Sebastien Loeb takes his 72nd career win on Brother Rally New Zealand. Heading a Citroen 1-2 with Mikko Hirvonen. The 3rd 1-2 finish in a row for the team. Loeb takes 25 points for the win and 1 for 3rd fastest on the Powerstage which puts him 38 points in the lead over 2nd place Hirvonen in the Drivers standings. Meaning the 8 time champion is now well on his way to his 9th WRC title.
“Forsure, it was a great fight with Mikko. We are here at the end of the rally and that is important. The most important is to be here, every chance I get I take it.” said the Frenchman. Loeb made no mistakes and that was the key to his victory, he battle a little with Hirvonen on Day 2 where he seemed to lack a bit of pace in the morning, and had Hirvonen just 1.7 seconds away from him. But after he picked up the pace in the afternoon, he opened up the gap. Day 3 was just about getting to the end without any mistakes. And with his team mate coming in just behind him, it made for another perfect weekend for Citroen. Hirvonen said at the end of the Rally, “It was a fantastic weekend, we had a great fight for the first 2 days. right before Finland, I think it is looking good.”
The weekend turned into another one to forget for Ford. It all went wrong from the start for them, With Petter Solberg starting out in wet conditions on the wrong tyre compound, (Hards) he lost archers of time, and then in the afternoon Jari – Matti Latvala, after battling for the lead, went off in a fast right-hander and got caught up in a fence and lost around 4 minutes. The only consolation for Ford in NewZealand was that over the course of the 3 days, Solberg managed to get to 3rd to claim a podium finish, with fastest stages times throughout the weekend by both Ford drivers, they’ve shown that they do have the pace, the car and the drivers to win. But a constant stream of mistakes has dropped them far down in the standings. Trailing Citroen in the Manufactures standings by nearly 100 points, And Solberg 50 points behind Loeb in the Drivers standings. A disappointing first half of the season for the team.
At the end of the Rally Solberg said, “We came here with a good car and a big opportunity, but unfortunately Fridays mistake ended our hopes of a win. That was sad for the team, but a podium is still a good result. The key today was to stay calm to secure third, and taking bonus points in the PowerStage was a good ending. We need some luck and make sure we’re fully prepared for the next Rallies to try to secure that elusive win at last. The speed of the car is fantastic and everyone in the team is pushing hard for victory, so I’m Confident it will come soon.”
Latvala finished 7th overall. “Today I started to regain my speed and confidence and im happy to earn bonus points for winning the Powerstage. I struggled on Friday and after my spin I focused on testing. That brought some good ideas for the next round in finland. Looking at the points, i have no chance for the drivers title now but the main thing will be to keep fighting for victory on ever rally”.
Ford World Rally Team and M-sport Director, Malcolm Wilson said, “we made a mistake with the tyres on friday which proved expensive, but he (Petter) fought back well to finish 3rd. Of course, its disappointing to come away with just third, especially after Jari- Matti was fighting for a win. we have the speed from the car and drivers, but we need to put together the pieces of the jigsaw to convert our pace into victories. I’m confident we can do that in the second half of the year.”
Ford took the honors on the Final power Stage, With latvala winning it and taking the extra 3 Bonus points, and Solberg 2nd.
Despite Rally New Zealand being one of them Rallies where Experience counts, Evgeny Novikov did a great job in the customer Ford. With his consistent speed and always setting top 6 fastest times on most stages, and making very little mistakes, his showing his maturity as a driver and pulling out some great results. the Russian finished the rally in 4th place. “very good result, very difficult rally, even a small mistake can cost you. Its a very good result.”
Thierry Neuville was the most impressive of the rest. His first full year in the WRC and showed great pace for his first time in Rally NewZealand, not only setting his first fastest stage time but set 3 fastest times on day 3 of the Rally, and battling with Tanak throughout the weekend. “i.m really happy with the weekend. Ok I have to thank the team, the car worked well and they helped me to progress more and more.”
The biggest drama was Ott Tanak. After battling for position in 5th place with neuville, On SS20 the young junior Ford driver went wide on a fast right-hander and rolled into a ditch just 6km into the stage.
Dani Sordo in the Mini was a little disappointed in ending the rally in 6th place overall. Mini Prodrive felt they could go well here in New Zealand, But starting off on Hard tyres and a gear box problem on day 1 put them down the order, and like many, after a mistake its hard to come back from it. But Sordo did set a fastest stage time on the final day. “I think it was a really difficult weekend. I do not do very well. we need to look now for the next rally.”
Armindo Araujo in the team Portugal Mini was happy to finish in the points in 8th place. American Star ken Block also Finished in the points down in 9th overall. And felt that Rally New Zealand was one of his favorite events, enjoyed the stages very much. regarding them as “The best stages in the world”. Very pleased with his performance at the end of the Rally. “absolutely loved this Rally. decent pace, really enjoyed it, yesterday best day of my rally career. Feels good.” Making a WRC return since 2007, Mafred Stohl rounded out the top ten. “The nice dream is over – and back to work now.”
Down in SWRC. It was a bit of a disaster for almost everyone. Almost all the SWRC drivers had to retire, all except for home boy Hayden Paddon. despite having a problem on Almost every stage, he got to the end of the rally and won his class, showing that he still has what it takes to become one of the worlds best. “Its been a very odd rally for us. We got maximum points in the championship, which is great, but we’ve got a lot of work to do.” In PWRC Marcos Ligato wins.
So After another interesting rally NewZealand, an event full of scenery, high speed drama with some of the best stages in the World. its Sebastien Loeb who leads the way. Can Ford pull it back in the 2nd half of the season? or will it be another 9th title for Loeb? In Rallying anything can happen. The next round is Finland.
Final Results Rally NZ