Kiwis take on internationals at VINZ International Rally of Whangarei
Adding to the illustrious list of entries for this year’s VINZ International Rally of Whangarei will be a group of 39 Kiwi teams also out to measure themselves and score against the internationals tackling the 11-13 April event.
Covering 220.87 kilometres of fast flowing rural road in the Far North and Whangarei districts the test of man and machine against the clock is also the opening round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC), Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship, driven by VINZ (NZRC) and Top Half Rally Series (THS).
Heading the line-up are 2013 APRC champions Gaurav Gill (India) and Glenn Macneall (Australia), who are joined this year by reigning European Rally Championship winners Jan Kopecky (Czech Republic) and Pavel Dresler (Czech Republic) in a two-car factory backed ŠKODA operation. Other entries include Australian pairing Mark Pedder and Claire Dowling in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X while a number of 2WD cars including a Renault Clio, Honda Civic and Mazda Demio will be competing for international honours.
Chasing the visitors along will be the New Zealand teams – running in a subsidiary field outside the international entry criteria.
Top of the list are defending Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship champions Richard and Sara Mason from Masterton – in a Subaru STi. They are joined by 2004 champion Chris West (Timaru) and Chris Cobham in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X with Global Rallycross (GRC) competitor Ben Hunt (Nelson) and Tony Rawstorn in a Subaru STi. Also fresh from GRC competition is Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour, who will be joined by Australian based co-driver Ben Atkinson for the season in the Suzuki Swift 1600 Maxi.
In a similar specification car is Andrew Hawkeswood (Auckland) and Mark Tapper in a Mazda 2 – making its first start at championship level.
Adding to the diversity of Kiwi competitors, Patrick Malley (Auckland) and mother Linzi will be competing in a freshly imported Peugeot 208 Proto that uses a Mitsubishi engine, while rookie’s Andy Martin (Tauranga) and Matt Hayward round out the field in a Mazda RX3.
Of note will be the potential for change in road conditions between the front group of internationals and the New Zealand field.
Following a long and warm summer season the road surface has a lot of loose dust and gravel that gets progressively swept by each passing car to reveal its tyre gripping surface. That could hand the performance advantage to the hot-shot New Zealand teams. However the prospect of rain could well redress the balance – with front-running cars potentially enjoying more predictable conditions.
While teams get to reconnaissance the roads on the Thursday, calls on tyre choice and suspension adjustments will be put on hold until the day.
Ahead of that decision is the driver signing session at Whangarei’s Cameron Street Mall from 3:30-4:30pm Friday afternoon. That leads in to the ceremonial festivities with the first car crossing the start ramp at 5pm.
The rally itself begins 9am Saturday morning with six new special stages to the north of Whangarei. Teams return to tackle the short-sharp double-run 1.25km Hella Pohe Island Super Special Stage from 7pm.
The first time the event has run cars in the dark, lighting towers will illuminate areas spectators can take advantage of.
Sunday’s six remaining special stages will be run as a group of three – twice. Returning to Whangarei between each passing to have their cars serviced the event wraps up with a ceremonial finish at the Marina’s Edge of the Quayside Town Basin from 3pm.
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 Hella Pohe Island Super Special Stage. 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.