One of the world’s best-known rally drivers, Alister McRae, is looking forward getting started in the International Rally of Whangarei on 2 July.
The experienced World Rally Championship competitor is making his debut in the Whangarei event, although McRae says he’s driven some of the stages during Rally New Zealand, an event he’s competed in six times.
McRae heads to the two-day event, which uses roads around the Whangarei and Kaipara districts, as one of two high profile drivers in the Proton R3 Rally team. Australian Chris Atkinson is his team-mate and McRae enlists the assistance of another experienced Australian Bill Hayes as his co-driver.
“The New Zealand stages are some of the best in the world and I hope the flowing nature will be good for the Proton Satria Neo S2000,” says the 39-year-old Scotsman who now lives in Perth, Australia with his family.
As entrants in the 2010 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship, McRae and Atkinson have already contested rallies in Malaysia and Japan, with Whangarei the third on this year’s APRC calendar. Their cars, the Proton Satria Neo, are built to Super 2000 regulations and run in the APRC by UK rally specialists Mellors Elliot Motorsport (MEM).
The 2-litre Proton Super 2000 engine produces 278 bhp (222 kW) at 7600 rpm, being derived from the 1.8 litre engine fitted to Proton’s Waja model and further developed by MEM’s engineers. With a usable power band from 5,500 to 8,500 rpm, the Proton’s engine is matched to a 6-speed sequential 4WD Super 2000 transmission.
“We’ve had a bit of bad luck so far this season, so we hope that changes in New Zealand. The car is showing very good pace, so a clean and good points for the championship are very important,” says McRae.
McRae reckons competition in Whangarei will be tough. He’s been seeded fourth, behind current APRC series leader Japanese driver Katsu Taguchi, Atkinson and New Zealand’s own Hayden Paddon.
“We will definitely have the local New Zealand championship competitors pushing for the top spot as well as the APRC drivers. It’s going to be a very competitive event.”
McRae arrives in New Zealand direct from Belgium where he and Atkinson will have contested the first of this year’s Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) events that the Proton R3 Rally team has elected to run. The two-day Geko Ypres Rally in Belgium is rated as one of the best asphalt rallies in the world.
Chris Mellors (team principal) said: “The focus of this season is the Asia Pacific Rally Championship. At the same time, the IRC is probably the most competitive series in the world for Super 2000 cars and by extension a great place to show the pace of the Proton – and that’s what we’ll be doing in Ypres and on a programme of events later in the season.”
McRae’s many years of experience means he’s unlikely to be troubled by the swift change in surface, from tarmac in Belgium to heavy gravel in the International Rally of Whangarei.
McRae joins fellow competitors at the popular driver autograph signing session from 3:30 pm on Friday 2 May in Whangarei’s Cameron Street Mall before crossing the start ramp as part of the official start ceremony in the same location. McRae will be aiming for a top result during Saturday and Sunday’s 16 special stages which includes great spectator viewing at the Pohe Island super special stage on Saturday and Sunday’s iconic Hella Bridge prime spectator point. The event wraps up in the Quayside Town Basin at 3:30 pm Sunday with the official ceremonial finish. More details about the International Rally of Whangarei are available on the event website, www.rallywhangarei.co.nz
For further information on the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship: http://www.fiaaprc.com/
Rd 1 – 24-25 April – Malaysian Rally (Asia Cup)
Rd 2 – 22-23 May – Rally Hokkaido, Japan (Asia Cup)
Rd 3 – 3-4 July – International Rally of Whangarei, New Zealand (Pacific Cup)
Rd 4 – 31 July – 1 August – International Rally of Queensland, Australia (Pacific Cup)
Rd 5 – 28-29 August – Rallye de Nouvelle Caledonie (Pacific Cup)
Rd 6 – 25-26 September – Rally Indonesia (Asia Cup)
Rd 7 – 6-7 November – China Rally (Asia Cup)