Kresta Out of Rally New Zealand

Czech driver Roman Kresta has been forced to withdraw from this weekend's New Zealand rally after crashing his Ford in Thursday's final testing session

Kresta Out of Rally New Zealand

Kresta rolled his car several times after clipping a roadside bank at 120 km/h, causing extensive damage to the vehicle.

Mechanics tried to repair the car but Ford team boss Malcolm Wilson said the roll cage had been damaged by the impact and the car was too dangerous to drive.

"We don't have the time to make repairs and there is no way the car could compete," Wilson said in a statement.

Kresta said he was entirely to blame for the crash: "It's my fault. I'm okay but the car is destroyed."

Harri Rovanpera of Finland also crashed his Mitsubishi during Thursday's shakedown, damaging the suspension when he hit a fence post on the testing course outside of Auckland, but said he would start the rally.

His Italian teammate Gigi Galli pipped championship leader Petter Solberg to set the fastest time in the shakedown, clocking two minutes 50.9 seconds over the 5.21 kilometre course.

The Swede was second quickest in 2:52.2 with Finn Marcus Gronholm third in his Peugeot. Reigning world champion, Frenchman Sebastien Loeb, was ninth in his Citreon.

Solberg won the New Zealand rally last year and is favourite to win again after winning the previous two rounds of this year's championship, in Sweden and Mexico.

Loeb won the opening round of the 16-rally season in Monaco but retired in Sweden and had to settle for fourth in Mexico and is currently third in the driver's standings.

"It's true we've been unlucky so far this year but I'm not worried because we're only five points behind the leader and there are many more rallies to go," Loeb said.

The tricky gravel roads around Auckland on New Zealand's North Island are notoriously dangerous, especially if it rains.

Peugeot team boss Jean-Pierre Nicolas has already instructed his two drivers, Gronholm and new signing Markko Martin, to take it easy to maintain their lead in the manufacturer's championship.

"Our tactic, at least at the start, will be to bring back both cars in the highest possible positions," Nicolas said.

The 20-stage rally gets underway on Friday and concludes on Sunday, covering a total distance of 1128 km.

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