Two more top five times ensured Markko Märtin and Michael Park retained their hold on seventh position in this 12th round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Sampling New Zealand’s smooth gravel roads for the first time on his debut drive here, Märtin powered his Ford Focus RS World Rally Car to third fastest time through the 11.15km Te Hutewai test and was then fifth in the repeat run of the 16.62km Te Papatapu.
“The car felt much better through those two stages,” said the 26-year-old Estonian driver. “We altered the balance of the anti-roll bars and changed the differential mappings in the previous service park and it’s made a big improvement. We obviously made the right changes. I’ve finally got some confidence and really enjoyed the last stage. It’s a shame it wasn’t longer .”
Ford Rallye Sport team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya slipped to 10th in their Focus RS, although they are just 1.4sec behind Belgians Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets two places ahead.
“The car is running fine but I’m not that confident at the moment,” said the 40-year-old Madrid-based driver. “It feels a little soft and I can’t be as precise in my driving as I would like but I don’t know exactly why. There was a lot of gravel on the roads in Te Hutewai but the next one was clean as we had already driven the stage this morning. The car felt the same on both so the problem seems to be the same, no matter how much gravel is on the surface.”
Drivers now make the long journey back to Auckland before two super special stages at Manukau, on the edge of the city, where drivers will race two at a time around a purpose-built floodlit circuit. Huge crowds are expected there for spectacular early evening entertainment.
Leaderboard After Stage 6
|1. R Burns/R Reid||GB||Peugeot 206||1hr 12min 48.3sec|
|2. H Rovanperä/R Pietilainen||FIN||Peugeot 206||1hr 13min 06.0sec|
|3. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen||FIN||Peugeot 206||1hr 13min 26.2sec|
|4. J Paasonen/A Kapanen||FIN||Mitsubishi Lancer||1hr 13min 28.6sec|
|5. T Mäkinen/K Lindström||FIN||Subaru Impreza||1hr 13min 33.7sec|
|6. P Solberg/P Mills||N||Subaru Impreza||1hr 13min 37.2sec|
|7. M Märtin/M Park||EE||Ford Focus RS||1hr 13min 43.1sec|
|8. F Loix/S Smeets||B||Hyundai Accent||1hr 14min 05.0sec|
|9. J Kankkunen/J Repo||FIN||Hyundai Accent||1hr 14min 05.8sec|
|10 C Sainz/L Moya||E||Ford Focus RS||1hr 14min 06.4sec|