Four days out from the start of the 40th running of Rally New Zealand, fans swarmed to SKYCITY Auckland to see their World Rally Championship heroes
Sunday’s driver autograph session was well attended with rally enthusiasts filling SKYCITY’s main atrium to have the world’s and New Zealand’s best drivers autograph posters, postcards and other memorabilia. In fact, some fans were so keen to collect signatures that organisers needed to impose a limit on the number of items each person could get signed.
“It was absolutely fantastic to see so many people enjoying the opportunity to meet their favourite drivers,” says Paul Mallard, general manager of Rally New Zealand. “The atmosphere was great, everyone clearly happy to have this World Rally Championship event back in New Zealand and back in Auckland.”
The driver and co-driver line-up included the current top three in the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship: six-time WRC champion Sébastien Loeb and his Citroën co-driver Daniel Elena, Petter Solberg and Phil Mills who are driving Solberg’s privately-entered Citroën in Rally New Zealand this year, and the BP Ford pairing of Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen.
The afternoon’s entertainment was wrapped up with a driving skill demonstration on Federal Street just outside the main doors at SKYCITY. Top New Zealand drivers Emma Gilmour and Richard Mason put a Subaru Impreza WRX STI through its paces while Mikko Hirvonen gunned a ‘tricked out’ Ford Focus from Sony Xplod, much to the fans’ delight.
On Monday, several WRC drivers went sailing with popular tourist attraction Sail NZ, before some of them threw themselves off the Auckland Harbour Bridge bungy.
Reconnaissance takes place on Tuesday and Wednesday, where all teams can travel the full rally route in a road-spec car at a defined speed to check their pace notes for when they drive those stages at full speed during Friday, Saturday and Sunday’s action. Thursday sees everyone gather in Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour for what is expected to be a very stirring ceremonial start as Rally New Zealand celebrates its 40th running.