International rallying weapon lands in New Zealand for NZRC debut
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The AP4 explosion has rejuvenated the New Zealand Rally Championship over the past couple of years and now the series is to be boosted by R5 cars.
The production-derived vehicles are used as the sport's main feeder category into the full World Rally Championship class and are hugely popular throughout Europe.
The first one hit New Zealand shores last week with Kiwi rallying icon Neil Allport bringing a Ford Fiesta out from M-Sport in Europe for youngster Max Bayley to drive in the final two rounds of the NZRC.
Allport, the three-time national champion and recent MotorSport New Zealand Rally Heritage Award winner, has purchased an M-Sport factory-built Ford Fiesta that has done 13 events in Europe.
"R5 has been on my radar for some time," Allport told The Herald. "I got asked to look into buying a car for a customer two years ago and when we looked at it we thought the numbers were pretty well up there and I thought it wouldn't work. Then we had another customer come back and so I started looking again and that was around April this year. That is when this process started again - I looked into it and started crunching the numbers and found that it might work.
"We found this car and decided to buy it and I think it will fly."
The beauty of the R5 cars as opposed to AP4 is they are already well tested and will be competitive straight off the start line. The AP4 cars are not a lot cheaper to build and they have no data history to call upon so it has been a challenge for drivers to get the best out of them at this early stage.
For Allport, the ease of buying something ready-made appealed.
"I believe now, given the cost of building AP4 versus buying a used car, it is at a balance that I think will work for me financially and a good business model," he explained.
"My decision-making is based on being a 100% motorsport company - it needs to pay its own way and make money. It is a little bit different to somebody who is buying the car for a hobby with zero return.
"There are people out there that love all the tinkering and mucking about and trying one thing after another but I am over all of that now."
Allport thinks there is merit in the continued development of the AP4 cars and expects that over the next couple of years, as improvements are found, there won't be much in it.
"If you look at the blueprint for R5 they are a simple car. If you look at the hardware of an AP4 car it is a similar - the gear box is the same with one more gear, the same principle with uprights and brakes and shocks and shock travel - all of that is the same.
"If you had the Skoda that Glenn Inkster had and parked it next to mine you would hardly know the difference.
"It is just how they are put together.
"As time goes on they will develop more. They will evolve to the point where if you have a good driver they will be the same speed or better.
"I think they will co-exist no doubt about that."
Bayley will debut the R5 Fiesta at next month's Rally Waikato and will also pilot it at Rally New Zealand in November.
Allport has high hopes that the youngster will take advantage of what is certain to be a fast car.
"I have always rated Max and I think he has come into sport - he has done very little compared to who he will be competing against - but right from day one he was punching above his weight in an R2," Allport said.
"I think he will be up for this job. It will take him an event or two before he is 100% comfortable in the car but he will learn quickly."
At this stage there is only one R5 car on its way but Allport has held discussions with a number of other potential customers and he expects this to be the first of many R5s that will head to New Zealand.
"That just hinges on a customer wanting to do a deal. It is a hefty investment but not one that is unrealistic. We have done this for years and years - it is not a new business model for us.
"I expect others to follow. There is a lot of interest and I've had phone calls from people that are extremely keen to look at how it performs.
"My customers are people who don't have the knowledge or expertise to take a car like an AP4 car, put the whole thing together, develop the engine, test it, develop it and get it to the start line as a good, competitive package.
"The R5 is the short cut through all of that. It is a done deal. Here is the testing data, the set-up data and the engine is what it is and it will do X-amount of mileage before it needs a rebuild.
"It is fair to say there is no question mark over the competitiveness of the car - it is a factory-built R5 WRC2 car. You cannot say it is not going to do the job. Clearly if the driver can drive the car it is a winning car without a doubt."