Fri 07 Oct 2022

New Zealand return earns thumbs-up from WRC stars

New Zealand’s return to the FIA World Rally Championship drew unanimous praise from the drivers last week.

The North Island event was back on the WRC schedule for the first time in a decade, and while the WRC might not have been in town for 10 years, the drivers’ comments hadn’t changed.

Sébastien Ogier was one of few driver who had previously competed in New Zealand. He was forced to settle for second overall in 2010 when a final stage spin handed victory to Jari-Matti Latvala. This year he was second again - albeit behind title-winning team-mate Kalle Rovanperä.

“The roads are amazing – just like I remember them," he smiled. "It’s definitely a big pleasure to come here and to drive again. These roads are the reason I wanted to come back for this event.”

Like the eight-time champion, Hyundai Motorsport’s Thierry Neuville was a driver who had enjoyed the Kiwi roads before.

“This is a special place,” he said. “And this is a special event. It’s so far away from home, but it’s nice to come back after such a long time – it’s really nice to discover the area and these roads.

“Of course, the event didn’t go as we had been hoping and we struggled with the feeling from the car, but it was still good to be back!”

Close Calls: WRC Repco Rally New Zealand 2022

Neuville’s team-mate Oliver Solberg was a first-timer on the stages.

“It’s just fantastic to be here,” said the Swede. “The roads are challenging, but they are also so rewarding. And the atmosphere around the stages with the spectators is fantastic. Did you see the number of fans at the [Wolf] Power Stage? It was incredible!”

There were feelings of pride for Hayden Paddon, who led the local charge in a Hyundai i20 Rally2. Although Paddon was unable to find a Rally1 seat for his home event, the Kiwi certainly made his mark winning WRC2 as well as finishing an incredible sixth overall.

"I'm just proud of the rally," Paddon admitted. "I think what the organisers were able to pull off was a massive step-up compared to what the event was 10 years ago.

"I think it showcases to the world that Rally New Zealand is actually pretty serious about the WRC and it belongs here. The fans were all out in force to make the most of it and I'm just proud to have been a part of it."

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Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM