S-WRC preview: Sandell vows to strike back in New Zealand
"I know it’s been a bad start but it’s not because I’ve been driving badly"
Much was expected of Patrik Sandell prior to the start of the inaugural FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship season. Armed with the same Skoda Fabia he’d campaigned in the previous year’s Production Car WRC, and benefiting from the continuity factor of running with Raimund Baumschlager’s crack BRR operation for a second term, Sandell looked every inch the title favourite.
But with two rounds gone, the Swede is languishing in fifth in the title reckoning after a lacklustre start to his campaign, which culminated in retirement on day one in Jordan when he was forced out after his car’s steering broke.
Conversely, Spaniard Xevi Pons has two wins under his belt and is sitting 10 points clear in the drivers’ table, 28 in front of Sandell, who eventually finished fifth in the Middle East after restarting under SupeRally regulations.
But Sandell, who is co-driven by Emil Axelsson, insists he’s under no pressure as he prepares for Rally New Zealand, the third round of the championship in Auckland from 6-9 May.
“I know it’s been a bad start but it’s not because I’ve been driving badly,” said the 28-year-old from Sweden. “Things just haven’t gone how we wanted them to but I’m not putting myself under any pressure because of it. If you do that you can’t drive fast. I will go to New Zealand, try to find the right rhythm and try to get 25 points, which is my aim for all the rallies I do.”
Sandell will face a tall order in New Zealand in his efforts to register his first win of the season. While the SWRC entry might be lacking numerically, six of the seven runners are genuine contenders for victory.
In addition to Pons, Martin Prokop returns to the series after skipping the Jordan Rally earlier this month. Prokop won Group N from Sandell when Rally New Zealand last ran in 2008 and, like Pons, will drive a Ford Fiesta S2000.
Finns Janne Tuohino and Jari Ketomaa can also count on Ford Fiesta power. Tuohino, who is co-driven by his father Markku, failed to go the distance in Jordan due to a mechanical fault, while Ketomaa retired from the opening two days of the rally but eventually finished after twice restarting under SupeRally.
Nasser Al-Attiyah opened his point-scoring account in Jordan in his Barwa Rally Team-run Skoda. He clinched the Production world title in New Zealand in 2006 so has fond memories of the country. The Qatari showed plenty of pace on the last round in Jordan but a crash and a broken throttle cable restricted him to fourth.
Albert Llovera completes the S-WRC entry in New Zealand in a Fiat Abarth Grande Punto. Llovera, a former J-WRC competitor and a regular on Spain’s WRC qualifier in recent years, was a promising downhill skier and represented his country in the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. But an accident during an event the following year left him paralysed from the waist down. He switched to rallying in 1990 using an adapted car with several hand controls.
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