Rovanperä pips all three Hyundais on NZ shakedown

Just 0.2s split the first four cars on the warm-up to Rally New Zealand


Kalle Rovanperä set the pace on the Rally New Zealand shakedown stage with all three Hyundais right on his tail.

This weekend marks the first time since 2012 that the World Rally Championship has touched down in the land of the long white cloud, meaning just three drivers – Ott Tänak, Thierry Neuville and the returning Sébastien Ogier – have experience of the stages.

Rovanperä – who is 53 points up the road from Tänak with just 90 left to play for – was just 11 years old in 2012, but now a fully-fledged Toyota factory driver and world championship favorite he set the pace by just 0.1 seconds with a time of 1m27.7s on this year’s warm-up test.

Given the Inland Road shakedown stage was just 2.2 miles long, that meant Rovanperä incredibly set an average speed of 91mph. But he’s not expecting to go that fast on the rally proper, and not just because the stages get more twisty.

“It will be tricky opening the road,” he explained.

“Already in the shakedown for sure it’s slippy for us with the loose gravel, but it will be a challenge like always.”

Neuville and Oliver Solberg shared second fastest time, a further tenth up the road from the in-form Tänak.

That was despite a wild moment for Solberg outpaced on his first of four passes when he ran wide on a sweeping left-hander before a quick right, kissing the bank on the inside of the right and running slightly wide as a result.


“These roads here are just unique and awesome to drive on,” he commented.

Neuville added: “It’s good to be back, good to get a feeling again even if the shakedown is not that representative.

“Happy to be here and hopefully we have another good run.”

Behind the championship leader and the trio of Hyundais was Ogier, who stopped the clocks half a second down on Rovanperä.

But Ogier could face a rude awakening on Friday morning’s opening 18-miler, Whaanga Coast, given he’s not driven competitively for three months, but the outgoing world champion is delighted to be back in New Zealand.


“It’s one of the most beautiful ones for us rally drivers, very beautiful stages,” he said.

“I was quite clear I wanted to be back to this one this year as I have only been once, so it’s nice to be back.”

This weekend marks an unwanted anniversary for Ogier’s team-mate Elfyn Evans, as it’s now a full calendar year since he last won a round of the WRC.

Fourth on the road on Friday could give him a good chance to reset that score but with all things even Evans was only sixth fastest on shakedown – setting the exact same time as British compatriot Gus Greensmith over the quick two-mile blast.

M-Sport’s works entry has been slimmed to just two Pumas following the decision not to send Adrien Fourmaux to New Zealand, but it was an encouraging shakedown performance from its two drivers.

Craig Breen was quickest of all over the first pass of shakedown, but it was Greensmith who led the M-Sport at the close of play. Breen was eventually 0.7s down on his team-mate.

“The car feels good honestly,” confirmed Breen. “It’s just a beautiful place, beautiful country. It’s such a great place to drive a rally car so it’s a great pleasure.”

Takamoto Katsuta’s Toyota matched Breen’s Ford over the shakedown stage to share eighth – representing the second of two ties on the timesheet. Both drivers set their best effort, 1m29.2s, on the third pass.

“It’s going to be a nice weekend,” Katsuta predicted, “I’m hoping so!”

Lorenzo Bertelli is the 10th and final Rally1 car competing this weekend – the 34-year-old making his first start in a Rally1 car and his second in New Zealand.


“The stages are amazing, even if I couldn’t hear my co-driver, I have some intercom problem,” he said after his first run.

“But it’s so much fun! I didn’t remember the roads were this amazing.”

Bertelli’s Rally1 Ford was beaten by Hayden Paddon’s Rally2 Hyundai though, who unsurprisingly set the pace in the WRC2 class.

Australian championship frontrunner Harry Bates and two-time Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen were second and third fastest in a pair of Škodas – both making their WRC debuts. Bates was just a tenth quicker than van Gisbergen.