Auckland’s sporting fiesta moved into top gear this morning as 81 starters left the city for the opening day’s competition on Rally New Zealand, round 12 of the 14 rally series. The event began last night when huge crowds packed the city centre to witness a spectacular start ceremony before competitors left under darkness this morning for the long drive south to Raglan, around which today’s action is based.

With the qualifying races for yachting’s America’s Cup under way in the waters off Auckland and the city’s New Zealand Warriors’ preparing for their first appearance in rugby league’s NRL grand final in Sydney on Sunday, world class sport is much to the fore here.

The action began with the 32.37km Te Akau North and all three Ford Rallye Sport crews emerged from the test safely, Britons Colin McRae and Nicky Grist heading the team’s challenge in sixth in their Focus RS World Rally Car. “I was disappointed with my time because I thought we’d had a good run,” said McRae. “I thought initially we’d made the wrong tyre choice but now I think it was probably right. This stage was wet when we practised it during the recce but today it’s dry and there’s quite a lot of loose gravel on the surface which isn’t ideal for us running third on the road.”

Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya were eighth after stalling their Focus RS at the start. “We have a modified launch control system on the Focus but I stalled at the start during the shakedown and again here, so I’m going back to the old system,” said Sainz.

Markko Märtin and Michael Park were 11th in their Focus RS, the team’s junior pairing having quite a fright on the first corner of the stage. “It was a very fast sixth gear bend and when I braked there was no grip at all,” said the 26-year-old Estonian driver. “The car just slid and seemed to speed up. I was a little bit scared but I think my co-driver was more so! I couldn’t really find a good rhythm after that and felt unsettled for the rest of the stage. We were lucky it was a sixth gear bend and not any tighter.”

Leaderboard After Stage 1

1. R Burns/R Reid GB Peugeot 206 17min 50.4sec
2. H Rovanperä/R Pietilainen FIN Peugeot 206 17min 56.9sec
3. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 17min 59.8sec
4. T Mäkinen/K Lindström FIN Subaru Impreza 18min 04.0sec
5. J Paasonen/A Kapanen FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 18min 04.9sec
6. C McRae/N Grist GB Ford Focus RS 18min 05.5sec
7. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 18min 07.6sec
8. C Sainz/L Moya E Ford Focus RS 18min 12.7sec
9. K Eriksson/T Thörner S Skoda Octavia 18min 13.1sec
10 F Loix/S Smeets B Hyundai Accent 18min 14.3sec
11 M Märtin/M Park EE Ford Focus RS 18min 15.8sec

Published : 04/10/02 Author : Melanie Carter

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