The 2005 Hella International Rally of Rotorua, round three of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship, has attracted a twenty-nine car field.
Number one seed for the event is Japanese rally ace Toshi Arai with ex patriot Kiwi Tony Sircombe as co-driver in a Subaru Impreza. Arai is Japan’s most successful rally driver and is contesting both the Asia Pacific and Production World Rally Championships in 2005. Arai heads to Rotorua on top form following victory in the production category at the recent World Championship Rally of Turkey.
Starting second on the road will be the 1999 Asia Pacific Rally Champion Katsuhiko Taguchi from Japan with co-driver Mark Stacey. Taguchi has had a disappointing start to the season with retirements in the previous two rounds at Canberra and New Caledonia both while leading the APRC field, and will be hoping to improve on his impressive fourth placing at Rotorua last year in the MRF Tyres Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8.
Teammate in the two-car MRF Tyres Team Jussi Valimaki of Finland starts at three. ‘Fast Jussi’ as he is nicknamed currently leads the APRC points table. A former test driver for the Hyundai World Rally Team, Valimaki is utilising his many years of experience to lead the APRC during his first attempt competing in the series. The flowing New Zealand roads should suit the Finish driver making his first start in Rotorua.
The first Kiwi driver Geoff Argyle and co-driver Jane Black will start at four in the Team Total Lubricants Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8. Argyle, a twice-former New Zealand Rally Champion Argyle is again competing in the seven round APRC series in 05, and is currently second, eleven points behind Valimaki.
Current New Zealand Rally Champion Chris West starts next in the Subaru Rally Team NZ Subaru Impreza. Westy and co-driver Garry Cowan lead the Parker Enzed NZ Rally Championship (NZRC) heading to Rotorua.
Sixth seed is Ralliart NZ driver Mark Tapper in an Evo 7 who finished first Kiwi driver in April’s World Championship Rally New Zealand. Tapper also finished on the podium and first Kiwi in last years Hella International Rally of Rotorua. He will be followed over the start ramp by an on form Richard Mason driving a Subaru Impreza, winner of the most recent round of the NZRC and 2004 Rookie Champion Sam Murray also Subaru mounted. Rounding out the top ten both driving Mitsubishi’s is Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour, currently second in the NZRC, and Hawera’s Glenn Smith.
While the leading local drivers will be battling for NZRC honours, with the event being part of the APRC it carries international status so they will also be fighting against the overseas entries to claim their first rally victory at international level.
Other notable entries include Japanese driver and regular visitor to Rotorua Hiroshi Yanagisawa in the Cusco Racing Subaru Impreza who is seeded 14th, Dean Sumner the first Rotorua driver seeded 15th in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8, and Asia Pacific entrant Kan Chee Hong from Malaysia seeded 20th
The twenty-nine car international field includes 12 international drivers from seven different nations.
The Hella International Rally of Rotorua also incorporates the Waiariki Institute of Technology Clubman’s Rally, with a field of fifty-one competitors to take the start in round 3 of the CPS NZ Limited Top Half Rally Series.
Event information including maps and tickets will be available from Tuesday 14th June at Rally Headquarters, Millennium Hotel, Rotorua. All proceeds from ticket sales are shared with local community groups who assist with providing marshals for the event.
The Hella International Rally of Rotorua starts from City Focus in the heart of Rotorua at noon on Friday 17th June with two legs and three days of competition in the Rotorua and greater Bay of Plenty Region followed by the ceremonial finish back at City Focus on the afternoon of Sunday 19th June.