Stobart Team Accelerates to Auckland
The Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team will travel to New Zealand next week for the fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC). After an unexpectedly tough rally in Turkey last month the Cumbrian-based squads will be aiming for top
five finishes in the 40th edition of Rally New Zealand in an attempt to close the gap on third place of the Manufacturers' Championship Standings Table.
This is Matthew Wilson's fourth Rally New Zealand and the 23-year-old Cumbrian will be looking to replicate the extremely quick stage times in his Ford Focus RS WRC that he produced in 2008 which helped him move an incredible 30 places up the leader board after suffering transmission problems in the opening day.
Team-mate Henning Solberg also has a good past record competing in New Zealand and produced a series of fast times back in 2008. After an unlucky opening stage in Rally Turkey when Solberg broke his steering arm and was forced to retire, the Norwegian will be looking to tackle the 396.50km to the best of his ability in order to make up for his previous stroke of bad luck.
Rally New Zealand was first included as a round of the World Rally Championship in 1977 - since then its status has grown internationally and the 2001 edition was awarded the WRC Rally of the Year award. After a year's absence from the WRC calendar, the longest running world championship event in the Southern Hemisphere will move 125kms north-west of Hamilton in the Waikato region back to the country's largest city, Auckland.
The event will be hosted from entertainment complex, Sky City, which also encompasses Auckland's biggest landmark, the Sky Tower. With its numerous restaurants, bars and caf0x00e9s, Sky City will appeal to rally fans of all ages and act as an ideal venue to host several pre-event activities throughout the week leading up to the rally.
Stages in Rally New Zealand have been traditionally very fast, gravel roads with lots of camber and loose gravel on top which held an unfair disadvantage for those drivers first on the stage. However, this year will include four brand new stages and drivers will all face the same challenge of competing on stages they are not familiar with alongside the difficulty of driving on mixed gravel with tarmac sections.
Day one consists of a series of nine stages over 159.18 competitive distance including a repeat loop at SS3 and SS7 of the rally's longest stage at 32.56km. This early challenge will require the crews' full attention from the very beginning to ensure no silly mistakes are made which could cost them crucial time on the opening day. The evening will also include a short Super Special Stage of 1.5km set to take place in the Auckland domain.
The second full day includes two loops of lengthy stages over 20km before culminating with a new 4.68km stage at the end of the morning and afternoon loop at the new international Hampton Downs Motor Race Circuit. The final day comprises of four stages comprising of 81.70km including the notoriously difficult Whaanga Coast stage making it imperative for the teams to produce fast stage times in the first two days in order to consolidate a good position by the time it comes to the finale on Sunday.
The Stobart M-Sport Rally Team currently lie in fourth position in FIA Manufacturers' Championship with 56 points, 19 points behind the rival Citroen Junior Team.
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
"This is the fourth time I've been out to New Zealand and it's one of my favourite events. Scott and I were unlucky out in Turkey last month and suffered from a couple of punctures but I was pleased to make it to the end of the event after so many others were forced to retire. I really want to get another top five finish like I did in Jordan so I'm hoping the lessons I've learned from Turkey will hold me in good stead for when we go out to New Zealand."
Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
"Rally New Zealand is a good rally for me and I had some really fast times in 2008 when I was last there. I was a little unlucky out in Turkey last month and I was disappointed that I had to retire on the first day -- the stages were very rough on the car and it was very muddy on the last day. I always try to do my best though and I will try very hard out in New Zealand next week to produce some fast times for the team."
Stobart M-Sport Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"New Zealand is one of the most established events in the WRC calendar and I know that it's very popular with the drivers. It will be especially good this year as the rally will be returning to its base in Auckland. Turkey was a very tough event on the Stobart team but New Zealand will be a good chance for Matthew and Henning to put the valuable lessons they learned to good use."