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GP Week : Issue 157
39 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: RALLY >>> FEATURE frozen meat in to their country. Fiat's manager, Daniel Audetto, was more direct. He noticed that the exclusion order was made by the Clerk of the Course, which the organisers stood by and confirmed, instead of being imposed by the Stewards, as required by international rules. The organisers had no leg to stand on. Alen (right) continued in the race, and frozen meat was back on its way to Europe! All three Fiats finished the rally, with Fulvio Bacchelli gaining his one and only WRC victory, but only just. For all the final day the car emitted quantities of smoke from the exhaust, and in the final hours the team dared not turn off the engine for fear of being unable to restart it. A piston was later found to have a huge hole in it. The Fiats finished 1st, 3rd (Alen) and 5th (Simo Lampinen). Fiats were not the only visitors from the top end of the world. Ford made arrangements through the local dealers to enter Ari Vatanen, a move that presented a completely different aspect to the event. This was the event when Ari (top), just turned 25 years old (really young in motorsport terms in those days!) entered after only seven previous appearances on world championship rallies, none of which he had finished. He was held in such respect by Ford that he was sent to the other end of the world to develop his skills. This was an event neither he nor anyone present who watched his progress would forget. On average he had an accident of great or lesser severity on every day – yet he reached the finish, in second place! To this day Ari tells the tale of his pure delight when on one long night time stage he caught and passed all three Fiats running ahead of him, while making up time from earlier delays. Each of the Fiat drivers thought the approaching Ford driver was one of their own teammates, presumably having been given team orders to speed up. All subsequent world championship New Zealand rallies have had their memorable moments. The 1978 event was run outside the WRC, while organisers sought to recover from the financial traumas of the previous year’s event. 1979 saw the two works Datsuns, which finished second and sixth, excluded because the team did not allow the engines to be opened up by scrutineers. They said they were under orders from superiors in Japan, who were “unavailable” at that time to give consent. Three years later, in completely unrelated circumstances, far away in Greece, an engine was found in a different model of car driven by a privateer which was oversize. Investigations established that this had been one of the batch of engines the factory team had prepared years earlier! In 1980 Pentti Airikkala crashed heavily after a stage flying finish. The routes on the stages were secret. This sparked off a huge political fight instigated by Mercedes, who had taken most unsuitable sports cars down to the event not realising the route would be secret. The argument ended with all the rallies of the WRC, even the cherished RAC Rally in Britain, having to run routes that could be recce’d, even if Mercedes meanwhile had pulled out of rallying. The organisers took a breather in 1981 but were back again in the WRC in 1982 when some very special Toyotas finished first and second. Their chassis had been modified so that the engines were relocated rear wards to gain more traction, a form which they never used elsewhere. In 1983 Stig Blomqvist was thrown out mid-event because it was discovered he had been entered too late. He returned the next year to win the rally – and marry a lady from the country. Their son Tom became a circuit racing champion in Britain at the age of 16. 1984 can be said to be the first year that Rally NZ really fitted into the international scheme of things, but even that year wasn’t without its excitement. The reigning world champion Hannu Mikkola unusually rolled his car... By now, the legendary Rally of New Zealand had really taken shape and become a firm favourite in the sport. Nearer our time the legends simply multiplied. In 2007 a fantastic final stage battle between Marcus Gronholm and Sebastien Loeb saw the Finn win the event by a record small margin of 0.3 seconds. In 2010 there were three different leaders in the last four stages. Through the years of Rally New Zealand, drivers from that country have emerged and found international success around the world. Rod Millen became American champion, Possum Bourne seven-times Australian champion, and in 2011 Hayden Paddon went on to become the FIA Production Car Champion. And politically, a former competitor and long time organiser of the rally, Morrie Chandler, went on to become President of the FIA’s World Rally Championship Commission. Sadly the Land of the Long White Cloud now has a long dark cloud hanging over its rallying future, as arguments wage to and fro about the calendar of events in the future world championship. Indefensible in terms of lower spectator numbers or annual car sales, or in high cost of transportation compared with other events, in terms of sheer dedication and loyalty of the fans in the country, and sheer driving pleasure for the crews, Rally New Zealand is in a class of its own. Rally New Zealand has come a very long way since those first few days in May 1977, and hopefully it will be allowed to continue into the future as a respected member of the WRC.