The 2005 Hella International Rally of Rotorua is shaping up to be one of the most closely contested yet, with a number of top international rally crews entering the event.
Leading the international field is Production World Rally Championship contender Toshi Arai. The Japanese rally ace has been a regular visitor to New Zealand in the past competing in the World Championship Rally of New Zealand, and will be making his first appearance on the Rotorua roads with Kiwi Tony Sircombe in the co-drivers seat of the Subaru Impreza.
The MRF Tyres Rally Team will run a pair of Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions for Japanese driver Katsuhiko Taguchi and Finland’s Jussi Valimaki as part of their 05 APRC program. Taguchi was the 2000 Asia Pacific Rally Champion, and will benefit form contesting last years Rally of Rotorua where he finished 4th overall. Teammate Valimaki will be making his first trip to New Zealand, and currently leads the APRC series. Fast Jussi as he is nicknamed, has a vast amount of experience in the European rallying scene and along with being a test driver, contested a limited program of events for the Hyundai World Rally Team in 2003, which should prepare him well for his first visit to Rotorua.
Also entered in a pair of Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8’s is Kan Chee Hong of Malaysia and Chinese driver Fan Fan. Both are part of the Wan Yu Rally Team competing in the Asia Pacific Championship. Both drivers finished in the top four at the last round of the championship in New Caledonia. Regular visitor to New Zealand Hiroshi Yanagisawa who finished 8th in last years event will again be present in the Cusco Racing Subaru Impreza, while a number of other Japanese drivers including APRC registered Mitsuhiro Kunisawa will make the trip to Rotorua.
New Caledonian driver Patrick Ricard will drive a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 prepared by Hamilton based Rally Drive NZ, and countrymen Julien Lenglet will contest the event in a Honda Integra Tyre R.
The international entrants will face strong competition from the best local drivers competing in round 4 of the New Zealand National Rally Championship with the leading entrants being National Champion and Subaru Rally Team NZ driver Chris West, along with Ralliart NZ driver Mark Tapper.
The Hella International Rally of Rotorua, round three of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship, starts from City Focus in the heart of Rotorua at noon on Friday 17th June with two legs 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