The Auckland-based round has been the setting for several dramatic finales, including Marcus Gronholm’s victory over Sebastien Loeb by 0.3s in 2007.
Hirvonen reckoned the smooth nature of the roads contributed to the drama of the rally, which runs from 21-24 June.
“There is no rough gravel on the course and so it’s very unusual for the leading contenders to experience major problems at the start of the race,” said Hirvonen, who partners Loeb in the Citroen Total World Rally Team. “New Zealand is all about pure speed; we drive flat out from start to finish. The time differences can therefore be very minimal between those who have found the right pace. The race can come down to the last few stages. When there are several of us busting a gut to try and win the rally, anything can happen.”
Loeb is a two-time winner in New Zealand. He reckons that maintaining a high level of concentration is key to a strong result.
“True enough, I have won the rally twice out of six attempts, but I have also made some mistakes here,” said Loeb, the current world championship leader. “Some when I was pushing hard, some when I had adopted a more measured pace. The speeds we reach here are such that you have to stay perfectly focused all the time.”