Citroen’s eight-time world champion Sébastien Loeb is hoping for a little luck as he prepares for this month’s Brother Rally New Zealand, which runs from 21 to 24 June as the seventh round of this year’s FIA WRC.
The legendary Frenchman has enjoyed a great deal of success all over the world but his record at Brother Rally New Zealand isn’t as formidable as it is at many other rallies despite his complete dominance of the sport in recent years.
The 38-year-old Loeb has collected a staggering 71 rally wins during his career and while he’s tasted success in New Zealand on two separate occasions, it hasn’t proven to be his happiest hunting ground.
“The roads are fast and flowing and driving there is very thrilling I have to say,” Loeb says. “It’s always been a rally with a lot of happenings too – sometimes in our favour, sometimes less but an interesting rally.”
Loeb looked headed for victory in the final stage of the 2010 event only to make an uncharacteristic mistake and hand the win for Ford’s Jari-Matti Latvala.
He heads to New Zealand shores with the lead in the 2012 championship and will enter the rally as the strong favourite to win.
Starting out as a tarmac specialist, Loeb has honed his skills on gravel over the years to be widely considered the greatest driver the sport has ever produced. He is now very much at home on any surface and he says the roads here in New Zealand are very much to his liking, even if they are challenging.
“The roads are different and special with that very typical camber which makes driving particular,” he says.
“I think driving in New Zealand is different especially because of those cambered roads. But having won there before maybe we can say that the roads suit my driving style, no?”
Loeb is also aware that not only do the roads prove a challenge in Brother Rally New Zealand but the demands on the driver themselves are also tough.
“Rally New Zealand is unique because it’s really far away,” he explains. “It is a long journey with jet lag, etc.”
Loeb says that once you arrive in New Zealand however, the place is one of his favourites to visit.
“The landscape is spectacular there with some incredible places.”
Loeb already has eight world titles locked away and is on-track for a record ninth title this year leaving many experts questioning what challenges remain for him in the sport.
But the charismatic Frenchman says he has no intention of calling time on his career any time soon.
“There is always more to achieve and hopefully we can clinch another title this year for us and for Citroën,” he says.
Loeb’s team-mate Mikko Hirvonen will be hoping to break his duck in New Zealand after crashing out of contention in the final stages of the 2010 event.
The Finnish driver has been one of the most consistent drivers over the past five or six seasons and will head to New Zealand having lifted himself to second in the championship standings.
Against twelve other WRC teams entered for the three day rally it will again be based in Auckland and take competitors to much-loved rural roads around the Raglan and Waikato, Whangarei and Kaipara districts as well as new stages in and around Auckland.
Brother Rally New Zealand also counts as rounds of the FIA Super 2000 and Production World Rally Championships (SWRC and PWRC) as well as being the fourth round of the 2012 Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC), powered by Brother. Working with the Pukekohe Car Club, Rally of New Zealand also runs a subsidiary event, the Possum Bourne Memorial Rally, for local competitors.
Pre-event activity starts with a free rally family day at Auckland’s Viaduct Events Centre on Sunday 17 June, marking the first time that Kiwi rally fans can meet their favourite drivers. Competitors then complete their reconnaissance of the rally route for two-and-a-half days before the event officially gets underway at a ticketed welcome function on Thursday 21 June. A new MotorExpo and FanZone will operate inside rally headquarters at the Viaduct Events Centre; entry is free and alongside great vehicle displays and interactive entertainment, fans can watch the only big screen television showing live rally footage from out on the course. Numerous prime and other spectator viewing areas offer excellent opportunities to watch the high speed action in person across all three days of the event, Friday 22 June to Sunday 24 June. Sunday’s action includes the free-for-everyone Auckland Domain super special stage before the ceremonial finish at 3:30pm near the Viaduct Events Centre on Auckland’s waterfront.
Detailed spectator and ticket information and current news is available on the event website www.rallynz.org.nz or follow the event on Facebook or Twitter.
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