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Stage character and tyres crucial

Stage character and tyres crucial

Deleting the Raglan stages from this year's Rally of New Zealand route might have tipped the balance in favour of his rivals according to Production class favourite Possum Bourne.

Bourne will debut the latest 2003 model Subaru Impreza WRX STI on the second round of the Production World Rally Championship from April 10 to 13 after its homologation at the start of the month.

While changes to the engine should bring improvements in horsepower and torque, Bourne still expects his Mitsubishi mounted rivals to have the upper hand on the two days of stages in the Paparoa area.

"In the past there's been a good balance of stages," said Bourne. "I've tended to go a bit better on the Raglan stages which are a bit tighter and twistier while the other guys use their horsepower advantage up north."

With 285 kms of stages around the Paparoa service park over the first two legs of the event, Bourne reckons he might have his work cut out to repeat his class victory of last October.

Since finishing fourth on the opening round of the series in Sweden, the Pukekohe driver has warmed up for the Rally of New Zealand by starting the defence of his Australian title in the Busselton based Western Australian round of the series.

"I know there's a fair bit of pressure to do well at home," said Bourne. "But I can't help but look forward to it."

"The last day with the two Te Akau stages and Maramarua is going to be critical."

And Bourne believes the PWRC tyre restrictions could also have a big bearing on the result.

"If the current dry weather continues, the roads will be as hard as concrete and destroy the tyres. It's going to be quite a difficult exercise in tyre management."

Apart from the engine changes, the 2003 model Impreza WRX STI also has a revised transmission and new front body panels with a bigger bonnet scoop.

Bourne's team has undertaken engine development in New Zealand and Japan in co-operation with Subaru Production Rally Team team-mate Toshi Arai and Bourne plans a New Zealand test session next week after returning from Western Australia.

"It's going to be a tough fight," said Bourne. "Several of the top guys who missed Sweden are starting their championship campaigns here. So it's the first time we'll really get to see how we all stack up against one another."

"We've got to get some good points for the sake of our championship aspirations."

After "biting his tongue" and concentrating on a points finish in Sweden on his first outing on ice and snow, Bourne knows New Zealand and the following three gravel rounds of the PWRC in Argentina, Cyprus and Australia are crucial to his series aspirations. The final event, the Tour de Corse, is on tarmac, a surface he has only limited experience of.

"We're going to give New Zealand our best shot," said Bourne. "The car will get better as the season progresses and we do more development. But we've got the home track advantage and intend to make the most of it."


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