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GP Week : Issue 158
35 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: Seventh round of a 13 round series means that Brother Rally New Zealand (22-24 June) is the halfway point in the 2012 FIA world rally championship. The format is the same as in recent years, in the shape of a vertical dumbbell with stages in a group to the south of Auckland on the first day, then in groups north of Auckland on the second and third days. The central service park will be in a newly redeveloped harbour area of Auckland not far from its location on the last WRC event in the country, in 2010, at the Viaduct Events Centre. Most of the stages are old favourites. This year the famous Whaanga Coast stages, which run on cliff tops, run on Day 1. Day 1 has eight long stages, totalling 210km, virtually half the competitive distance of the whole event, which means the pre-event driver running order selection will be critically important. It will also be the greatest distance before cars can receive full service in the WRC, one of two special FIA inspired ‘endurance’ aspects being trialed this time. The total stage distance of 424km compares with 396 in 2010. There are two separate shakedown locations, one close to Helensville for the WRC cars and the other some way further north. As the second experiment, because free practice and then the QS are held some 50km and more away from the Auckland base, these sections will be run on remote service principles – any spare or alternative parts required must be carried in the car. This is a completely new ‘endurance’ principle which the organisers of Rally GB in September are also expected to adopt. New Zealand falls within the no-testing WRC rule, although the support championship drivers can have a dedicated one day test before recce. Other wise the only permitted testing will be during the Thursday morning free practice. News from the championship front: Ken Block enters his second WRC event of the season, this time with a brand new Fiesta (his Mexico car now sold to Lebanon) but as a lone Monster team entry, without support from the Australian Chris Atkinson who had been his teammate in Mexico. Of the 44 entries, 33 are foreign, but for the first time in 41 years no trans-Tasman entry from Australia has been received. Missing regular WRC drivers include Nasser Al Attiyah who is representing Qatar in Skeet shooting at the Olympic Games. His registered entry has been taken over by the usual Citroen Junior driver Thierry Neuville. This means Thierry scores Makes’ points for the Qatar team rather than the Junior team. Mads Ostberg, who is currently lying third and top Ford driver in the Drivers’ championship, is also absent. Once again the entry for Henning Solberg is not expected to materialize. Although Daniel Oliveira will be absent his car is to be driven instead by Manfred Stohl. Dani Sordo drives the Prodrive development Mini, one of three Mini WRCs on this event and the only one built in the latest 01B specification. New Zealand is the second of only three events of the season in which both the SWRC and the PCWRC support championships compete at the same time. Five of the six registered SWRC competitors nominated New Zealand as one of the seven out of eight events they would enter. This is a country steeped in Group N traditions, but Benito Guerra, Michal Kosciuszko and Nicolas Fuchs, three of the top four PCWRC drivers, have all opted to miss this event, leaving no clear favourite in this category. Clearly the SWRC favourite has to be Hayden Paddon (pictured right in 'NZ' event livery), the New Zealander who last year became the FIA’s Production Car World Champion. Do not think however that Paddon is a ‘local’ driver to this event. His home at Geraldine in the South Island is over 600km from Auckland! Surprisingly, none of the wide collection of top class local Group N drivers has been nominated as a Guest driver in the PCWRC, although they are entered for the event proper. Richard Mason, Chris West and Emma Gilmour are seeded to start the event right behind the PCWRC drivers. There is a subsidiary three-day Possum Bourne Memorial Rally for drivers of homologated cars. The weather prospects are not looking happy, but you never know. Even the experts are hedging their bets. Michelin prefers to supply hard tyres, offering their drivers only the regulatory limited supply of 10 alternative soft tyres. DMack prefer soft with only a limited quantity of hards. The weather could be wet or dry, but undoubtedly cold. 11 years ago the late Richard Burns dramatically showed how favourable running order can be critical when the conditions are dry, but that event was run in September, in NZ springtime. Dust is an unlikely to be a hazard this time but significant road cleaning is on the cards should the weather be dry, and wintry conditions could bring fog or even ice on the early morning Friday stages. Do not assume the Whaanga Stages will be a photographic delight this year – check the weather forecast first! It was 35 years ago that the WRC first visited the Antipodes and the delights of the country are still there. Where else could a special stage be run on, and named after, the local Girls High School Road? Where else would an event get excited that the rally was going to run in absolute mid-winter and promoting this as the rally of the ‘Longest Night’ - when all the stages are in daylight? Other specialities of the event include a convoy of rally cars down Queen Street in central Auckland instead of an official ceremonial start. Some stages are new to the event, like the Girls School stage previously run on the APRC Whangarei Rally, others not for some time, like Te Akau which was last used in the clockwise direction in 1997. This was when Carlos Sainz hit a sheep and lost his hopes of catching the eventual winner Kenneth Eriksson. New Zealand is the country famous for its local name of Long White Cloud. Currently there is a long dark political cloud hanging over its rally, as the FIA is under pressure to exclude this event from future world championship calendars, on commercial grounds. Paddon: “The last WRC rally in NZ? I hope not, but I worry about the way things are heading, Money is very hard to find in New Zealand, as I know! We like to think it is really the best rally in the championship. People talk about Finland being ideally smooth but they forget that even Finland can be very rough in places, not like our event.” For local fans Hayden is the star attraction on the event, the first time a national reigning world champion is on the event. RALLY >>> PREVIEW Once Jari-Matti, far right at start, was gone, Petter Solberg took up the chase and got close ...