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1999 RALLY NEW ZEALAND

July 15 - 18
Makinen rushes off into the lead of the rally, and the championship
Rally New Zealand in 1998 was the longest run I have ever had in the rain - it poured from the time I got into Auckland to almost the time the rally ended - and then on the final afternoon there were two spots that were dry! It was a fantastic event though, and the way it feels is that it is a national event or smaller - just with the top WRC guys at the front of the field. The atmosphere that surrounds the rally is great, and the opportunity for me to do the rally again in '99, I grabbed it with both hands!

The rain started approximately 15 minutes after we landed in Auckland. This doesn't sound too bad, until I tell you that we had arrived around three to four hours before the first

Super Special Stage, near the airport at Manukau City. We ventured out into the middle of the stage, near a watersplash. And the fastest time was set by local hero Possum Bourne, with Craig Vincent alongside in his Impreza WRC98. Interest in the rally skyrocketed overnight - a Kiwi beating ALL the internationals?! My wife, Kimberly was shooting also, and she got clobbered in the head by a large rock from the wheels of Aussie Group N champion Cody Crocker, this time with Mark Stacey on the notes. He did apologise later though!

Out into the forests for the first day's real rallying, and the Corolla renta car we had would have it's work cut out for it this weekend. The times in between stages seems shorter every year, but I am sure it is just me getting slower. We made it in time to see the first cars through, and the best of them as usual was the Ford Focus of Colin McRae and Nicky Grist. It was obvious what the Scot's intentions were - win and win well. The stages south of Auckland around Raglan are fast and full of sweeping bends, and the cars would have a hard time of it on this first day. First casualty was the Focus of Thomas Radstrom and Fred Gallagher, who rolled and beat the Focus to death. It came into the service area with almost all the panels bent, and just about nothing on the front end, except the Ford badge that had stayed obligingly on the grille area. Tommi Makinen and Risto

Cody Crocker took the lead early on in the rally - stunning the WRC teams
Mannisenmaki had had a small off and damaged the rear end of the Lancer Evo 6, and had had a couple of punctures, but had lost little time, and led McRae by 1.7 secs at this point.

Then, drama. Richard Burns/ Robert Reid and teammate Juha Kankkunen/ Juha Repo had been disputing third, with the young Englishman ahead slightly, when the gearbox had to be changed on the Burns car at the second Raglan service. The car came in, gearbox was changed, and out - except 50 metres up the road it expired, and a very disappointed Burns and Reid were out. As was soon to be McRae, who left second place to the ex co-leader of the championship - Didier Auriol and Denis Giraudet. The Corolla WRC headed a TTE entry of no fewer than three cars! Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya had a troubled first day, including having no gears at all when they got to us on the second last stage of Friday, and running the rest of the stage in first gear once they found a gear! The other cars coated us in mud at this spot, but not as badly as Aussie lady driver Jo Cadman, with Colin Trinder calling the corners in a Lancer Evo 3, coated the guys after the corner in MUD when she ran wide coming off the corner!

Radstrom delighted the NZ crowds until he went too far off the road

The northern Maungaroto stages had nearly been washed away last year, but fortunately the weather would hold off this year, and the rain stayed away until the final service. There were showers, but not the camera destroying rain of last year! Overnight leader Makinen was happy with his first day, while second place Auriol would fight to get the time back early on day 2. but this plan backfired on him in a major way when the Corolla ran wide on the second stage of the day and ripped off a rear wheel. The crew fought to the end of the stage, and into service, but the Frenchman was not sure that the car would handle the same. He need not have worried, the car was fine, once the TTE techs had attacked it en masse at every service for the rest of the day! But the damage was done, and the

crew were sixth at the end of day 2. This put The Legend, Kankkunen into second, and once Juha gets a sniff of a podium, he doesn't tend to let it go that easily!

The newly installed sequential gearshift on the steering wheel was working well on NZ's twisting, flowing roads, and the Finn was confident of holding his place for the rest of the event. The two leading Finns were pleased as punch at the end of the day when the speed shown by their young protégé Toni Gardemeister and Paavo Lukander had them firmly in third by days end. Not even a string of fast times by Sainz could bridge the gap, and the Spaniards had to give best to Radstrom at the end of the day too, sixth the reward. Possum held on to the top six all day, and was looking forward to holding onto or improving on this on day three. Radstrom and Gallagher continued to show the promise of the Focus by holding on to fourth at the end of the second day, and they were trying hard, as they showed when they ran wide at a spectator point at the end of SS19, which had a lot of loose stuff on the outside, and the spectators enjoyed a mud and rock shower, which was greeted by loud cheering! Great stuff!

Surely the dawn of the third full and final day of Rally NZ cannot start with sunlight? Not with Blackbourns in the country? But that is exactly what greeted us as we headed south to the Maramarua Forest area on Sunday. The crews had been up earlier than us however, and the Radstrom great run had ended late on the long 24km test when the Focus ran off the road and was stuck badly enough for that to be that, they were out. This lifted both Auriol and Sainz up one place, and the pair sandwiched a delighted Possum Bourne and Craig Vincent at the end of the rally. Carlos even had the time to entertain the crowd with a really fast pass around the finishing venue, the Manukau City Velodrome, built for the '92 Commonwealth Games! Auriol would finish fourth while a disappointed Sainz was looking for a flight home, after finishing sixth.

SEAT had their best finish yet in WRC with a fine 3rd place

Finland has a new hero, after a sensational first drive for SEAT, Toni Gardemeister showed great maturity, not to mention speed, by taking the Evo 1 SEAT Cordoba WRC to it's best result to date, third. The two men in front were really pleased - they have sponsored the rise of this blonde haired charger. Kankkunen was very happy with second, and couldn't say enough for Gardemeister afterwards. But Tommi Makinen and Risto Mannisenmaki had

Subaru tried to fix Burns' gearbox but failed, handing 2nd place to Kankkunen

smiles that said "We are now leading the world Championship" after the Rally of New Zealand, and who would bet against another success on their home event in four weeks time?! Once again the crowds turned out in force to see the rally meisters at work, and they were not disappointed. Rally New Zealand is a great event. Now all it needs is a sponsor, and the rally will really take off.

Once again the crowds turned out in force to see the rally meisters at work, and they were not disappointed. Rally New Zealand is a great event. Now all it needs is a sponsor, and the rally will really take off.

Story and photographs by Neil Blackbourn. Neil also writes (and photographs) both the Australian Rally Super Series and the V8 Supercars (Australian Touring Cars) for The Car Enthusiast. Email your comments and suggestions.

Click here to view the championship standings to date.
NEW ZEALAND RESULTS
Position
Driver/Co-driver
Car
1 Tommi Mäkinen / Risto Mannisenmaki Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution V
2 Juha Kankkunen / Juha Repo Subaru Impreza WRC 99
3 Tom Gardemeister / Paavo Lukander SEAT WRC
4 Didier Auriol / Denis Giraudet Toyota Corolla WRC
5 Possum Bourne / Craig Vincent Subaru Impreza WRC 98
6 Carlos Sainz / Luis Moya Toyota Corolla WRC
7 Matthias Kahle / Dieter Schneppenheim Toyota Corolla WRC
8 Freddy Loix / Sven Smeets Mitsubishi Carisma GT
Acropolis Rally Finland Rally

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