Rd.5 Rally New Zealand

Production Car World Rally Championship
31 Aug. to 2 Sep. 2007


IMPREZAs holding two of the top three spots

31 August 2007
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The opening day of competition on Rally New Zealand was fraught with thrills and spills as drivers got punctures, had tyres come off their rims, and a couple went off the slick gravel stages and onto SupeRally. So a pretty natural start to proceedings really!

The day dawned bright and clear, though overnight rain meant the stages were very, very soft in places. The weather remained sunny all day, with the roads gradually drying out as the day wore on.

Toshi Arai had a nice start to the rally, recording the quickest time through the opening stage, Pirongia West 1. He stayed in the top group for the following test, and continued this momentum after lunch on SS3, the second pass of the same stage where he was third fastest. On SS4, he knocked a tyre off the rim, causing an unwanted delay. This occurred when he took a left-hander a little too tight and got caught out on some rocks that lay hidden. His co-driver Tony Sircombe, recovering from a knee operation a week ago, was unable to help the former champion so Toshi had to do it all himself. As luck would have it, during the change the car fell off the jack, adding to the frustration of the situation. He had no troubles through the evening Superspecial spectator stage.

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Evgeniy Vertunov has had an absolutely great day, really enjoying the stages. They found that their pace notes this morning were one gear too slow everywhere they went - and that they notch down to experience. On the second pass of the stages in the afternoon they managed to lift their pace and they've been rewarded with third overall in the Production championship. They did push a tyre off the rim on SS5, but it was only a few hundred metres from the finish so didn't affect them that much.

Patrik Flodin had a fairly dreadful start, also blowing a turbocharger in the morning - though through a different cause, possibly faulty mapping. This afternoon the turbocharger was replaced but he still had some problems at the end of the day.

Mirco Baldacci suffered a broken turbocharger on SS2 this morning, losing about eight minutes. He went out in the afternoon with a new unit, but unfortunately one of the pipes had been left unconnected and he thus got no boost. The situation meant they had to retire and go on to SupeRally. It was a bit of a loss, particularly so early on in the rally. He'll start again tomorrow.

Takuma Kamada rolled on SS1. It looks like he'll be able to continue without much difficulty, but he went straight into SupeRally.

Spyros Pavlides had a very good day, despite a cramp in his leg that briefly slowed the Cypriot driver on SS4. He is reported to be thoroughly enjoying the stages, and generally having a great time.

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Niall McShea is having a heck of a rally. He spun and stalled the car on Stage 1, losing between 12 and 15 seconds - which he admits was his own fault. "I was so nervous on the opening stage. It's been a while since I've done an event - the only other outing this year being Argentina in the spring." He was quick on SS2, and then had a very good afternoon, improving his comparative stage times all day. 4th on SS3, 2nd on SS4 and winning the Superspecial this evening, the Northern Irishman is presently the top SUBARU-equipped entrant, just 33.5 seconds behind rival Araujo, as they prepare for the second leg tomorrow.

Richard Mason had a very strong showing on the first three stages, only to suffer a puncture on SS4. He thinks it was possibly in the same place as Toshi's. "I wasn't expecting so many stones in the road, not having the experience of running behind World Rally cars. But the puncture was my mistake. My aim now is to go out and enjoy the rest of the event."

Emma Gilmour had a great run on SS1, though dropped her pace slightly over the next three tests. She's fallen back a little as a result, but will be able to think about what she's achieved today, and try and lift her game again tomorrow. We know that she's capable of making top times, and she is expected to do that here.

Misfer Al-Marri has had a learning day today. He was a little bit untidy on SS4 through trying to go faster, but his very experienced co-driver Chris Patterson calmed him down a bit and brought him back into line. He's looking to build on the experience he's gained on leg one - it's a great first day on a world championship event for the young Qatari driver.

George Donaldson

STI Group N Project General Manager:
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"We've had a great start to the event here today. After the test on Monday where we had Mirco Baldacci, Patrik Flodin, Toshi Arai and Niall McShea - our leading lights on this rally, together with local heroes Mason and Gilmour, they were all really happy with their test.

"At the start this morning, when Toshi came out of the box so well, we were very happy; but that was equalled - and surpassed even, at losing from any chance of a challenge, Mirco Baldacci and Patrik Flodin - both entrants falling foul of mechanical problems. It was very, very disappointing to lose them today. However, Toshi continued to hold a candle out there for us, until suffering a puncture on SS4. But Niall McShea has been absolutely right there with Toshi, and lies second by a very reachable 30 seconds to Araujo.

"We're right in there with Niall - and very hearteningly the young driver, Evgeniy Vertunov from Russia, who visited the P-WRC for the first time in Greece, and has come out and done a great job for us in New Zealand. When I think back I remember persuading his father to send him here because this rally has some of the best stages in the world. By no means is the battle over of course; Vertunov's in that tight battle among the top three - and they're all followed very closely by the next brace of drivers - none of which are in Subarus."

Pos Driver Car Name Time   Diff  
1 Armindo ARAUJO Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 1:34:15.8 0.0
2 Niall McSHEA SUBARU IMPREZA WRX STI 1:34:49.3 +33.5
3 Evgeniy VERTUNOV SUBARU IMPREZA WRX STI 1:35:27.0 +1:11.2
4 Fumio NUTAHARA Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 1:35:43.9 +1:28.1
5 Martin RAUAM Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 1:36:09.7 +1:53.9
6 Juho HÄNNINEN Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 1:36:14.7 +1:58.9
7 Gabriel POZZO Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 1:36:54.6 +2:38.8
8 Richard MASON SUBARU IMPREZA WRX STI 1:36:57.2 +2:41.4
9 Emma GILMOUR SUBARU IMPREZA WRX STI 1:37:28.2 +3:12.4
10 Loris BALDACCI SUBARU IMPREZA WRX STI 1:37:32.5 +3:16.7