A RECORD 100 vehicles, including 13 from overseas, have been entered for the Brakes Direct International Rally of Queensland on the Sunshine Coast on 25-27 May.
The entry list includes drivers from as far afield as Britain, Sweden, India and Japan, who will pilot some of the world’s fastest rally cars in round three of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship.
Chris Atkinson, Australia’s most successful international rally driver, will lead the fight in a Skoda Fabia S2000 for the Indian MRF team, with Indian Rally Champion Guarav Gill in an identical second car recently imported from Europe.
The pair has claimed a win apiece, one second and one third place in the previous rounds in New Zealand and New Caledonia, setting a major catch-up challenge in Queensland for the defending Asia Pacific Rally Champion Alister McRae and his factory Proton team from Malaysia.
McRae, a former British Rally Champion, has yet to take a podium place this season while teammate PG Andersson of Sweden, a two-time Junior World Rally Champion, has scored only a second place in NZ.
However, McRae, Andersson and the British-run Proton team may draw benefit from their concurrent experience in the 2012 Super 2000 World Rally Championship, Andersson having won at his home event in February.
Leading international contenders in the class for two-wheel drive cars will include former Production World Rally Champion Karamjit Singh of Malaysia – popularly known as the Flying Sikh – in a Japanese-entered Proton and Frenchman Jean-Louis Leyraud in his New Caledonia-based Citroen C3.
Round three of the Bosch Australian Rally Championship promises to be no less competitive, with four-time champions Simon and Sue Evans returning to the sport in a new two-wheel drive Mazda 2 to rival the Italian-built official Honda Jazz team of Simon’s younger brother Eli and the experienced Mark Pedder.
In the four-wheel drive category, 24-year-old Perth driver Tom Wilde is an impressive leader after winning the first two rounds.
A total of 24 cars will contest the BARC, while 23 are listed for the 50th-anniversary Queensland Rally Championship opening round.
With a crack Classic field including Neal Bates (Toyota Celica), Ross Dunkerton (Ford Escort) and Jeff David (Porsche 911) and 10 entries in the new Side-by-Side Rally Challenge including Cody Crocker, Michael Guest and V8 Supercar star Tim Slade, the Brakes Direct International Rally of Queensland has neve offered spectators a greater line-up of top talent or diversity of cars in its 44-year history, says Event Director Errol Bailey.
“This will be a spectacle not to be missed, whether you are a dedicated rally fan or a casual spectator looking for a great family outing,” Mr Bailey said.
“We are bringing truly world-class drivers and world-class cars to the Sunshine Coast – and Australia – for the only time this year and if people haven’t seen them in action before they will be amazed at the skill and speed.
“With competitive stages or meet-and-greet activities at two Caloundra locations and at Kenilworth, Imbil and Pomona, the rally provides plenty of opportunity for spectators to be part of the action and we’re hoping for big crowds to welcome the teams.”
The Brakes Direct International Rally of Queensland will kick off with a free open-air “Start Your Engine” party at Caloundra’s Kings Beach from 6pm on Friday 25 May. Drivers will turn out for autographs and there will be food, drink and a live band.
The rally returns to Caloundra Aerodrome on Saturday night for the “Main Event” Super Special Stage, featuring two stage runs on the closed runways, spectacular Pro Drift cars and fireworks.
After a service stopover at Kenilworth Showgrounds on Saturday morning the field covers forestry and shire-road stages across the weekend at Imbil and Pomona, before finishing in Imbil on Sunday afternoon.
Mr Bailey said the big entry list demonstrated a healthy following for rallying in Australia and the Asia Pacific region and would bring wide attention to the Sunshine Coast and Gympie-Cooloola regions.
“A field this size will mean an estimated 2000 team members, supporters, media and officials visiting for up to a week. Those from outside Queensland make no secret that the Sunshine Coast’s warm autumn weather, scenery, tourist attractions and facilities and the welcome, as well as a cracking competition, are all reasons they enter the Brakes Direct International Rally of Queensland,” he said.
“We also expect extensive media coverage and bigger audiences for our dedicated national and international television broadcasts.”
Early-bird tickets discounted until 21 May are on sale from $20 at www.rallyqueensland.com.au or the events centre in Caloundra for spectating at the Main Event, Imbil stages and the BP Ultimate stage at Pomona. Entry is free for the Start Your Engine Party, Kenilworth service stopover and Hella Service Park and official podium finish at Imbil.
The adult ticket price for the Main Event is $25 if purchased before 21 May, but a total saving of $30 on the gate price is available by purchasing a $45 Event Super Pass providing unlimited access to all venues.
PHOTOS: Marcel Stawiczny and APSMtv