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GP Week : Issue 25
T HIS year is the 30th time the World Rally Championship has gone round the world to visit New Zealand. This is an event that, like Finland, is a pure driving paradise, on gravel roads that do not damage the cars, and surfaces that demand extreme precision. It is a most popular event, all six manufacturer championship teams elected to contest this event, and in the Production Car category 22 of the 28 registered teams, including the top 10 regular drivers in the championship standings, chose this as one of the six out of eight events they must start. Subaru are in the headlines for this event. It is 15 years since the Japanese marque scored their first World Championship win on this event, with the Legacy, and later that year, the Impreza model, which here in New Zealand is making its 200th World Championship rally start. Ford brings ex-Finland cars, but travels to New Zealand with worries about the team’s future, with no decision yet it will continue after the end of 2008. On top of that, while they never expected to win the previous round, the all-asphalt Rallye Deutschland, their defeat was much more serious than expected. This is the event in which Marcus Gronholm dug deep into his personal talents to win last year by a record small margin from Sebastien Loeb. The pressure, however, will be on their number two driver Jari-Matti Latvala to deliver a major back-up result, which essentially means beating Citroen’s number two driver, Dani Sordo, by as big a margin as possible. But New Zealand holds good memories for Latvala, having won Group N here in 2006. Ford’s subsidiary team Stobart-VK lost the services of Gigi Galli in Germany, and made the decision to offer the car again to Francois Duval, for whom this will be his fourth trip to the rally. The Belgian has never gone well here and has very little experience of the stages used this year. Under the FIA’s calendar rotation system, there will be no World Championship rally in NZ in 2009, and for this year extremely minimal changes have been made to the itinerary. The big concern is the original FIA decision that Pirelli should bring hard, not soft, compound tyres to New Zealand. Recent prolonged rains and forecasts for inclement weather during the rally suggest that all the four-wheel-drive cars will start with unsuited tyres. On a rally where previous experience of the high speed roads is important, the use of the same stages as last year brings a 46