Despite talk of Rally New Zealand being the worst event of the season for road sweeping, Citroen team manager Sven Smeets does not expect the crews to take a tactical approach to the opening day of Rally New Zealand tomorrow.
The Belgian, in charge of the Citroen Total World Rally Team in the absence of team principal Olivier Quesnel, said the bulletin from the stewards issued on the last World Rally Championship round warning the teams of possible consequences of unsporting behavior would curtail any team orders. He did, however, concede that it would be difficult to stop the drivers from slowing down in the stages to alter their position on the road.
"For the moment, the tactics don't exist anymore," said Smeets. "The bulletin made this very clear, we have the bulletin saying any unsporting behavior will be penalized, in what way we don't know – it can go from 10 seconds [penalty] to being excluded from the rally.
"What we can't do is stop the drivers from slowing. It's up to them. If Sebastien [Loeb] wants to drop one minute in the stage, it's up to him. He can make five spins, go around at every hairpin – it's a very difficult area. It's up to the driver. It's not us asking them to check in five minutes early or 10 minutes behind.
"I don't think there will be tactics, though. A lot of those stages are new for the drivers and I'd be surprised if anything happened [with tactics]."
With Loeb running first on the road, if the Frenchman decides to slow down in the stage, his rivals at Ford can mirror that move to maintain the status quo. Having competed on these roads as a co-driver alongside Freddy Loix, Smeets says a driver with a good road position can make a big difference.
"I remember over there you can take one minute being seventh or eighth on the road," said Smeets. "If you go to Saturday and Sunday with a minute in the lead, so much can happen. The others still have to catch you and that's not going to be easy.
"We have Dani Sordo and Sebastien Ogier in a good position on the road, they can make the time and take the lead and we have them there out at the front if something happens to Sebastien [Loeb]."