Why prior New Zealand experience won’t be an advantage

Only three drivers head to the rally with prior experience of the event, last held in 2012


Three drivers landed into Auckland airport knowing they needed to turn left towards the city, the service park and their hotel. The rest of them? Complete voyage of discovery.

How much of an advantage will Ott Tänak, Thierry Neuville and Sébastien Ogier have over their rivals? 

All three of them have competed in New Zealand before. For Tänak and Neuville, the 2012 event was their first time down under. Ogier missed that one – neither he or Volkswagen Motorsport saw much value in shipping a Škoda Fabia S2000 so far south in their warm-up season – but was very much at the races in 2010, when he came within an ace of winning.

Beyond an understanding of how friendly the locals are, how important rugby is and how good the Sauvignon Blanc tastes, the three aren’t likely to enjoy much of an advantage.


Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala agrees. Also present at the 2012 event – when he was very firmly at the center of a will-he-won’t-he debate about the likelihood of the then Ford driver jumping ship to Volkswagen – Latvala said: “It’s such a long time ago now, I don’t think there will be any advantage from being here in 2012. Don’t forget, the cars were so different back then – for me the bigger question this week will be the position on the road and how much cleaning there will be.”

There’s also the question of what Ogier can do on his first event back since the Safari.

Team-mate Elfyn Evans has no doubt where Ogier will be.

“He’ll be a threat,” he said. “Of course he will. He’s a threat wherever he turns up  – you don’t get a CV like the one he’s got without being a threat everywhere.”

Ogier’s memories of 2010 weren’t ideal, for reasons he will explain, but there’s no doubt he’s delighted to be back.

The eight time World Rally champion said: “Rally New Zealand is one of the rallies I really wanted to do this year. I was there once before in 2010 and I have mostly good memories. It was a very close fight until the final corners, when a spin handed the win to Jari-Matti [Latvala].

“At the time it was hard to take, but thankfully I could score my first WRC win just a few weeks later [in Portugal].

“The rally itself is beautiful with some of the best roads in the world. After this break it won’t be easy to get back in the rhythm right away, but like always I will try to compete for the victory and help the team to the best possible result.”