Solberg returns to Munchi’s side for southern stages
Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud will join the Munchi’s Ford World Rally Team next week as it embarks on round 8 of its 10 event campaign in the 2008 FIA World Rally Championship; Repco Rally New Zealand. The Norwegians’ team-mates for the event will be fulltime Munchi’s regulars Federico Villagra/Jorge Pérez Companc.

Currently the Munchi’s Ford WRT lie ahead of Suzuki’s works outfit in the Manufacturer Championship and will be looking to build on this six point lead come the end of this year’s Australasian-based event.

Solberg comes in as the most experienced campaigner in the Munchi’s camp with three Rally New Zealand starts under his belt. The Norwegian’s best result of ninth came last year behind the wheel of a Ford Focus RS WRC06 and this time round he will be looking to go one better and finish inside the points for the first time in New Zealand.

Team-mate Villagra is also no stranger to the southern hemisphere event as he has competed here twice before with a top result of 11th last year with the Munchi’s squad. In 2005 he took on the rally as a round of the Production World Rally Championship and finished seventh in GpN.

Solberg currently lies seventh in the Drivers’ Championship just five points behind his brother Petter in sixth. Last year he was setting some promising times only to be spoiled by punctures and a mud filled radiator so will be searching for a firm result to launch up the championship standings in 2008.

Despite his absence from the most recent WRC round in Germany, Villagra has been keeping on form by competing in the Argentine Rally Championship last weekend. Continuing his domination of the championship ‘Coyote’ won Rally Vuelta de la Manzana and now takes a 27 point lead in the South American-based championship with just four rounds remaining.

Based in the north island of New Zealand this year’s event will again offer crews high-speed, smooth gravel roads which are often described as a favourite by many drivers. The 354.58 kilometres of competitive distance will be made up of 16 special stages which include three passes over the 3.14 kilometre Mystery Creek Super Special.

Hamilton and the Mystery Creek Events Centre will again host the rally which sees a remote service being held in the Raglan region. Currently weather conditions are forecast to be very wet with one stage (SS2) already affected by heavy rain and winds as engineers have been working to fix the road before the rally begins next Friday.

Munchi’s Ford World Rally Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
“I’m really looking forward to New Zealand as, for me, it will be great to be back on gravel. The stages are fast and very flowing and that’s exactly the conditions I like best; it lets me get a good feeling with the car and helps with my confidence. I’ve never had an especially good result there before but we have made some good improvements on gravel throughout the year so maybe this time we can push for a good finish and to get some more points for the championship.”

Munchi’s Ford World Rally Team Driver Federico Villagra said:
“For me New Zealand is a rally I like very much but it can also be very tricky especially if the conditions are wet. We had a good result here last year and also in 2005 when I was in the PWRC. The stages are very much like Finland only with much less jumps so for me this is very enjoyable. Having Henning in the team is a big help because he has a lot of experience especially on fast gravel. He has already scored some good points for the Munchi’s team this year as we try and stay ahead of Suzuki in the championship. I have been racing in Argentina and we won the rally on the weekend so things are feeling pretty good with my driving at the moment.”

Event Information
Date: 29-31 August 2008
Round: 11 of 15 FIA World Rally Championship
Based: Hamilton, New Zealand
Stage surface: Gravel
Total stage distance: 354.58 km
Number of stages: 16
Longest stage: Waitomo at 43.98km (SS2 & 4)
Central Service Park: Mystery Creek Events Centre

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