Can Rovanpera make title-clinching history on WRC’s Rally New Zealand return?

The FIA ​​World Rally Championship heads down under this week as Repco Rally New Zealand from Sept 29th to Oct 10th. 2, returns to the series for the first time in a decade.

Fast, flowing gravel roads with cambered corners await crews on Round 11 of WRC 2022 as the rally traverses the forests and picture-postcard coast of the North Island.

Few of the front-line WRC stars have previously competed in the Auckland event, which presents a unique challenge to the 13-round championship. Among those making their New Zealand debut is Kalle Rovanpera, Toyota Gazoo Racing’s WRC points leader.

Poor results in recent rallies have seen Rovanpera’s championship lead fall to 53 points over Hyundai attacker Ott Tanak. The Finn celebrates his 22nd birthday this Saturday (October 1st) and with a maximum of 90 points available from the three remaining rallies, remains firmly on course to become the youngest-ever WRC champion.

A birthday isn’t the only thing Rovanpera could celebrate this weekend either. He could secure the Drivers’ Championship crown on Sunday afternoon should he edge Tanak by eight points, or just seven points if he wins the rally.

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“It’s going to be really interesting to go to Rally New Zealand,” said Rovanpera. “I’ve only heard good things about the country and the rally and how beautiful the roads are.

“The last few rallies haven’t been ideal for us, but we know what we need to improve on and we’re working hard to be faster and more comfortable. Hopefully we can have good speed, enjoy the event and finish with a good result.”

Rovanpera will be joined in Toyota’s four-car GR Yaris Rally1 attack by Elfyn Evans and Takamoto Katsuta, along with eight-time World Champion Sebastien Ogier. under, who resumes his part-time campaign with the Japanese manufacturer on his first assignment since Kenya in June.

With three wins and two more podiums in the last six events, Tanak will be hoping for another win to keep his title hopes alive. Joined by Thierry Neuville and Oliver Solberg in a trio of hybrid-powered i20 N Rally1 cars, the Estonian says New Zealand’s fabled stages are a dream to drive.

“The roads seem made for rallies,” he enthuses. “Hopefully we can get 100 percent out of the car and get a strong result.”

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At the pre-rally shakedown, Rovanpera beat Tanak by just under 0.2s on the 2.2-mile test stage, with Neuville and Solberg wedged between them, just 0.1s off the Toyota driver’s benchmark time. In fifth place, Ogier was just 0.3s behind Tanak, adding to the prospects of a super close fight.

Craig Breen and Gus Greensmith lead M-Sport Ford while Italian privateer Lorenzo Bertelli also fields a Puma Rally1. Adrien Fourmaux was also due to drive for the UK squad but withdrew his entry last week.

In WRC2, the second division of international rallying, Skoda Fabia Evo driver Kajetan Kajetanowicz will start the fifth of his seven-point event hoping to close his 33-point gap on current championship leader Andreas Mikkelsen.

With Mikkelsen already in his seven events, a strong run from Poland’s Kajetanowicz will put him in a great position to clinch his maiden title. But first he has to overcome some tough local opponents of former WRC regulars Hayden Paddon (Hyundai i20N Rally2) and Ben Hunt (Skoda) as well as Australian Harry Bates (Skoda).
And watch out for another Kiwi, Shane van Gisbergen, swapping his Australian Supercars Championship Holden Commodore for a WRC2 Skoda. Third fastest of the WRC2 contenders at the pre-rally shakedown, behind only Paddon and Bates, Van Gisbergen could be the surprise package of the weekend.

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The rally begins on Thursday evening at 18:00 NZST (Thursday 1:00pm ET/Wednesday 22:00pm PT) with a 0.9 mile Super Special Stage at Pukekawa Auckland Domain Park in downtown host city Auckland.

Friday’s 98.52-mile monster course includes seven classic stages on the Whaanga Coast and Waikato region roads near Te Akau, followed by six stages and 54.85 miles north of Auckland for the stage on Saturday.

Sunday’s final consists of a new stage at Whitford Forest Te Maraunga Waiho (5.44 miles) and the purpose-built Jack’s Ridge (3.99 miles). Both are run twice, with the second run of Jack’s Ridge forming the bonus-point Wolf Power Stage.

Visit WRC.com, the official website of the FIA ​​World Rally Championship. And for the ultimate WRC experience, sign up for a WRC+ subscription to watch all stages of each rally live and on demand, anytime, anywhere.