Ford Fiesta S2000 Crews Transported to New Zealand
The 40th edition of Rally New Zealand will see four Ford Fiesta Super 2000s make their way to the southern hemisphere for the fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC). Xevi Pons has already won Super World Rally
Championship (SWRC) rounds in both Sweden and Mexico earlier this year and his competitors will have to push hard to prevent the Spaniard from winning his third consecutive victory out in New Zealand.
The previous WRC round in Turkey saw two Ford Fiesta S2000s battle it out in brutally rough stages to the north of Istanbul. The three-day event finished with Dennis Kuipers in a fantastic ninth position overall and the 24-year-old broke a new record as the first ever Dutch driver to score WRC points in an S2000.
Rally New Zealand is the longest running championship event in the southern hemisphere and holds the record for being the closest championship finish in WRC history when the gap between winner and runner up in 2007's Rally New Zealand was only 0.3 seconds.
After a year's absence from the WRC calendar, the 2010 rally will be returning 125kms north-east of its previous base in Hamilton to the country's largest city, Auckland. The event will officially begin on Thursday evening with a ceremonial start in the Viaduct Harbour located on the waterfront of Auckland's central business district.
Rally HQ will be hosted from entertainment complex, Sky City, which also encompasses Auckland's tallest landmark, the Sky Tower. With its numerous restaurants, bars and cafes, 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.
Competing alongside Xevi Pons will be Czech driver Martin Prokop who is looking to replicate his podium finish from Mexico earlier this year. Prokop had an excellent track record from competing in his first rally New Zealand back in 2008, winning the PWRC class and finishing tenth overall so will be tough competition for Pons.
Finnish competitors Janne Tuohino and Jari Ketomaa both encountered problems during the rough stages of Rally Jordan but are looking to produce fast stage times on more forgiving roads in New Zealand. Both Finns have reported that New Zealand's 21 tests over 396.50km will be similar to the stages on their home turf in Finland.
Day one will consist 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 along with a brand new test in SS5 will require the S2000 crews' full attention from the very beginning. The evening will also include a short Super Special Stage of 1.5km set to take place at the Auckland Domain.
The second full day includes two loops of lengthy stages over 20km before culminating with a brand new 4.68km tarmac stage in SS13 and SS17 at the new international Hampton Downs Motor Race Circuit.
The final day comprises of just four stages comprising of 81.70km, including the notoriously difficult Whaanga Coast stage which could prove pivotal in the result. The crews will be looking 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.
Xevi Pons said:
"I'm happy to be leading the championship and pleased to go to New Zealand because it has been a good rally for me in the past. Jordan was a really hard event for everyone but I got to know the car well when I was out there and I think I will get a good result next week."
Janne Tuohino said:
"I last drove in New Zealand back in 2005 and really liked the roads out there. They were fast and much like they are back home in Finland. I really hope we do well out there as we need some fast stage times. I have a new co-driver for this event so this will be a new challenge but I have driven with him for two rallies before so it shouldn't be too much of a problem. Hopefully we produce good times out in New Zealand."
Jari Ketomaa said:
"I'm looking forward to going out to New Zealand and doing more mileage in the S2000. We were unlucky in the WRC round in Jordan as I had some technical problems before the ceremonial start and I couldn't compete in day one. During day two I had problems with the alternator belt but in the final day I got used to the car and did very fast times. The car felt very good. The stages will be very different from Jordan in new Zealand and more similar to Finland which I prefer."
Martin Prokop said:
"Last time I was in New Zealand I won the PWRC class and finished in tenth position overall so it is a very good rally for me. I got into a really good rhythm in the S2000 when I was over in Mexico so I hope that I can do just as well next week."
M-Sport Managing Director Malcolm Wilson said:
"I am delighted that Rally New Zealand is returning to the traditional base of Auckland this year. The SWRC class includes some very talented drivers and I think it could be a very close battle. It will be interesting to see how Prokop performs as it was an excellent event for him two years ago. Pons has had a fantastic season so far, finishing first in both Jordan and Mexico and Ketomaa and Tuohino will have the speed to go well in New Zealand. There is little doubt that it will be an exciting weekend in the SWRC class."