And with the Auckland-based rally marking the last round before the summer break, much is at stake on the gravel event, which is back in the WRC for the first time since 2010.
While Brother Rally New Zealand represents the longest distance the leading teams will travel from their bases in Europe to contest a round of the WRC, it’s an event the crews relish thanks to the fast, flowing rollercoaster gravel roads and the stunning scenery of the country’s North Island.
As in 2010, this year’s rally will be based in Auckland, home to about a third of New Zealand’s population. The permanent service park will be located at the Viaduct Events Centre with remote service zones north and south of the city to enable drivers to cover plenty of ground during the event, including visits to the Raglan, Waikato, Whangarei and Kaipara districts.
Organisers have made several changes to the itinerary for this year’s route. As well as reintroducing stages around Auckland not used since the 1990s, the traditional Sunday stages, including the legendary Whaanga Coast test, will now take place on Friday. The heavily cambered northern stages run on Friday in 2010 now take place on Saturday with the action contained close to Auckland on Sunday, including two runs through the city’s Domain park area.
It will be winter in New Zealand when the WRC circus arrives so inclement weather will be a factor, as will tyre choice with crews having to decide when to use their limited supply of soft compound rubber designed specifically for the cold and damp.
Following free practice on Thursday morning, the Qualifying Stage - used to determine the leading starting positions for day one - gets underway at 10:33hrs local time. The first of 22 special stages - which make up a competitive distance of 413.94 kilometres - goes live at 08:28hrs on Friday.
As well as counting as round seven of the main WRC, Brother Rally New Zealand is the fourth event of the Super 2000 World Rally Championship season and round five of the Production Car World Rally Championship.
Next page: So who’s going to win?