Two Swedish motor-racing drivers had their dreams of glory extinguished last night when their car caught fire.

Rally of New Zealand competitors Ramona Karlsson and co-driver Miriam Walfridsson escaped the blaze in Northland's Tangihua Forest but their car - and any hope of finishing the race - was destroyed.

Emergency services quickly arrived at the scene and the pair were treated for minor burns before being taken to hospital for further assessment.

They were 4km into Northland's stage of the race when their pink Mitsubishi Lancer caught fire. Flames could be seen shooting up to 60m above the forest canopy.


Rally spokesman Lance Hastie last night said organisers were examining the burnt-out car to determine how the fire started.

"They got out quickly to safety and all the cars have extinguishers so we were able to put the fire out quickly."

It came as news emerged several Rally of New Zealand drivers, including race ace Sebastian Loeb, had got in trouble with police.

World champion Loeb was given a police warning after he was spotted driving "inappropriately" at Woodhill on State Highway 16 on his way to qualifying on Thursday morning.

Hastie said there were "Chinese whispers" about how Loeb had been driving after being reported by a member of the public. "He was advised to observe all road rules."

Hastie said at least two other drivers had been stopped by police for speeding as they travelled between stages.

A police spokesman reminded drivers they needed to behave on the open road.

"All drivers need to drive responsibly and abide by the road rules regardless of their driving skill," he said. "It is not all about them, it is about others on the road who might be affected by their actions."

Frenchman Loeb leads his Citroen teammate Mikko Hirvonen by 6.4 seconds with a day to go in Rally New Zealand.

Full rally coverage, p68