Australia’s Brendan Reeves has big shoes to fill for the 15 to 17 July running of the International Rally of Whangarei – the 22-year-old rally driver contests the event in last year’s winning Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX.
Having finished third overall in 2009 and 2010 Whangarei events driving a leased Subaru, Victoria-based Reeves jumped at the chance to return again in 2011 driving the championship-winning Mitsubishi owned by Hayden Paddon. This year’s event is Reeves’ fourth rally on the roads through the Kaipara and Whangarei districts and the likeable, talented driver is up against 74 other teams.
“It was Hayden’s idea as he knows I’m used to left-hand-drive cars now,” says Reeves of the deal to run the car that Paddon drive to victory in the Whangarei event in 2009 and 2010. “So that’s one of the best things for me – to keep that experience up and keep learning from the left hand seat as well as having such a good car as Hayden’s.”
Reeves is again paired with co-driving sister Rhianon Smyth. The duo have made themselves at home in New Zealand, taking any opportunity to compete here. This year Reeves says the primary goal is to get quality time behind the wheel before heading back to Europe for Rally Finland. Reeves and Smyth are part of the inaugural FIA World Rally Championship Academy – a follow-on from the Pirelli Star Driver scheme that Paddon completed last year. The Finnish event is the third of the six WRC events that the pair contests in a Ford Fiesta R2 as one of the 18 WRC Academy contestants.
“Doing just the FIA WRC Academy rounds I haven’t had a huge amount of time behind the wheel this year,” says Reeves. “Plus it’s hard to find a Ford Fiesta to test in Finland, where the roads in New Zealand are quite similar in some ways so I thought it’d be a great opportunity to be doing Whangarei the week before we leave for Finland. And with the Australian dollar doing well also, to come back to New Zealand and have the chance to drive on notes I can trust and with the help of Hayden’s team makes this package work for me. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity.”
The International Rally of Whangarei is the fourth round of both the 2011 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) and the 2011 Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC). Within the rally, a subsidiary event runs for NZRC Open, Kiwi 2, Historic Class and Clubmans competitors.
Reeves lines up as an APRC entrant towards the front of the field, having joined the Brian Green Motorsport team to score points in the APRC category. Brian Green, a Palmerston North businessman, is a long-standing rally competitor as well as a co-sponsor with Neil Allport Motorsports of the NZRC.
Reeves says there are a couple of factors that count against his chances of winning outright. “I’ve never driven a Mitsubishi Evo in competition before, so that will be a downside. Having said that, I’m looking forward to the experience and hopefully get to learn something from Hayden as well as he’s pretty much untouchable in New Zealand at the moment. And given the calibre of the APRC guys, especially the Proton team, it’d be a lot to expect to win, so I’m just looking forward to the challenge and any result we get will be great.
“Plus I really love the rally; it’s so fast and flowing and those kinds of roads really suit me.”
Reeves and Smyth arrive in Whangarei a week before the rally to test the Paddon Mitsubishi before the official reconnaissance runs through the rally’s competitive stages on Thursday and Friday.
The Australian pairing also participates in various promotional activities on Friday including the waka challenge (outrigger canoe race) between Kiwi and international drivers at the Quayside Town Basin at 1:15pm. From 3:30pm an autograph signing session takes place in Whangarei’s Cameron Street Mall before the ceremonial start begins at 4:30pm – all free for rally fans to enjoy.
The International Rally of Whangarei has the rally headquarters in the Quayside Town Basin with the service park nearby, which spectators are welcome to visit. The rally itself runs on Saturday and Sunday with a free rally map is available from rally HQ. The latest news and other event information can be found on the event website http://www.rallywhangarei.co.nz