Throughout the year, DirtFish is relieving the extraordinary 1995 World Rally Championship season as it happened. And a long break in the action is about to end.
After an almost three-month gap in competition, the World Rally Championship has touched down in Auckland for round five, which gets underway a week tomorrow (Thursday July 27).
One man missing from Rally New Zealand testing, which is currently going on up and down the North Island, is Carlos Sainz. The championship-leading Spaniard is recuperating at home in Madrid following a mountain bike crash which damaged tendons in his right arm.
One point of DirtFish order, in the last column, I erroneously stated that Sainz would retain his top-of-the-table status regardless of the result in the land of the long white cloud. Nonsense. It’s almost like I’d forgotten about Toyota drivers Juha Kankkunen and Didier Auriol running second and third in the series following May’s Tour de Corse. Bizarrely, I appeared to have written them out of the championship story. Apologies for that.
A podium for Kankkunen and first or second for the Frenchman would be enough for them to depose Sainz from the top of the table.
Kankkunen’s been busier than most in the last few months. Not only did he and his girlfriend Pirjo get married, but he also returned to Belgium to compete there for the first time in a decade.
A decade on from his Belga-liveried Toyota Celica Twin-Cam Turbo being excluded from third place on the Haspengouw rally for brake irregularities, Kankkunen was back for a shot at the European Rally Championship qualifying Ypres Rally.
“I left on the Wednesday after my wedding to go to Ypres,” said Kankkunen. “It was a shame really, but we had time after that rally to go to Fiji for honeymoon. Then I flew directly here to New Zealand.”
Understandably, the Finn has already wiped the memory of Ypres – he and Nicky Grist slid into a ditch on the outside of a right-hander. Their Celica GT-Four remained nose-down and going nowhere.
Victory next week would be Kankkunen’s first in New Zealand since his 1986 win at the wheel of a Peugeot 205 T16 E2.
News coming back from testing for the event is that all four manufacturers will run an active center differential set-up for the first time.
Impreza driver Colin McRae starts as favorite, with the Scot on a New Zealand hat-trick on what’s become something akin to a home round for his Subaru team. Possum Bourne and Richard Burns will back McRae up in a three-car entry from Prodrive.
Toyota has countered Subaru’s bolstered line-up by bringing four factory Celicas. Lead drivers Kankkunen and Auriol are joined by regular third wheel Armin Schwarz, while Yoshio Fujimoto will be doubling up his Asia-Pacific campaign with a cavalry role for the factory WRC team.
Local hero Neil Allport gets a works-specification RAS Sport-run Ford Escort RS Cosworth, joining François Delecour and Bruno Thiry in the Blue Oval’s satellite squad. Kenneth Eriksson and Tommi Mäkinen are equipped with a Mitsubishi Lancer RS Evo III apiece.
It’s not just the WRC which gets back into action next week. The British Rally Championship will also return to the stages for the Ulster Rally, where Renault’s series leader Alain Oreille will face stiff competition from a younger McRae, Nissan man Alister.