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Friday, 19 December 2014

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Ford drivers out to erase New Zealand rally memories

Ford flyers Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala are determined to erase the memory of their last trip to New Zealand when they take part in the fifth round of the World Rally Championship.

The pair, who both drive for the team based at Dovenby Hall, near Cockermouth, suffered a disaster on their way to posting a one, two finish in New Zealand last time in 2008.

On the rally’s final countryside stage, the Whaanga Coast, Latvala swiped a bank and retired from second with a damaged radiator, and leader Hirvonen punctured a tyre and spun his Focus RS WRC, losing a minute and sliding to third.

At the time, Hirvonen described the incident as one of the biggest disappointments of his career.

The rally returns this week after a year away from the WRC, with a revised route taking s the total competitive distance in the North Island to just under 400km, making it the longest round of the WRC for almost six years.

But despite the sour ending last time, Hirvonen, who slipped to third in the drivers’ standings after a podium finish in Turkey earlier this month, remains a confirmed fan of New Zealand’s stages.

He said: “I’m excited to be going back there again. It’s a great country and we always receive a warm welcome in Auckland.

“Then, when I get out on the stages, I remember just why it’s alongside Finland as my favourite rallies in the championship. It’s fast, it’s smooth and it’s fun and there’s a bigger emphasis on endurance, with more competitive kilometres and limited time during the day for service. It’s good to have a longer rally.”

Fellow Finn Latvala, who is fourth in the drivers’’ standings, has started Rally New Zealand four times, with a best finish of fifth in 2007.

He said: “The character of the stages reminds me of my home event in Finland, but without the jumps.

“The car feels as if it is dancing in the road through the flowing corners. The roads are normally used by the public so the surface is hard and smooth and they are in good condition, so they are kind to the cars.

“Despite the long flight, I’m happy to go back to Auckland. It’s a great city, the stages are fantastic to drive and it’s the opportunity to put my crash in Turkey on the last round out of my mind.”

Cumbrian driver Matthew Wilson will contest Rally New Zealand for a fourth time behind the wheel of a Stobart team Ford Focus.

The 23-year-old, from Cockermouth, and his Carlisle-based co-driver Scott Martin will be looking to repeat the extremely quick stage times in his Ford Focus RS WRC that he produced in 2008 which helped him move an incredible 30 places up the leader board after suffering transmission problems in the opening day.

He said: “This is the fourth time I’ve been out to New Zealand and it’s one of my favourite events.

“Scott and I were unlucky out in Turkey last month and suffered from a couple of punctures but I was pleased to make it to the end of the event after so many others were forced to retire.

“I really want to get another top five finish like I did in Jordan so I’m hoping the lessons I’ve learned from Turkey will hold me in good stead for when we go out to New Zealand.”

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