Citroën’s Sebastien Loeb said the New Zealand leg of the World Rally Championship would be a new experience for him, but still rated his chances. The race starts in Auckland on Thursday.

Citroën’s Sebastien Loeb said the New Zealand leg of the World Rally Championship would be a new experience for him, but still rated his chances. The race starts in Auckland on Thursday.

"We've got New Zealand and Argentina: two events that will be totally new to me," Loeb told the RallyXS magazine in his latest column. "I have honestly not got the slightest idea how we will get on. We will just have to work hard on the tests and see how the feeling with the car is when we get there. Sometimes it can be that subjective,” he said.

“That doesn't mean I have forgotten my dream of winning on gravel this year. But that's going to be tough in rallies I've never done before," Loeb said.

The rally is expected to be an all-French battle between Peugeot and Citroën. Though Peugeot dominated the 2002 championship race, Citroën battled hard this season winning two of the three rounds. Citroën leads the championship standings, eight points ahead of Peugeot.

Richard Burns, the 2001 New Zealand and world champion, heads the drivers' standings ahead of his favourite

rally. He will lead out on the first day and will have to contend with the gravel roads. The top layer of gravel is loose and the first cars through have to brush it aside, which clears the way for the vehicles behind.

"Rally New Zealand is an event that is dear to us," Peugeot sport director Corrado Provera said.

"We come here this year looking for another win. If conditions stay dry, Richard (Burns) could be at a slight disadvantage because of his start position on leg 1, but Marcus (Gronholm) and Harri (Rovanpera) won't suffer from this handicap and, on the whole, all three of our drivers are in with a real chance of victory."

Thursday's action will take place in the countryside around the Paparoa Service Park, to the north of Auckland. Paparoa remains the base for leg two, which features a further seven stages, one of which is the epic 59-kilometre test at Parahi.

The rally includes 22 special stages covering a total of 1 298 km over three competitive legs. The rally finishes at the Manukau Sports Bowl in South Auckland on Sunday afternoon.

Original article from Car