Rally NZ attracts strongest international field
17 March 2004
Attention Sports Editors
Rally New Zealand attracts strongest international field
A superlative collection of international drivers will be in Auckland next month for the Propecia Rally New Zealand.
Fifty-eight drivers from 24 countries will contest the fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship from 15-18 April, based in Auckland, Manukau City, Kaipara region north of Auckland and Raglan region in the Waikato.
All five manufacturers have two-car teams entered
for the World Rally Championship,
with Peugeot and Ford also supporting second teams to contest the three-day event.
Rally New Zealand is the only round of the Production Car World Championship to attract all 20 drivers. This international group come from 14 countries and includes current points leader Daniel Sola (Spain), who won the second round in Mexico at the weekend.
Also included is second placed Toshi Arai (Japan) who will again have Kiwi co-driver Tony Sircombe alongside. Arai and Sola are the only drivers to gain points in both rounds to date in a championship that rewards consistency.
There is plenty of excitement for WRC honours which will see all the latest specification 2004 works cars going head to head for the first time this year.
Finland’s Marcus Gronholm is back looking for a third victory in a row in New Zealand in his new Peugeot 307. The 2000 and 2002 world champion is currently third in the overall standings after three rounds. While he has scored valuable points in all three rounds in Monte Carlo, Sweden and Mexico, he has only been on the podium once.
Kiwi fans will be keen to see Sebastian Loeb in his first full season as the No 1 driver for Citroen. The exciting Frenchman, considered a tarmac specialist, set the 2004 season on fire with back-to-back victories in Monte Carlo and Sweden, both loose surface events.
He has a share of the overall lead in the championship after sump damage in Mexico at the weekend.
He is joined at the top of the driver standings by Ford’s Markko Martin (Estonia), who scored a brilliant victory in Mexico ahead of team-mate Francois Duval. This was Ford’s first one-two WRC finish since Cyprus in 2000 and a fitting farewell to the 2003 specification Focus. They have their new Ford developed for the New Zealand event, the start of the targeted gravel rallies.
World champion Petter Solberg is poised in fifth place overall after finishing fourth in Mexico. The colourful Norwegian made a strong statement in the new 2004 Subaru Impreza as he was quickest through the stages, but received a costly five minute penalty for receiving outside assistance. He has also scored in every round so far.
Two-time world champion Carlos Sainz, the most experienced driver in this year’s WRC lineup, showed he is far from a spent force in finishing third at Mexico in the Citroen. Sainz (Spain) is currently sixth overall and has a penchant for New Zealand roads, having triumphed four times in Rally New Zealand.
There are less Kiwi drivers included
this year following the retirement of New Zealand
champion Bruce Herbert and Geof Argyle and with Rally New Zealand not included as a round of this year’s national championship.
However the crop of top up-and-comers are competing including former Propecia young driver scholar and two-time national junior champion Richard Mason (Masterton), talented Auckland driver Mark Tapper, the exciting Waiuku peddler Stumpy Holmes, national Group N champion Chris West (Timaru), former three-time national champion Malcolm Stewart (Dannevirke) and Grant Barber (Foxton).
The entries are awaiting final approval by the FIA.
The Propecia-sponsored event starts with two super special stages at Manukau City on the evening of Thursday 15 April. The first full day on Friday is in the Kaipara region before returning for two further super special stages at Manukau City. Saturday’s racing returns to Kaipara, with the last day in the Waikato region near Raglan. The final stage will be the internationally acclaimed Whaanga Coast, with the ceremonial finish in downtown Auckland city on Sunday afternoon.
Please refer to www.rallynz.org.nz for a full entry list.