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Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution driver Xavier Pons gained a thrilling victory in the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship category in Rally New Zealand. After a ferocious battle against fierce opposition, the Spaniard took the championship class by just 17 seconds.

The concluding leg comprised just four stages totaling 87.29 competitive kilometers, but was in no sense an afterthought, as it included two runs at the renowned Whaanga Coast road, winding between the Pirongia Forest Park and the Tasman Sea to the south of the country’s main city, Auckland. Much narrower and twistier, the stages of the last leg caused havoc, as weary drivers and machinery succumbed to the strain after three days’ rallying in New Zealand.

Xavier Pons was soon under pressure, losing his overnight lead after he spun twice in SS18, the second stage of the leg. He was neck and neck with Japan’s Toshi Arai with a stage to run, but a brilliant performance on the final stage earned a brilliant victory.

"When we spun I was frightened we had lost too much time to win, but we kept attacking", said Pons. "The car and tires have been fantastic and in the end everything went well. I am so happy. This is my best result in rallying I think. I have a good feeling now about the rest of the season".

Argentine driver Federico Villagra put in a fine showing on his first World Championship appearance of the season to net sixth in the PWRC in his Lancer Evolution.

"It was my first time here and it is a very nice rally. We wanted to finish and score points, so I am very pleased with this result", said the Argentinean and Chilean rally champion.

Japan’s Fumio Nutahara suffered some problems in the early stages of the rally, notably a one-minute road penalty, but the Lancer Evolution driver displayed real determination to fight his way home to seventh, gaining two World Championship points.

"New Zealand is never an easy rally and I think we were not so lucky this time", said Fumio. "Still, we have finished and scored points, and that is the important thing for the World Championship".

The FIA Production Car World Rally Championship resumes next month in the northern hemisphere with the Cyprus Rally, on May 13-15.
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