Manawatu driver Geof Argyle is hoping for a home country victory to spark his campaign in the Asia Pacific Championship at the Rally of Rotorua starting tomorrow.
Argyle recovered after a horror start in the opening round in Australia to win the second round in New Caledonia last month. He believes home turf advantage will prove a major advantage as 80 drivers complete 851km including 13 special stages over 252kms tomorrow and Saturday in the Bay of Plenty.
The rally also doubles as the third round of the Parker Enzed New Zealand Rally Championship with crucial bonus points at stake for the only two-day event in the six-round championship.
Auckland’s Andrew Hawkeswood (Mitsubishi) takes a three-point lead into the Rotorua event ahead of the Group N Subarus of Chris West (Auckland) and Richard Mason (Masterton).
However the Asia Pacific Rally is part of a FIA Championship which is not homologated for New Zealand Group A cars. Those cars will start after the Group N entries, putting Hawkeswood and several other leading Kiwi drivers further back on the start order.
This may prove an advantage in the early stages tomorrow which will be swept clean by early cars, but is likely to be a disadvantage in the softer stages including the two special stages through the Motu, considered one of the world’s most famous stages.
Argyle goes into the third round of the Asia Pacific trailing defending champion and 2002 European Champion, Armin Kremer of Germany and double Asia Pacific winner and 2002 Production World Rally Champion Karamjit Singh of Malaysia. Kremer is on 20 points, Singh 18, Argyle 14 and Australian Chris Atkinson 13.
The Kiwi driver is invigorated by the challenge of running a team to race in different countries and vastly different conditions.
“I got a bit bored with racing the dame thing each year in New Zealand and wanted to go out and try something different. This is a whole new experience for me.’’
Argyle was thrilled with the New Caledonia win.
“ It brought the team back to where it should be. It was very disappointing in Canberra but hopefully we can carry it on here. We’ve done tyre testing and got a bit more horsepower out of the car.
“Last year if we hadn’t blown a turbo we would have won here quite easily. We know the roads well and I’m confident the car can do the job.
“We have to push on here. We have to beat Karamjit and Armin here if we can. Once they get on roads they are more used to it will be much harder for us.’’
Atkinson will create plenty of interest in one of the two works Suzuki Ignis Super 1600’s with the other driver by Finland’s Vesa Mikkola, son of rallying great, Hannu Mikkola.
Tough competition is also expected from leading Group A competitors and Parker Enzed New Zealand Rally Championship front runners Hawkeswood, Todd Bawden (Hibiscus Coast), Glenn Smith (Hawera), Lewis Scott (Wellington) and past National Champion Neil Allport (Auckland), all driving Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.
The 44 car international field includes 10 international drivers from eight countries. The event also incorporates the Waiariki Institute of Technology Clubman’s Rally, round 3 of the CPS NZ Limited Top Half Rally Series. This event will follow the APRC field competing on the same roads, with a field 34 drivers.
The 2004 Hella Battery Town Rally of Rotorua begins with a ceremonial start tonight. There are seven special stages covering 155kms tomorrow with service at Opotiki and Matawai, with a final six special stages over 98kms on Saturday with service at Kawerau. The event finishes in Rotorua at 3pm on Saturday.