Rd.5 Rally New Zealand

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

LEG THREE

Ah One, Ah Two, a One-Two-Three…
IMPREZAs lock out podium in closest-ever P-WRC finish

2 September 2007
Copyright © STI 
The final day of Rally New Zealand produced all the action one could hope for on this most iconic of events. After holding on to the lead over the first six tests of the day, Niall McShea was denied the win as Toshi Arai, charging through with a pace that was simply unmatched by his rivals, snatched it on the Superspecial in front of a bumper crowd by a mere 2.0 seconds. Kiwi Richard Mason made it a "dream finish" for SUBARU as he clinched the third spot on the podium - the top local driver home in what was a brilliant performance from him all weekend.

On the opening stage of the day, Toshi made quick work of rival Gabriele Pozzo, swiftly sweeping into 2nd place. The order of the top SUBARU-equipped cars was now 1st (Niall), 2nd (Toshi), and 5th (Mason). This order would remain unchanged throughout the morning until the final road test of the day, SS17, the Whaanga Coast 2 test. At this point, what had been a steadily decreasing gap between the lead pair now switched their positions, Arai leading McShea by a sliver-like 0.6 seconds - and this after 4 hours, 10 minutes, 32 seconds of out-and-out racing! Remarkable too was Richard Mason's performance, the New Zealander jumping two spots at this crucial juncture to settle into third place going in to the event-closing spectator stage in Mystery Creek.

It can be said that Toshi made perfect tyre choices all day, and this can't have hindered his progress; though he was clearly the fastest man out there. Interesting also that none of the competitors suffered from punctures today - as many had done on the first two legs of competition.

Throughout the morning Toshi continued the charge he had been on yesterday, taking three 3rd quickest stage times (SS13, SS15, SS17) and one where he was 2nd fastest (SS14). On the Superspecial, he took his sole stage win of the day - and also sealed the rally victory, beating out McShea by 2.6 seconds.

Toshi Arai: "Yeah, I'm so pleased with the result. I hit a tyre barrier with the rear in the Superspecial and I was so scared something got broken, but we're here. It's a great feeling." With this dominant win, Toshi puts himself very much in the frame to be 2007 Production world rally champion, with a 24 point lead over his nearest rival with three rounds remaining.

Copyright © STI 
Niall McShea was third quickest on the opening stage of the morning, maintaining a steady pace over the next group of stages. With each stage result however, Toshi was getting closer and closer. In the end, Niall had to concede victory, but put in a superb performance for someone on only his second rally this season.

Niall McShea: "It's been a really, really good rally. Fair play to Toshi, he never gave up since his puncture and went very well all weekend. It's a shame not to have won, but I'm still pleased to be here at the end."

Richard Mason was clearly on a charge all morning, taking the 2nd quickest stage times twice (SS15, SS17), and leaping past two rivals on the Whaanga Coast 2 stage to guarantee himself a podium on his home event.

Richard Mason: "Yeah, we're certainly happy with this 3rd place result considering the problems we've had. Maybe next year we can get an even better result."

Behind the triumphant trio of Imprezas lay a brace of seven competitors in rival machinery before the rest of the SUBARU-equipped finishers. Young Russian driver Evgeniy Vertunov was eleventh, ahead of debutant Misfer Al Marri (12th), Emma Gilmour (13th), Mirco Baldacci (15th), his brother Loris (16th), and Spyros Pavlides (18th).

George Donaldson

STI Group N Project General Manager:
"Well, what a battle we've seen today. The closest finish we've ever had in the P-WRC, and receiving three Subarus in the top three podium positions in Production championship is a great day for STI. Niall McShea led for half the rally, until the penultimate stage, the massive Whaanga Coast test, and Toshi came through, just sneaking the lead away by 0.6 seconds.


Copyright © STI 
"Niall had made a gargantuan effort; but Toshi Arai, that most determined Japanese driver, did the most fantastic job through one of the biggest stages of the championship - really doing all the hard work, but leaving himself enough to do on the Superspecial stage where he hadn't performed well on the previous two visits due to a back injury. He left himself a lot to on that last stage, but Toshi being Toshi, he came out of the box and did the job, consolidating his lead away from Niall and winning the stage by 2.0 seconds to give him the overall win by 2.6 seconds.

"It was anybody's race. Toshi had been the hare; he was going fast. Niall was running at a much steadier pace - as was the best he could give this weekend - much to his frustration. He wanted to answer the competitive call of the other competitors but he couldn't, so he did what he knew how to do best which was to survive and stay clear of trouble. In a way he wasn't surprised that it wasn't enough in the end. He did his very best, he really tried; but for him, Toshi was a very deserving winner so he didn't feel robbed in any way by Toshi's victory.

"Local man Richard Mason was another who drove a superb rally this weekend, and hats off to him on a fine third-place finish. He always kept the pressure on, and then leapt ahead of two rivals on that last Whaanga Coast stage - what a performance from the Kiwi driver.

"Toshi for his part drove as hard as he could and commented that it wasn't going to be easy to catch Niall at any stage of the game. He also knew that Niall was having a few problems of his own this weekend. Toshi has a championship to win and he's given himself a great chance at the series crown with this victory here in New Zealand. He now leads by 24 points, giving himself a much easier job in Japan - but there's no such thing as easy in rally, we know that - as does Toshi. We've got some very tough competitors breathing down his neck, trying their best to make sure he doesn't win the championship. We'll see what happens."


Pos Driver Car Name Time   Diff  
1 Toshihiro ARAI SUBARU IMPREZA WRX STI 4:13:35.8 0.0
2 Niall McSHEA SUBARU IMPREZA WRX STI 4:13:38.4 +2.6
3 Richard MASON SUBARU IMPREZA WRX STI 4:14:46.0 +1:10.2
4 Gabriel POZZO Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 4:14:48.9 +1:13.1
5 Fumio NUTAHARA Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 4:14:55.7 +1:19.9
6 Armindo ARAUJO Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 4:15:16.0 +1:40.2
7 Juho HÄNNINEN Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 4:15:46.9 +2:11.1
8 Martin RAUAM Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 4:16:15.2 +2:39.4
9 Fabio FRESIERO Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 4:19:16.3 +5:40.5
10 Andrej JEREB Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 4:22:23.2 +8:47.4