A stunning drive on the Propecia Rally New Zealand has rewarded Natalie Barratt with a career-equalling best result on a FIA World Rally Championship event.

Having started well, she increased her pace over the fast and flowing New Zealand gravel roads to finish 21st overall in her MSD prepared Hyundai Accent WRC?.

Co-driven by Roger Freeman, Barratt had to master many difficult situations - the first being her running position on Leg 1, having been seeded at car number 125. The consequences of which were running in dust, overtaking two cars on the famous Whaanga Coast stage (SS4) near Raglan and having little rest before the start of Leg 2, after completing the day's final super-special stage very late.

She nevertheless completed Leg 1 in 25th place, and immediately set about improving her position by increasing her pace as the event moved to the gravel roads north of Auckland on day two. The longest day of the event saw Barratt run through the New Cassidy stage (SS16) in twilight and the remaining two stages in darkness. While she lost time to the drivers who were running ahead and who had therefore completed most of those stages in daylight, the amount of time lost suggested she was still pushing hard.

Barratt started Leg 3 in 22nd position and with the task of moving up the leaderboard getting harder, she increased her pace to such an extent that her times were comparable to the works Hyundai drivers'. For most of Leg 3, Barratt was running 0.3 seconds a kilometre off Armin Schwarz's pace and 1.75 seconds a kilometre off the pace set by his Hyundai team-mate Freddy Loix.

The time sheets were not the only proof of her pace, as her Hyundai now showed the battle-scars of a high-speed collision with a post, which dented the co-driver's door and smashed the side window. This was no driver error, however, as a small oil leak was making the clutch slip and the resultant loss of traction made the car veer off-line. The clutch was replaced before the final batch of stages, curing the problem.

With the final day's eight stages, held in Maramarua Forest south of Auckland, completed, Barratt was delighted to reach the finish at the Manukau Sports Bowl after recording such a superb performance.

"The car ran well from start to finish and I'm very pleased that we have been able to set some very competitive stage times," said Barratt. "The plan was to start strongly, increase our pace as the event progressed and push hard all the way to the finish, and that's exactly what we did."

"We tried to finish inside the top twenty and I'm disappointed that we didn't, but I'm pleased that we have been consistently fast all event and finished where we have on merit. It's given us all a lot of confidence going to Australia, where the road conditions are a lot more tight and twisty."

Paul Risbridger - MSD Customer Support Team General Manager - added: "This was a very strong performance. Natalie was consistently fast throughout the rally and pushed hard all the way to the finish, recording her fastest stage times at the end. With lots of drivers fighting for position, you cannot underestimate how good her times really were. Everyone at MSD is delighted for Natalie and we're looking forward to going to Rally Australia and continuing from where we left off here in New Zealand."

The next event for Barratt is the Telstra Rally Australia (October 31-November 3). Her Hyundai Accent WRC? will be shipped directly from Auckland to Perth, Western Australia, were it will be re-prepared by MSD engineers in time for the penultimate round of the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship.

 

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