The 2015 International Rally of Whangarei is set to be a battle between experience and youth with the entry list for the April event headed by former FIA Asia Pacific Rally Champion Gaurav Gill from India and young Swedish rising star Pontus Tidemand.
The event contested over 282 kilometres of challenging gravel stages from 17th-19th April is the opening round of the 2015 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship and has attracted eight international entrants from six nations. Gill will be making his eighth consecutive start at Whangarei, and starts the event as favourite having been the regular pace setter in the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) in recent seasons. The 2013 APRC champion will again be partnered by New Zealand co-driver Glenn MacNeall, the experienced Indian driver is also the defending winner of the event.
Swedish driver Tidemand will make his first visit to New Zealands gravel rally stages and brings a reputation as one of the emerging young talents in world rallying. The youngest ever winner of the Swedish rally championship in 2011 at the age of 21, Tidemand then burst onto the world scene finishing third in the 2012 FIA Junior World Rally championship before dominating the class in 2013 to secure the title. Last season Tidemand competed in both the WRC2 support category and the FIA World Rallycross Championship, a highlight of the season being running within the top 5 overall at his home event, WRC Rally Sweden.
Tidemand is excited at heading to New Zealand as a Skoda Motorsport driver. “I am looking forward to the new challenge. I am proud that my name is now on the list of ŠKODA drivers – at one of the most successful manufacturers in rallying,” said Tidemand.
Gill and Tidemand will compete using matching ŠKODA Fabia S2000 specification cars; backed by Indian tyre manufacturer MRF with support from Czech Republic based automotive
manufacturer ŠKODA. The battle between the experienced Gill, and emerging talent Tidemand will be a feature of the event.
The challenge to the Skoda pair will be led by experienced Indonesian competitor Subhan Aksa and co-driver Nicola Arena. After campaigns in the Production World Rally Championship and WRC2 categories plus a one-off entry in Malaysian Rally last year, Aksa makes a full-time return to the APRC.
Aksa has competed in NZ on several occasions prior and expected to be on the pace driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X. Italian co-driver Arena competed in 2001 APRC with Nico Caldorola and will add a European dynamic to the team.
Last years APRC Production Cup Winner and overall series runner-up, 22 year old Mike Young from New Zealand will make his debut in the four wheel drive category in a Cusco Subaru Impreza. The Kiwi driver partnered by experienced co-driver Malcolm Read has impressed with his giant killing results in lesser powered 2WD cars on the demanding APRC events.
Young is looking forward to contesting his home event in the Cusco Subaru. “Whangarei will be my first international event in a four-wheel drive car and even though we’ve been working together for three seasons, the first time Malcolm (Read) and I have done our home event together. The New Zealand roads are the best in the world and the ideal rally to learn how to drive and setup a 4WD car before get into the Asian events later in the championship.”
Along with the Team MRF Skodas, a third Skoda Fabia S2000 is entered for the vastly experienced New Caledonian driver Jean Louis-Leyraud. A multiple New Caledonian champion and competitor in the APRC championship, Leyraud first rallied in New Zealand in the 1971 Heatway Rally
Rivalling Leyraud in the experience stakes is New Zealander Brian Green. Both drivers have regularly competed against each other for several seasons in APRC events, and that rivalry will continue at Greens home event. Driving a Team Ralliart New Zealand Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X, he will be partnered by regular co-driver Fleur Pedersen.
Other internatuional competitors include Japanese drivers Mitsuhiro Aoki driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, and Rina Ito in a Mazda Demio returning for the second year in succession.
The International Rally of Whangarei is the opening round of the 2015 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship. Watch a Video promo Here.
The event commences on the evening of Friday 17th April with a rally show in central Whangarei where fans can meet the cars and stars up close before they attack two passes of the night time Super Special Stage at Pohe Island. Leg one continues on Saturday heading as far north as Kawakawa for eight special stages on the fast flowing cambered roads the rally is famous for, while Sundays final leg heads south of Whangarei for a further six stages. A total of 282 kilometres of competitive stages make-up the event.
Spectating at the rally start, finish and Quayside Town Basin service areas are free with access to rural viewing points costing just $10 per adult per day and $15 for the spectacular Hella Pohe Island Super Special Stage on Friday evening 17th April. Children under the age of 15 are free with a paying adult and paddock parking is available at some locations for a gold coin donation. A share of all spectator ticket revenue goes to the local community groups that help run the spectator viewing areas. A rally map is available free to download from the event website www.rallywhangarei.co.nz (in the spectator info section), or it can be collected from rally headquarters at Quayside Town Basin (from 14th April). It illustrates prime spectating areas with detailed timings. Spectators are reminded to follow the instructions of marshals and ensure they stand well clear of the road’s edge – and be inside the taped off viewing areas.
PHOTOS: APSM, Jess Suisted, Euan Cameron, Mitsuru Kotake