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Loeb may return for Propecia Rally New Zealand


Injured world champion Sebastien Loeb hopes to get his title hopes back on track in next month's Propecia Rally New Zealand.

A starter for the third season of the Toyota Racing Series, Smith will run the #11 car with assistance from long term supporters Exide.

As to his ambitions for the season, Smith says the cars are very different to master compared to what he's driven previously.

"The cars are totally different to what we've driven in the past. You've got to head in to corners with the brakes on and things like that. These cars are very stiff and rigid like a go-kart - so that's what suits a lot of these youngsters."

"I'm not finished yet, but this year I hope to be up in the top-6 or seven. That's opening my mouth isn't it?"

With the eight round series starting in early November, brawny competition is assured.

"The Toyota class seems strong again this year. We've got a few new kids rising, so in theory I should be going further back, but no, I can't be spooked out....they're only people after all. There are a few mods to the cars, it'll be good - it's a good class."

Toyota Racing Series calendar 2007/2008
Round 1: 04-05 Nov 2006 Pukekohe Park Raceway Auckland
Round 2: 24-26 Nov 2006 Powerbuilt Tools International Raceway Christchurch
Round 3: (International) Lady Wigram Trophy 5-7 Jan 2007 Powerbuilt Tools Raceway Christchurch
Round 4: (International) A1 Grand Prix 19-21 Jan 2007 Taupo Motor Racing Circuit Taupo
Round 5: (International) 16-18 Feb 2007 Manfeild Park Feilding
Round 6: 2-4 March 2007 Timaru International Raceway Timaru
Round 7: 9-11 March 2007 New Zealand Grand Prix Teretonga Park Teretonga
Round 8: 20-22 April 2007 Pukekohe Park Raceway Auckland V8 Supercars

Loeb (Kronos Total Citroen) is the top seed for Propecia Rally New Zealand, the penultimate round of the FIA World Rally Championship, to be staged in and around Hamilton from 16-19 November.

Rally New Zealand officials released the entry list today with a high quality and tight field of 48 including 12 state-of-the-art world rally cars including seven time world motorcycle champion Valentino Rossi. There are a record 16 cars in the final round of the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship including New Zealanders Richard Mason and Chris West.

Loeb was racing away with his third world rally title until he was forced out after breaking his arm in a mountain bike accident near his home in Switzerland. He missed last week's Rally of Turkey where victory by Ford rival Marcus Gronholm reduced the margin to 25 points between the pair.

If Loeb misses the next round in Australia next week, which is likely, then he will come to New Zealand hoping to stave off the challenge.

"I drive a very fast rally car and yet I get injured by falling off my bike. It is a bit crazy," said Loeb who has never missed a WRC event until last week.

"I would prefer to be fighting for the world title and I try to stay optimistic. It is too early to know about the injury. Australia may be too early.

"I know that Marcus has an opportunity. It's a big pressure on him though. I will do my best to come back to New Zealand to win the championship."

While the odds still favour Loeb claiming his third crown, in a year when he has become the most successful driver in WRC history with his 28 th career victory in Cyprus, he may not be able to hold off the Ford challenge for the manufacturer honours.

Ford claimed the lead with a one-two finish for Gronholm and Mikko Hirvonen, whose podium finish in Turkey was his sixth in his last seven events.

Hirvonen is locked in a battle with No 2 Citroen driver Dani Sordo for third place in the championship, with a four point buffer going into Australia.

The Subaru World Rally Team for New Zealand is led by 2003 world champion Petter Solberg, the likeable Norwegian who has had his humour tested to the full in a fruitless season where he has failed to score points on seven rallies. Australian Chris Atkinson is their other driver.

The WRC field is completed by the OMV Peugeot Norway team, the M-Sport Ford team, Citroen privateer Xavier Pons and the remarkable Italian superhero Rossi, who will try his fortunes on four wheels after the completion of his Motor GP duties.

The PWRC division has drawn all but one of the entire field for their decider where Qatar's Nasser Al-Attiyah (Subaru) enjoys an eight point lead over Japan's FumioNutahara (Mitsubishi) in a two horse race where the current top five are all still in the title fight.

The local interest centres on defending PWRC champion Toshi Arai, paired again with Kiwi Tony Sircombe, who will see the rally go close to his home town of Otorohanga in the Waikato.

The other New Zealand interest is on current New Zealand Rally champion Mason and 2004 champion West, who will enjoy their status as FIA guest entrants in the PWRC category in their Subarus. They will have the opportunity to test themselves against the best in the world in their class, and a chance to further their international rally aspirations.

There are 13 other New Zealand drivers in the rally including Northland schoolgirl Kirsty Nelson, who earned her start after winning a Propecia Rally New Zealand scholarship.

Reconnaissance takes place on Tuesday 14 and Wednesday 15 November with Shakedown at the event headquarters Mystery Creek Events Centre on Thursday 16 November ahead of the Ceremonial Start in Hamilton in the evening.

The rally proper begins on Friday at 8.30am with four special stages near the Waikato town of Pirongia before returning for the Special Stage at Mystery Creek at 6pm.

Leg two begins at 7am on Saturday with three stages in the Franklin District in the morning and two stages in northern Waikato ahead of a second special stage at Mystery Creek again from 6pm.

The final day on Sunday features six special stages in the Raglan region from 7:30 am with the Ceremonial Finish at 3pm at Mystery Creek.

For further information on Propecia Rally New Zealand checkout the website

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