Entries from the world’s best rally drivers have been confirmed for Rally New Zealand, taking place from 6 to 9 May this year
Tuesday 6 April was the last day for entries, and the Citroën Total World Rally Team and BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team have confirmed they will each enter two cars for Rally New Zealand, which is the fifth round of the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship.
Citroën’s crews are six-time world rally champion Sébastien Loeb with co-driver Daniel Elena, and Dani Sordo and Marc Marti drive the second Citroën C4 WRC car. Loeb has won Rally New Zealand twice, in 2005 and 2008, and came second in 2007 when he was beaten by former world champion Marcus Grönholm by just 0.3 seconds.
Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen head Ford’s attack, with Jari-Matti Latvala and co-driver Miikka Anttila in a similar Focus RS WRC.
Hirvonen rates Rally New Zealand as a fantastic event.
“There are lots of stages and I prefer rallies like that; they are a bigger challenge for me personally. If you start a fast stage then you know it will be fast for the whole stage. You know what you’re getting at each stage start and that enables you to build up a good rhythm,” says the Finn who finished just one point short of Loeb in last year’s championship fight. “I’m looking forward to the rally and I’m pleased that we're going to be back in Auckland.”
Latvala also enjoys the New Zealand round of the World Rally Championship.
“There are some great stages with nice character. There’s a lot of loose gravel so it's not an easy rally,” says the fellow Finn driver who’s just turned 25. “It’s nice to be back in Auckland, I prefer being based in a city like that. We will have long road sections because of the change of base, but I don’t mind that if it means we get to drive on fantastic roads. There are some new stages there this year that have not been used for a few years and I’m looking forward to driving on them.”
Kiwi rally fans will be particularly excited to see Norwegian Petter Solberg back in action on our roads, says Rally New Zealand chairman Chris Carr.
“Petter is hugely popular and most will be delighted to see the former world champion rallying at the highest levels again with his own team, Petter Solberg World Rally Team in a Citroën C4 WRC car.”
Solberg says he’s really looking forward to Rally New Zealand this year with his own team.
“We did good in Mexico and Jordan and I really think the stages around Auckland will suits us perfect, and we are aiming for another podium,” says Solberg.
Citroën has also confirmed that their Citroën Junior Team entrant Sébastien Ogier with co-driver Julien Ingrassia will be heading down-under, but that the other CJT driver, former Formula 1 champion Kimi Räikkönen and co-driver Kaj Lindström will not.
Ogier took the Junior World Rally Championship title in 2008 and the 27-year-old Frenchman is certainly mixing it up with Loeb, Sordo, Hirvonen, Solberg and Latvala on a regular basis to be fifth on the drivers’ points-table after the third round, Rally Jordan, in early April.
The Ford line-up is completed by what are known as the ‘WRC team cars’ of Henning Solberg, Federico Villagra and Matthew Wilson.
Henning Solberg, the older brother of Petter, drives the orange Team Expert Ford Focus WRC car prepared by M-Sport in the UK and has a new co-driver, Austrian Ilka Minor, this year. Britons Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin scored their best-ever finish, fifth, in Jordan in the Stobart Ford, while Federico Villagra and Jorge Pérez Companc drive the Munchi’s Ford.
“We have many talented drivers lining up for Rally New Zealand among the WRC competitors,” says Carr. “With this being the last year of the current specification WRC car, it’s going to be a great year to watch these drivers in action on our roads.
“And then we have all the international competitors in Production World Rally Championship and Super 2000 World Rally Championship classes... truly, this is going to be one very exciting event with world-class motorsport action guaranteed.”
Based in Auckland in 2010, after three years in Hamilton, Rally New Zealand features numerous rally-related activities within the city’s boundaries, such as the spectacular start ceremony at Viaduct Harbour, the service park on Queens Wharf and the rally headquarters at SKYCITY Auckland. The rally route takes competitors both north and south of the city – Friday’s route runs through the Whangarei and Kaipara districts, while Saturday and Sunday’s stages are in the Franklin, North Waikato and Raglan districts.