Entries for this year’s International Rally of Whangarei have closed with 67 drivers contesting the event which counts as a round of three major rally series: the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC), the Vantage Aluminium New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC) and the Stilo Top Half Rally Series.
Japanese driver Katsuhiko Taguchi has the honour of being top seed for the rally in his MRF Tyres Mitsubishi as he tops the APRC points-table coming into the series’ third round in Whangarei. Second seed is Australian Chris Atkinson in the new Proton Satria R3 rally car and third seed is two-time NZRC champion and defending Whangarei winner Hayden Paddon who will be contesting his championship-winning Team Green Mitsubishi Lancer EVO IX.
“The top three talented drivers, Taguchi, Atkinson and Paddon, are complemented by numerous other gifted competitors all out to take victory in this highly-regarded two- day international event,” says Willard Martin, chairman of the International Rally of Whangarei organising committee.
The top ten on the seeded entry list is rounded out by Great Britain’s Alister McRae in the second Proton, Indian Gaurav Gill in the second MRF Tyres Mitsubishi, Australian Brendan Reeves in a Subaru, current NZRC series leader Dean Sumner from Rotorua in a Mitsubishi, Indonesian APRC competitor Rifat Sungkar in the Pertamina Prima XP Mitsubishi, Sloan Cox – the youngest NZRC competitor at 18 years of age – from Rotorua in a Mitsubishi, and Ben Jagger from Whangarei in a Subaru.
“Yesterday Paddon, Sumner, Cox and Jagger were nominated as being APRC wildcard entrants, which means they are seeded among the APRC competitors and have the opportunity to earn points in this prestigious regional rally championship,” says Martin.
This year’s International Rally of Whangarei has attracted entries from drivers from seven countries outside New Zealand, namely Australia, India, Indonesia, Finland, France, Japan and the United Kingdom. The Finnish driver is Jouni Arolainen who has become friends with Kiwi rallying icon Brian Green, from Palmerston North, and is driving one of Green’s Mitsubishi rally cars in the Whangarei event this year as he also did last year. The French drivers are both from New Caledonia – Jean-Louis Leyraud is well-known to Kiwi rally fans as he’s the international driver who has competed in more New Zealand events than any other. Fellow New Caledonian Daniel Palau also contested this APRC event previously when it was based in Rotorua. Green and Leyraud are competing for points in the Pacific Cup, which is a sub-section of the APRC series.
“A particularly exciting element of this year’s event is the depth of talent throughout the field,” comments Martin. “Drivers like Glenn Inkster and Patrick Malley are right up there with former champions Richard Mason and Chris West in the NZRC battle. This will be made more interesting with current NZRC leader Dean Sumner being seeded among the APRC competitors with his wildcard entry. Another top NZRC contender Emma Gilmour has very experienced co-driver Australian Ben Atkinson alongside her for this event as regular co-driver and fiancé Glenn Macneall co-drives for Gaurav Gill during the APRC rounds.
“Also within the NZRC is the two-wheel-drive class which has attracted six entries. Alongside the Ford Fiesta contingent of Stephen Barker, Ben Hunt, Phil Campbell and Dermott Malley, we welcome two Japanese drivers Masaaki Hatano and Motoharu Kaseya in a Honda Integra and a Suzuki Ignis respectively,” says Martin.
The New Zealand Rally Championship also has classes for open four-wheel-drive, Kiwi 2, and historic cars which are joined by competitors from the Stilo Top Half Rally Series which has five classes for clubmans’ competitors. “Thirty-five drivers are entered across these eight classes and fans can be assured of some fantastic rally action from star drivers like Feilding’s Geof Argyle in his Mitsubishi Lancer EVO VIII and Kaikoura’s Regan Ross in his historic Ford Escort RS1800.”
With the entries now closed and their cars being prepared, competitors’ next job is on Thursday 1 July when they complete reconnaissance in a standard road car through all the rally’s special stages, before ensuring their rally cars comply with all relevant regulations during scrutineering that evening. On Friday 2 July they set up in the service park alongside Whangarei’s Quayside Town Basin before completing ‘recce’ of the Pohe Island super special stage, just a few kilometres from central Whangarei. In the same venue, drivers get to complete ‘shakedown’; this is only official test session before the rally and sees drivers do numerous runs around the special stage to test all is working correctly in their rally cars. Then there’s a waka challenge with international drivers taking on the Kiwis in a paddling race on the water at the Quayside Town Basin. Next it’s the very popular driver autograph signing session and then the rally officially gets underway with the ceremonial start in Whangarei’s Cameron Street Mall. The rally action takes place on Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 July with crews heading as far south as Maungaturoto across a variety of roads in the Kaipara and Whangarei districts, before participating in the finish ceremony back at the Quayside Town Basin at 3:30pm on Sunday. More details about the International Rally of Whangarei are available on the event website, http://www.rallywhangarei.co.nz/
PHOTOS: Brian Young / Michael Young (www.APSM.tv)