A WRC classic returns and a champion crowned: Rally New Zealand 2022


October 07, 2022

Written by: Chris Hosie

Image credit: wrc.com

Last time out on the car killing Acropolis Rally, Hyundai proved to be invincible. With Thierry Neuville taking his first win of the season and leading home a Hyundai 1, 2, 3. Would the Korean makes wining streak continue or would Toyota come back to the winner’s circle with a vengeance?

Thursday saw the rally start with a Spectator Friendly stage at Auckland Domain. This saw Estonian Ott Tanak, take the first stage win and began his quest to prevent the championship leader, Kalle Rovanpera from claiming the World Championship. The Fin only having to outscore the Estonian by 8 points to take the title with three events remaining after this one. Irelands Craig Breen was also a star on SS1. He and his M-Sport Ford setting a blistering time, putting him right in the mix of the battling Toyotas and Hyundais. Not everyone had a good stage. WRC2 Runner, Kajetan Kajetanowicz suffered a broken driveshaft on the opening test. However, he would survive and still be in contention for WRC2 honours during the course of the event.

Friday saw the cars tackle 6 iconic stages that have made Rally New Zealand such a hit amongst drivers and fans alike. Returning 8 time champion, Sebastian Ogier, took the lead off Tanak alongside his TGR Teammate Elfyn Evans. Both drivers were in the top three and were setting terrific times. Tanak too was also on a flyer. Eventually taking back the lead in the afternoon and would keep it into the overnight halt. Thierry Neuville was having a rather challenging day. He had a moment on SS3 which saw him nudge a banking. He would continue with no damage and would end the day in the top Five.

M-Sport had a fine start to the morning. Craig Breen and Gus Greensmith were both on fine form during the day. Greensmith taking a stage win on SS5 and both men were on the point of taking the rally lead and running with it. However, it was not to be. Greensmith suffered issues with his car and dropped down the leader board. Breen would have the greatest disappointment. Crashing out on the corner that saw Colin McRae crash out in 2002. Breen would be out for the day but, would happily restart on Saturday.

Takamoto Katsuta also had a scare on SS3, in the same place as Neuville. He would continue on but would be down near the bottom of the top 10. Oliver Solberg was also struggling on the fast yet greasy stages along with Rovanpera. However, the championship leader would climb up to the top four in the afternoon. At the end of the day the top four were split by just 7.2 seconds.

The WRC2 class would have a distinctly Australasian flavour this time out. The vast majority of entrants coming from Australia and New Zealand. The class would see former WRC star Hayden Paddon, produce a masterclass drive throughout the day. Ending Friday with a commanding lead in his Hyundai I20 Rally2. Kajetanowicz would end the day second in class, showing no signs that his driveshaft issue on Thursday had caused any problems to him and his Skoda Fabia. In third was another Skoda, this one piloted by V8 Supercar champion Shane Van Gisbergen.

The Supercheap Auto entry going extremely well despite a spin and some damage during the day. This was the same car that was competing for honours in the Australian Championship and, by Van Gisbergen’s pace, he was definitely showing his Aussie championship credentials. Also in contention in fourth was Harry Bates. He was also in a Skoda and trying to keep the top three in his sights for a potential upset result on New Zealand’s fast and flowing gravel roads.

Saturday say drama before the cars left the service park. The Hyundais of Tanak and Neuville were given fife second penalties dur to hybrid infringements from the opening stage on Thursday. Also given a penalty for hybrid infringements. After this that cars set off to tackle six more stages with the conditions being just as damp and greasy as they were the previous day. The day started off well for the TGR cars. They were right on the pace with Evans, Rovanpera and Ogier putting the pressure on the leader Tanak. Eventually, the Welshman took the lead off the Hyundai with his teammates following suit as the day progressed.

Rovanpera was truly a man on a mission, trying to make amends on the penalty and trying his best to outscore his main Estonian rival in order to take the title. Events would move rapidly in the afternoon. Gus Greensmith having a massive crash that saw him out of the event. Also crashing out on the days final stage was Taka Katsuta. He crashed out on SS12. Hyundai were then dealt a devastating blow near the end of the day. All three I20 Rally1 cars being hit with penalties due to more infringements with their hybrid systems. This enabled the surviving Toyotas of Ogier and Rovanpera to take command with the Fin ending the day with the overnight rally lead. Finland’s hand was now firmly on the title with one more day to go. Would History be made come Sunday.

One driver who really benefited from the carnage was the Italian Privateer, Lorenzo Bertelli. His Puma Rally1 was now up to seventh overall and was the sixth surviving Rally1 car still in the points paying positions. Another who benefited was Oli Solberg, he would finish the day in fifth.

In WRC2, Hayden Paddon was continuing to lead and was now going one better. Thanks to all the drama in the Rally1 class, the Kee Wee was now up in to sixth place overall. Kajetanowicz, Vas Gisbergen and Bates were still battling for the remaining podium spots and were also impinging on the overall leader board. Elsewhere, Arin Kremer was, once again, in command of the WRC2 Masters Class.

Sunday dawned and it would be a day that saw WRC History be made. Today was the last chance for the Hyundai’s of Tanak Neuville and a now elevated Solberg to catch the Toyota twosome of Rovanpera and Ogier. Despite a brilliant yet fraught run over the last couple of stages. Which saw all three Hyundai’s have one or two wild moments. It just wasn’t enough. Ogier was on a calm day on Sunday. Despite being nearly 30 seconds behind his teammate, he was happy to keep the I20 threat at bay and that’s exactly what he did.

And so, after many years of development and rising the ranks of the European and WRC Support classes. October 2 2022 would be the day that Kalle Rovanpera made World Rally Championship history. He came to the end of the 17th and final stage as the winner of Rally New Zealand and the 2022 World Rally Champion. At the age of just 22, having turned 22 on Saturday, he became the youngest ever World Rally Champion. A record once held by the late, great Colin McRae. A truly memorable and landmark moments in the WRC. He also became the first Finish world champion since Marcus Gronholm way back in 2002.

The Hyundai’s of Tanak, Neuville and Solberg rounded out the top five with privateer, Bertelli finishing off the remaining points scoring Rally1 cars. Craig Breen also finished the event. Though well outside the points.

In WRC2, Hayden Paddon took victory by a very commanding margin. Bringing a great joy to the home crowds. Kajetanowicz claimed second and valuable points in the overall WRC2 Title fight. Third was the remarkable Shane Van Gisbergen followed by the fast and dramatic Harry Bates. Armin Kremer took fifth in the class and claimed winning honors in the WRC2 Masters class. Local stars: Todd Bawden, Luke Anear, Ben Hunt, Andy Martin and Spaniard Miguel Diaz-Aboitiz rounded out the top 10. Paddon also got sixth in the overall finishing order making it a very lucrative weekend for the former factory Hyundai star.

So there it is, a new world champion crowned and for the first time in a very long time, that champion is from the home of rallying, Finland. The season is not over yet. There are still titles to be decided and battles to be settled. Join the worlds finest rally drivers next time out in Spain for the Rally Catalunya. The iconic and dramatic mixed surface test that will push man and machine to its limits. Battle will commence on 20th October when the WRC returns.

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