New Zealand’s fast and flowing gravel roads have long been a hit with rally drivers, but only three of the current WRC Rally1 roster can boast experience of the country’s famous roads.
Eight-time world champion Sebastien Ogier, who has rejoined Toyota for New Zealand, was denied a maiden WRC victory in 2010, while the Hyundai duo Thierry Neuville and From Tanak was presented at the last rally in 2012.
As a result, several drivers have turned to evaluating YouTube videos and even computer games to help prepare for the event.
Toyotas Elphin Evans admitted that he went on a YouTube “hunt” for videos and materials to help prepare on his own.
“It was a YouTube hunt and everything we got from the organizers,” Evans told Motorsport.com.
“It always looks a little different in real life than it does on video. It’s not that different, but it’s very challenging to try and learn the stages.
Asked if he could compare his native Welsh gravel roads, which share some of the same characteristics, he said: “The scenery doesn’t look a million miles away [from Wales] with green grass and sheep.
“There’s something similar with the second two stages on Friday, they’re a bit more like Wales on points and on Sunday I guess they’re a bit like Wales but it’s a bit more artificial.
“This is still a big rally and mass challenge,” he added. “Wherever you go with new notes from the beginning, it’s always difficult.”
WRC Rally New Zealand returns after a 10-year hiatus, with Sébastien Loeb winning the previous edition in 2012.
Hyundai Oliver Solberg competed in Rally New Zealand, but as an 11-year-old watched his father, 2003 world champion Peter Solberg, finish third in 2012.
The 21-year-old decided to tap into his father’s knowledge for help, and revealed that the computer game DiRT Rally also proved useful.
“I definitely asked my father a lot because he has a lot of experience and of course YouTube is a good place,” Solberg told Motorsport.com.
“There’s a lot of old rally videos and a lot of embedded stuff, so there’s a lot to look at and a lot to learn.
“You see the way the drivers were driving and the mistakes others were making. I also remember a lot of parts from the PC game DiRT Rally.
“When I was scouting this week, I was like, ‘This is the place,’ and ‘I remember that,’ which is cool.”
When asked about his hopes for this event, he added: “On asphalt I feel good with the car, but only on gravel so far I haven’t had a good experience. The car looks better and better, but we’ll see.”
At M-Sport-Ford, Gus Greensmith used embedded videos of a New Zealander working in a team.
The Briton, who is heralding the event as one of his dream rallies, is already excited about the roads after assessing this week.
“Thanks to one of the guys in our team who’s a Kiwi, he’s handed over a few teams so I’ve been able to get a feel for the roads and see what they’re like out there,” Greensmith told Motorsport.com.
“For me, this is a dream rally. As a child, my dream was to rally in Monte Carlo and New Zealand.
“I rode the stages this week and it was as special as I thought it would be. One of the stages on Friday is the most beautiful 31 kilometers I’ve ever seen.”
Rally New Zealand gets underway on Thursday thanks to a super special stage in the heart of host city Auckland before the first of Friday’s gravel stages.