Round 11 of the 2022 World Rally Championship takes rallying’s finest drivers, engineers and mechanics to the ‘other side of the world’ for the first time since 2018.
Rally New Zealand has been missing from the schedule since 2012, meaning just three of the top-line drivers have competed here in the past. Only M-Sport Ford was in the WRC back when we were last in New Zealand too.
What will all that do to the competitive order? We’re about to find out. It promises to be a brilliant weekend where the world championship could even be won!
Here’s all the key information you need for Rally New Zealand 2022:
Total 28 crews
10 Priority 1 crews
12 Priority 2 crews (WRC2)
6 Non-priority crews
The withdrawal of M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux means New Zealand has the equal-lowest number of Rally1 cars on the entry list, but as ever it’s a field packed with quality.
Fourmaux’s absence means manufacturer points scoring duty falls on the shoulders of just two M-Sport drivers in the land of the long white cloud: Craig Breen and Gus Greensmith.
There will be a third Puma Rally1 in action though as Lorenzo Bertelli makes his first appearance of the season.
Hyundai is the in-form team just now and has shuffled its lineup compared to the Acropolis; Oliver Solberg is back in the car Dani Sordo drove last time out to record Hyundai’s first ever 1-2-3 behind Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak.
There’s change at Toyota too. Sébastien Ogier is back for the first time in three months and in for the rest of the season, joining full-timers Kalle Rovanperä and Elfyn Evans. As ever Takamoto Katsuta will drive a fourth GR Yaris Rally1 for the standalone Toyota Next Generation squad.
A lot of the pre-event talk has centered on Kajetan Kajetanowicz’s entry as the triple European champion heads outside his comfort zone in a tactical bid for WRC2 championship points.
But the overwhelming favorite for victory in New Zealand has to be Hayden Paddon. It’s perhaps a disappointment to see the one-time WRC winner in the second tier rather than the top class, but there’ll be a lot of expectation on Paddon this weekend regardless.
Paddon’s far from the only local Kajetanowicz needs to worry about though. Ben Hunt has been superb since stepping into a Rally2 Škoda, winning Rally Hawkes Bay in July.
The 2019 Australian champion Harry Bates is another intriguing prospect as he makes his WRC debut in a Fabia. Incredibly, it’ll be his first ever rally start in a car without a Toyota badge on the front grille.
But by far the most exciting rookie is Supercars legend Shane van Gisbergen. Van Gisbergen – who can wrap up a third title at the iconic Bathurst 1000 next month – has shown great promise and potential on his limited rallies so far this year – even winning the Far North Rally. What he can achieve on his WRC debut will be a major point of interest this weekend.
A sum of 17 stages totaling 171 competitive miles makes up the first WRC Rally New Zealand in a decade.
It’s a far shorter itinerary than when the WRC last visited but several of the classic tests remain.
Friday’s loop, situated someway south of host city Auckland, is a cracker – the famed Whaanga Coast stage kicking off the loop before Te Akau South and Te Akau North. All three are repeated in the afternoon.
Saturday’s stages take the crews north for another batch of three stages repeated after service – Kaipara Hills, Puhoi and Komokoriki.
Sunday’s leg comprises just four stages, with two brand-new tests for the WRC. Whitford Forest – Te Maraunga Waiho begins the loop before the Jacks Ridge stage which will run as the powerstage on the second pass.