Those here in the U.S. not entirely familiar with the WRC have surely seen plenty of 20-somethings tearing around in the most popular Rally-inspired production car; the Subaru WRX. The racing heads to New Zealand this week for the oldest WRC race in the Southern Hemisphere; and perhaps the most beautiful.
Depending on the weather, the racing in New Zealand is known for it’s insanely fast jumps or extremely slippery mud. Either way the terrain demands drivers and cars be at their best and willing to take risks. In fact, storms last month have forced race organizers to change the route.
At any rate, the teams competing include some very cool vehicles, including models based on the Ford Focus (pictured above) that would give the Subaru a run for the younger set’s money if it were sold here in the States. If you don’t believe that these cars take some punishing abuse (or that they can take flight) check out these photos.
Sebastien Loeb , pictured in most of these pictures moved into the lead piloting the Citroen C4 WRC. The Ford team, which has Finnish drivers who prefer racing on the mostly gravel surface that will used in New Zealand, are expected to have a strong showing as well.
After a ceremonial start in Hamilton on Thursday August 28, Friday’s route heads southwest for four stages in the Pirongia – Waitomo region. Saturday’s action is based northwest in the Franklin and Te Akau regions, and includes the ‘Possum’ stage, named after the late Possum Bourne, the rally driver who was an icon of this district. Sunday’s final day is the most spectacular of the rally and is based on roads around a remote service zone at Raglan bay. The highlight is two passes over the classic Whaanga Coast test (not making up that name), which hugs the coastline and features dramatic views over the Tasman Sea. Each leg includes a short Super Special stage at Mystery Creek, in view of the service park. There are 18 stages in all, covering 353.04km in a route of 1218km.
The New Zealand race is historically very competitive. Last year’s winner, won by a mere .3 seconds over Loeb.