongside Finland as my favourite rallies in the championship.  It’s fast, it’s smooth and it’s fun.  And there’s a bigger emphasis on endurance, with more competitive kilometres and limited time during the day for service.  It’s good to have a longer rally.

 

"Every rally has something unique and here it’s the cambered roads.  They encourage a driver to attack, but they can also catch you out.  When the car crosses the camber it often jumps.  If you are on the wrong side of the camber when you brake for a corner, you can find yourself in trouble because the car will just slide.

 

"It’s autumn in New Zealand and the weather can be cool and wet.  That won’t be easy with hard compound tyres because it will be difficult to get heat into them, but it will be the same for everyone.  They will bite into the gravel, but trying to find good grip on the asphalt, especially when it’s at the start of the stage, won’t be so easy," added Hirvonen. 

 

Latvala, who is fourth in the drivers’ standings, has started Rally New Zealand four times, with a best finish of fifth in 2007.  However, the 25-year-old will make new pace notes for the entire rally.

 

"I’ve only driven the roads north of Auckland once before, and that was in 2005 in a Group N car," he said.  "I remember them to be faster than the stages south of the city.  Notes for a World Rally Car need to be very different from those for a Group N car.  My style of notes has also changed since the rally was last in the championship two years ago, so I will make fresh notes for the whole rally.

 

"The character of the stages reminds me of my home event in Finland, but without the jumps.  The car feels as if it is dancing in the road through the flowing corners.  The roads are normally used by the public so the surface is hard and smooth and they are in good condition, so they are kind to the cars.  Despite the long flight, I’m happy to go back to Auckland.  It’s a great city, the stages are fantastic to drive and it’s the opportunity to put my crash in Turkey on the last round out of my mind," he added.

 

Team News

 

* Tyre partner Pirelli will provide BP Ford Abu Dhabi with one regulation tyre pattern.  The Scorpion gravel tyre will be available in hard compound only.  Teams are not allowed to hand-carve additional cuts into the rubber and each car can carry two spare wheels. 

 

* Three other Focus RS WRCs are entered.  Henning Solberg / Ilka Minor and Matthew Wilson / Scott Martin are nominated by the Stobart M-Sport Ford team in Focus RS WRCs, while Federico Villagra / Jorge Perez Companc will drive for the Munchi’s Ford squad in a similar car.  The rally is the fourth round of the S-WRC support championship and four Ford Fiesta S2000 cars are entered.

 

* Despite the delays encountered by team members and cars returning to England following the Rally of Turkey due to the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland, the team’s air freight left for New Zealand on schedule on Wednesday.  It is due to arrive in Auckland over the weekend.

 

Rally Route

 

The move back to Auckland brings a new service park at Queens Wharf in the heart of the city, although mid-leg remote service zones will be used each day in Whangarei, at Hampton Downs motor racing circuit on the edge of the city, and in Raglan.  The opening leg journeys north to the Whangarei and Kaipara districts before ending with a short test at the Auckland Domain, home of the city’s War Memorial Museum.  The second leg heads south-west to the Franklin and northern Waikato area on roads used in 2008.  All the day’s country stages are mixed surface and the leg also includes two asphalt tests at Hampton Downs.  The final leg is unchanged from 2008, and journeys further south to stages on the Tasman Sea coastline, including two passes through the classic Whaanga Coast.  Drivers face 21 stages covering 396.50km in a route of 1496.51km.

 

For more information: Contact Mark Wilford or Georgina Finney at the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team media desk in Auckland Tel: + 64 9 377 0623.  Images available at www.worldrallypics.com/ford

 

                       RALLY NEW ZEALAND

 

ROUND 5 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

6 – 9 May 2010

 

Thursday 6 May: Ceremonial start

 

Start        Viaduct Harbour, Auckland                       18.30

 

 

Friday 7 May: Day 1 AucklandAuckland

 

Start        Auckland                                                   07.15

SS1         Waipu Gorge                        11.09km      09.03                    

SS2         Brooks 1                               13.60km      09.26

SS3         Bull 1                                     32.56km      10.19

SS4         Cassidy 1                              22.20km      11.02

RSZ A    Whangarei (15 mins)                                 12.50

SS5         Springfield                              9.87km         13.38                    

SS6         Brooks 2                               13.60km      14.11

SS7         Bull 2                                     32.56km     14.59

SS8         Cassidy 2                              22.20km      15.42

SS9         SSS Auckland Domain          1.50km       18.45

Serv B    Auckland (45 mins)                                   19.08

Finish     Auckland                                                    20.03

 

Total                                                   159.18km

 

 

Saturday 8 May: Day 2 AucklandAuckland

 

Start        Auckland                                                   06.00

Serv C    Auckland (15 mins)                                   06.10

SS10       New Franklin 1                     20.82km      07.43

SS11       Baker 1                                 21.42km      08.33

SS12       Te Akau Coast 1                  30.89km      09.11

SS13       Hampton Downs 1                  4.68km      11.46

RSZ D    Hampton Downs (15 mins)                        11.56

SS14       New Franklin 2                     20.82km      12.49

SS15       Baker 2                                 21.42km      13.39

SS16       Te Akau Coast 2                  30.89km      14.17

SS17       Hampton Downs 2                 4.68km       15.59

Serv E    Auckland (45 mins)                                    17.13

Finish     Auckland                                                    18.08

 

Total                                                   155.62km

 

 

Sunday 9 May: Day 3 AucklandAuckland

 

Start        Auckland                                                    06.00

Serv F    Auckland (15 mins)                                     06.10

SS18       Te Hutewai 1                        11.18km       08.38

SS19       Whaanga Coast 1                 29.67km       09.11

RSZ G    Raglan (15 mins)                                        10.20

SS20       Te Hutewai 1                        11.18km      10.51

SS21       Whaanga Coast 2                 29.67km       11.24

Serv H    Auckland (10 mins)                                    14.20

Finish     Viaduct Harbour, Auckland                        15.00

 

Total                                                     81.70km

Rally total                                           396.50km

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