At least four Super 2000-specification rally cars – two Protons and two Skodas – are being air-freighted to New Zealand for Brother International Rally of Whangarei to form part of another highly-competitive field for New Zealand’s round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship.
The Proton team return to defend their win in the Whangarei event last year, while the two Skoda Fabias – which are built to the same regulations as the one being contested by star Kiwi driver Hayden Paddon in the Super 2000 World Rally Championship – belong to the MRF Tyres Rally Team, one of India’s best-known rally teams.
With the Brother International Rally of Whangarei, which runs from 30 March to 1 April, being the opening round of the 2012 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC), the MRF Tyres team faces a fresh challenge as they switch to the new Skodas from the Mitsubishis they have run for many years. The team’s Australia-based engineers – and the drivers – won’t even see the cars until they all arrive in New Zealand about ten days before the event starts.
The MRF Skodas were used last year in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC), where Belgium’s Freddy Loix drove one to victory in the Ypres round. Belgium is the starting point for the two vehicles which travel via an Air New Zealand flight from Heathrow to arrive in Auckland on 7 March before going into secure storage to await the engineers’ arrival. One driver pairing is confirmed – Indian Gaurav Gill and Dunedin-based co-driver Glenn Macneall – while the second pairing is yet to be announced, along with the team’s plans for the all-important pre-event testing.
“It’s good to have the MRF Tyres team back,” says APRC series co-ordinator Murray Brown. “They’ve been in the series for ten years, so are long-time supporters. They obviously get solid benefit for their brand from being in the APRC.”
Brown says the introduction of the Skoda S2000 cars is a sign of the times as the sport of rallying introduces new categories to attract more vehicle manufacturers.
“They are a bit more expensive than the Group N cars teams have used in the APRC in recent years, but having a second manufacturer running this category shows the way of the future for the next three to five years. There was a strong possibility we were going to have a couple of Minis this year too, but a few things changed for them internally recently and their APRC plans have not progressed.”
Australia-based Scotsman Alister McRae and Sweden’s Per-Gunnar Andersson have been entered as Proton’s drivers in Whangarei this year, returning in their APRC-winning Satria Neo S2000 cars. The Proton team-mates, whose cars are run by British team Mellors Elliot Motorsports (MEM), have a busy year in 2012, tackling not only the APRC, which McRae won last year, but also the Super 2000 World Rally Championship where they’re up against Paddon and others.
The Proton team, backed by the Malaysian head office, has also entered three CUSCO-tuned Proton Satria Neo two-wheel-drive cars. These Group N2-spec Protons are piloted by Malaysians Karamjit Singh and Kenneth Koh and Japan’s Akira Bamba. Another two of the 2WD Protons are also expected to contest the Whangarei event.
Brown also handles the freight logistics for all APRC teams which contest rounds in Australia, Japan, Malaysia, New Caledonia and China after the Whangarei event.
He comments: “While these four cars are being air-freighted, we’re working on getting containers which carry the other teams’ rally cars, reconnaissance vehicles, spare parts and tyres shipped
into the country and onto Whangarei in plenty of time. The Ports of Auckland strike has created a logistical nightmare where most shipping lines are no longer discharging in Auckland, so containers could end up in Tauranga or Wellington. Then it’s a case of getting them cleared through Customs and inspected by MAF before they can be sent to Whangarei. Initially they would all arrive in Auckland, be processed together and all sent in the one direction.”
Other entrants confirmed for this year’s Brother International Rally of Whangarei include New Zealand pairing Brian Green and Fleur Pedersen in a Mitsubishi, along with Japan’s Takashi Nihei (Proton) and New Caledonia’s Jean-Louis Leyraud (Subaru WRX).
The event covers 283.28 km of competitive stages and takes competitors from rally headquarters at Whangarei’s Quayside Town Basin through a series of gravel roads as far south as Brynderwyn and Maungaturoto and back to near Whangarei’s CBD for the spectator-friendly super special stage at Pohe Island. The rally is also the opening round of the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship, powered by Brother. News and information about the Brother International Rally of Whangarei is updated on the event website, www.rallywhangarei.co.nz, and on its Facebook page on a regular basis.
PHOTOS: Marcel Stawiczny and RaceTorque