Rally Nieuw Zeeland - 28-31 augustus 2008.

Het ging zo goed en toch was het een enorme verrassing om te horen dat ze wederom mooie kansen hebben laten liggen, lees hieronder het verslag van deze 3e en laatste dag van de Rally Nieuw Zeeland:

Podium place for Hirvonen after dramatic finale in New Zealand,

BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen finished third on Rally New Zealand today as, for the second consecutive season, the event provided a finale that could have come straight from a story book. The Finns drove their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car to the Hamilton finish ceremony more in disappointment than celebration after a dramatic ending that also saw team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila retire and the team lose a possible 1-2 finish.

After two days of gripping competition over smooth and flowing gravel roads in the Waikato district of North Island, today's final leg started with four drivers covered by less than 15sec. The tight leaderboard owed much to tactics as drivers jockeyed for position to obtain the best start position for today. With the roads covered in slippery loose gravel, those at the front were at a disadvantage as they swept away the stones to leave a cleaner, and faster, line for those behind to follow.

Latvala and Hirvonen were first and second overnight and started in that order today. Latvala's 'sweeping' role helped Hirvonen enormously and the 28-year-old swapped places on the leaderboard with his colleague after the first loop of two countryside speed tests close to Raglan. With those tests repeated, the now clean roads offered a level playing field for all and Hirvonen extended his lead to 9.8sec over Latvala with just one countryside test and a short spectator-friendly stage remaining.

The 29.72km Whaanga Coast is one of the great challenges in the FIA World Rally Championship, winding through lush, green hills with stunning views of the Tasman Sea. It lived up to its reputation as the rally's keynote stage as firstly Latvala swiped a bank and retired with a damaged radiator and then Hirvonen punctured a tyre and later spun his Focus RS WRC, losing a minute and sliding to third.

"This is one of the biggest disappointments of my career but that's the way sport goes," said Hirvonen. "I was confident I could drive at normal pace through that stage and win but it wasn't to be because we handed Loeb victory. It's not looking so good for either championship now but it's not impossible. An eight-point gap in the drivers' standings will be difficult to make up and it's annoying to end like this after a great weekend. But I finished on the podium and what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. The positive from this event is that I know I can win gravel rallies.

"When I saw Jari-Matti stopped in the stage I knew I just had to finish. However about 9km from the end I realised I had a slow puncture on the rear right tyre. I've no idea how, or where, it happened. Then a kilometre before the finish I spun and the impact on the bank dragged off the front bumper. It just wasn't meant to be," added Hirvonen, after completing the last of the 16 tests covering 353.04km.

Latvala's accident happened 3.5km after the start. "I approached a long left bend where the later cars in the first pass had created a narrow line. I lost grip at the rear and the car went sideways. I floored the throttle to try to straighten up, but it turned and I went into the inside of the corner. I hit a bank, which had a rock buried in the sand, and the impact broke the radiator and the cooler. I knew straight away that it was over because the oil temperature and water warning lights came on. I'm disappointed because I lost points for myself and the team. I was going so well and was pleased with my driving here so I thought I could finish second. It's a bad feeling but after my problems in Germany, I've learned that I have to pick myself up and carry on," said 23-year-old Latvala.
BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson summed up the team's feelings. "This is one of the most disappointing days that we've ever had. After being in commanding first and second places going into the last countryside stage, we certainly didn't expect to find ourselves with just third. I really feel for Mikko because he drove a faultless rally and showed he can take the fight to Loeb. Both he and Jari-Matti showed tremendous pace this weekend and we'll come back fighting," he said.

Ford of Europe motorsport director Mark Deans said: "We're terribly disappointed with what happened but it's days like today that make the WRC such a fascinating sport. We were on the receiving end and this result is a blow to our hopes of retaining the manufacturers' championship, but there are still four rallies remaining so we'll fight back. We saw today how unpredictable this sport can be so it's too early to start making predictions of how the year might end."

News from our Rivals

Sébastien Loeb (Citroen) appeared to have lost his victory chance when he spun on the morning's opening stage, losing 10sec and dropping to fourth. However, he profited from the drama and moved ahead of team-mate Dani Sordo on the penultimate stage to win by 17.5sec. Stobart driver François Duval (Ford) was on course for fourth until he crashed out in the Whaanga Coast test. So Norway's Petter Solberg (Subaru) took fourth ahead of Urmo Aava (Citroen), despite the Estonian spinning on the opening stage. Munchi's driver Henning Solberg (Ford) recovered from first day power steering problems to win seven stages and climb to ninth, taking the final manufacturers' point. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) retired on the second stage after nudging a bank, the impact causing an oil leak in the engine.

Next round

After three rounds in five weekends, the series pauses for breath in September. It returns with Rally de España in Salou on 2 - 5 October, which is the first of two asphalt rounds in successive weekends.

Final Leaderboard
1. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroën C4 +3h58m48.9s
2. D Sordo/M Marti E Citroën C4 +17.5s
2. M Hirvonen/J LehtinenFIN Ford Focus RS +41.5ss
4. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza +2m48.9s
5. U Aava/K Sikk EECitroën C4 +3m30.7s
6. P-G Andersson/J Andersson SWESuzuki SX4 +7m37.4s
7. T Gardemeister/T Tuominen FINSuzuki SX4 +7m54.9s
8. F Villagra/J Perez Companc RAFord Focus RS +8m35.0s
9. H Solberg/C MenkerudN Ford Focus RS +9m15.2s
10. M Prokop/J TomanekCZE Mitsubishi Lancer +13m49.0s
17. M Wilson/S Martin GB Ford Focus RS+17m15.1s

FIA WRC Manufacturer Standings
1. Citroën Total WRT – 141 pts
2. BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT – 121 pts
3. Subaru WRT – 74 pts
4. Stobart VK M-Sport Ford – 51 pts
5. Munchi’s Ford WRT – 22 pts
6. Suzuki WRT – 20 pts

FIA WRC Driver Standings
1. S Loeb – 86 pts
2. M Hirvonen – 78 pts
3. D Sordo – 51 pts
4. C Atkinson – 40 pts
7. H Solberg – 22 pts
8. G Galli – 17 pts
9. M Wilson – 12 pts
10. F Duval – 11 pts

Bron: M-Sport

Stand na dag 2:

Latvala takes lead for Ford as Rally New Zealand turns tactical
BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team lies first and second after a gripping second day of Rally New Zealand that ended with four drivers covered by less than 16sec going into tomorrow's final leg. Tactics again played a crucial part right at the close of the day's action, which finished with Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila leading team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen by 9.3sec. Both are behind the wheel of Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars.

Today's competition on this 11th round of the FIA World Rally Championship took place north-west of the rally base in Hamilton, 130km south of Auckland. Drivers tackled five smooth and flowing speed tests in the picturesque countryside near the Tasman Sea coastline and a second pass over the super special stage at the rally base. The six special stages covered 130.00km.

Although overcast, conditions remained dry apart from a couple of brief showers – just the weather that overnight leader Hirvonen did not want to see when he woke this morning. As first to start, the 28-year-old Finn swept away the slippery loose gravel on the road surface to leave a cleaner and faster line for those behind. With each countryside stage only driven once, he had no opportunity to experience the cleaner conditions himself during a second pass.

Hirvonen's 27.8sec opening day advantage was gradually eaten into by championship rival Sébastien Loeb and the Frenchman eventually moved ahead on the penultimate stage. However, once Hirvonen completed the final test, Loeb deliberately slowed in the final few metres to drop behind the BP Ford Abu Dhabi driver and earn a lower, and therefore cleaner, start position for tomorrow.

Latvala, one of three drivers clustered behind Hirvonen and covered by just 2.7sec after the opening day, set a strong pace. He won one stage and posted three more top three times as he climbed from an overnight fourth to third. Aware of the final stage tactics as he was behind both Hirvonen and Loeb in the running order, the 23-year-old Finn blasted through the 32.36km test to take the lead.

Although Latvala now has the handicap of starting first tomorrow ahead of Hirvonen and Loeb, he has a 9.3sec lead over his team-mate and a 13.3sec advantage over the Frenchman – a margin which adds intrigue to the game of cat and mouse which will conclude tomorrow.

"I knew we would lose time but we lost more than I thought," admitted Hirvonen. "There was so much loose gravel on the surface that conditions were really slippery and that's what I expected. This was the hardest day of the rally because each stage was driven only once so there was no chance for me to drive on cleaner roads. When the roads were fast I could match Loeb's pace but in the slow sections I lost time because of the gravel.

"It was a hard day but I came through and the time differences aren't that big. The driver, the car, the pace notes and the rhythm were really good. I could do nothing tactically because I was first on the road. I'm in a good position and all I can do now is try to be faster than all of them tomorrow. It will be really close and I can't wait. I have a good road position but Loeb has a better one so it will be difficult. If I could have chosen my start position I would have selected fourth," he added.
Latvala admitted he was surprised to be leading after starting the final stage in third. "It's a great feeling to be leading tonight but it might bring me some difficulties tomorrow. I wanted to catch Loeb and I was expecting to be in the top three, but not to be leading tonight. I drove flat out on that final stage and tomorrow I need to do the same and be precise. The biggest thing is not to worry about being first on the road, it's being mentally strong that's the important thing," said Latvala.

"It's six months since I won in Sweden and it would be great to win here, but it will be a very open day and a big fight. Maybe the rally could be like last year when Ford won by just 0.3sec. It will be really challenging," he added.

BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson said Latvala and Hirvonen could not have done more to keep the team in the battle. "Once we saw how much Loeb slowed at the end of the final stage, we made an instant decision to let Jari-Matti take his chance and build as big a lead over him as possible. Of course, it also means Mikko has the advantage of being second to start tomorrow. Both drove flat out and it's looking good for an exciting day with four drivers covered by 15sec," he said.

News from our Rivals

Behind the top three is Spain's Dani Sordo (Citroen), just 2.4sec behind team-mate Loeb and only 15.7sec from the lead. Stobart driver François Duval (Ford) and Urmo Aava (Citroen) complete the top six. Aava dropped 30sec on the second test after clipping a wall and dragging a tyre off the wheel, driving much of the test on just the wheel rim. That allowed Petter Solberg (Subaru) to move ahead but the Estonian quickly regained the place. Toni Gardemeister (Suzuki) lost almost 90sec with brake problems following a hydraulic leak on the morning's third stage but later retook ninth place.

Tomorrow’s Route

The final day is the shortest of the rally. After re-starting at 07.45, drivers face two identical loops of two stages just south of Raglan, split by a 15-minute remote service in the town. The second test in each loop is the famous Whaanga Coast, which provides spectacular views over the ocean as the road hugs the Tasman Sea coastline. A third pass over the Mystery Creek super special stage brings the action to a close. The five stages cover 85.04km with the finish ceremony scheduled for 15.00.

Leaderboard after Day 2
1. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Ford Focus RS 2h57m29.0sec
2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS +9.3s
3. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroën C4 +13.3s
4. D Sordo/M Marti E Citroën C4 +15.7s
5. F Duval/P Pivato B Ford Focus RS +1m40.9s
6. U Aava/K Sikk EE Citroën C4 +2m49.8s
7. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza +2m52.8s
8. P-G Andersson/J Andersson SWE Suzuki SX4 +4m31.0s
9. T Gardemeister/T Tuominen FIN Suzuki SX4 +4m31.0s
10. F Villagra/J Perez Companc RA Ford Focus RS +6m56.8s
23. M Wilson/S Martin GB Ford Focus RS +17m01.7s

Bron: M-Sport

Uitslag na dag 1:

Hirvonen puts Ford on top after opening day in New Zealand
BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team stamped its authority on Rally New Zealand from the beginning of the opening leg this morning to take a lead it was never to lose. Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila led initially before team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen moved to the front, ending the first of three days of competition with a 27.8sec advantage in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car.

Latvala lies fourth in another Focus RS WRC, part of a trio of crews clustered behind Hirvonen who are covered by just 2.3sec. Tactics played a part as Latvala deliberately eased his pace late this afternoon in order to gain a better start position for tomorrow's second leg of this 11th round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

Large crowds packed the centre of Hamilton last night as competitors received a traditional Maori welcome at the start ceremony, ahead of three days of action over smooth, flowing gravel roads in the lush, green hills of the Waikato region of North Island. Today's competition was based south-west of the city and drivers faced two identical loops of three speed tests before a short super special stage at the rally base just outside Hamilton – a total of 138.00km of competition.

Torrential rain has swamped the area this month but dry and sunny weather has prevailed this week. As a result the exposed areas of the special stages have dried quickly to leave plenty of slippery loose gravel on the surface. However, the sections beneath the trees remained muddy and equally tricky. The rain has been so heavy that organisers were forced to split the monster 43.98km Waitomo test into two parts after landslides made sections of the route impassable

Latvala was fastest from Hirvonen on the opening stage. However, 28-year-old Hirvonen won the following two tests to end the opening loop 5.3sec ahead of his 23-year-old fellow Finn. Sébastien Loeb, Hirvonen's arch-rival at the top of the drivers' championship standings, initially regained time this afternoon but the Ford driver stood firm at the top when the Frenchman fell back.

"I've never had such a good rhythm in New Zealand," said Hirvonen. "When I have that kind of rhythm on these flowing roads, it feels as if I don't need to push too hard. It's tricky to find the right balance here because if you cross the camber in the bends then you immediately slide off the line and lose time. The roads have dried more quickly than we thought and it was slippery in the loose gravel, but I don't think road position made too much of a difference.

"Tomorrow I will be first on the road so it won't be easy on the slippery gravel. I've been in that position before and just have to find a way around it. I'm not sure there is a big difference between first and second in the start order but it won't be easy, especially as each stage will only be driven once so there is no chance to drive on cleaner roads. There will be more loose gravel tomorrow than on any other day," he added.

Latvala dropped behind Loeb this afternoon but remained unperturbed, knowing third would offer a more favourable road position tomorrow, with some of the slippery surface gravel swept away by the cars ahead. But when Loeb dropped time at the start of the penultimate stage, after which tomorrow's start order was calculated, Latvala had to respond to maintain that position. He started the test four minutes after Loeb and as soon as the Frenchman finished, the BP Ford Abu Dhabi team relayed a target time for Latvala to complete the stage in order to hold position. The Finn eased his pace over the final few metres to judge the finishing time to perfection and earn the advantage for tomorrow.

Latvala, who was edged into fourth by Dani Sordo on the final short test, was highly satisfied with his day. "I'm pleased that my confidence and rhythm are coming back after my problems in Germany," he said. "It felt about 95 per cent this morning. I found it harder to get my driving together this afternoon and hit a bank in the penultimate stage, knocking the front bumper from the car. The roads were quite dry but where it was wet, the tracks were really slippery. They didn't clean up as much as I thought.

"I slowed towards the end of the penultimate stage to ensure a better road position for tomorrow. Third will be a good place to start. It will be a challenging day but I really like those roads so I'm looking forward to it," he added.

News from our Rivals

Sébastien Loeb (Citroen) closed to within 0.7sec of Hirvonen before he incurred a 30sec penalty when a jammed starter motor forced him to start the penultimate test late. He won three of the four afternoon stages. Team-mate Dani Sordo lay fourth all day until edging ahead of Latvala by 0.1sec on the final stage. Toni Gardemeister (Suzuki) dropped 45sec on the opening stage after going off the road and then puncturing a rear tyre. Munchi's driver Henning Solberg (Ford) lost seven minutes when he completed all three morning tests with no power steering. He then received a 60sec penalty as the team rushed to change his car's hydraulic system. Stobart driver Matthew Wilson (Ford) retired from eighth after this afternoon's opening test with gear selection troubles while Chris Atkinson (Subaru) rolled in the same test and then stopped with an engine problem just before the finish.

Tomorrow’s Route

The second day takes competitors north-west of Hamilton. After three morning stages, drivers face a second pass over the short stage at Mystery Creek. Two long afternoon tests further south near Te Akau complete the day. Drivers re-start at 06.50 and face 130.00km of action before a 18.34 finish.

Leaderboard after Day 1
1. M Hirvonen/J LehtinenFIN Ford Focus RS 1hr 34min 44.3sec
2. S Loeb/D ElenaFRA Citroen C4 1hr 35min 12.1sec
3. D Sordo/M MartiESP Citroen C4 1hr 35min 14.3sec
4. J-M Latvala/M AnttilaFIN Ford Focus RS 1hr 35min 14.4sec
5. F Duval/P Pivato BEL Ford Focus RS 1hr 36min 12.2sec
6. U Aava/K SikkESTCitroen C4 1hr 36min 45.6sec
7. P Solberg/P Mills NORSubaru Impreza1hr 37min 10.1sec
8. P-G Andersson/J AnderssonSWESuzuki SX4 1hr 37min 34.8sec
9. T Gardemeister/T TuominenFINSuzuki SX4 1hr 38min 32.3sec
10 F Villagra/J Perez CompancARGFord Focus RS 1hr 39min 31.8sec

Bron: M-Sport

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