Kopecký takes comfortable lead at VINZ International Rally of Whangarei
First time visitor to New Zealand, 32-year-old Jan Kopecký from the Czech Republic, has surged to the lead of the two-day VINZ International Rally of Whangarei – the opening round of the 2014 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC).
Of the six special stages contested so far today Kopecký and co-driver Pavel Dresler topped the time sheets on five of them, amassing a lead of 23.2seconds in their MRF Tyres ŠKODA Fabia S2000 car.
Today’s leg of the competition used 135km of fast flowing rural roads in the Far North district – baked by continuing fine and sub-tropical weather. Bucking weather predictions for rain this weekend, dust and heavy gravel were the two varying factors facing the nine car international field – that headed a contingent of 38 New Zealand teams.
Starting second car on the road, behind team mate and defending APRC champion Gaurav Gill, Kopecký said the emphasis was on not making mistakes.
“We are happy but we are not pushing too hard as we do not know the stages and tyres – as to how they go. So I have to find a rhythm and the speed to know how much I can push to be safe and finish. The dust was in a few places – maybe four/five places in each stage, so not a big issue,” said Kopecký.
“I have a lead but tomorrow everything could be different.”
For Gill, also in a MRF Tyres ŠKODA Fabia S2000, he reported a clean run of the roads – however struggled in the final long test of the day:
“There was just way too much gravel and I may have been a little too conservative thinking not to overdrive it – and that’s how we lost a lot of time,” said the 32-year-old champion – who’d been previously near level pegging with his team mate and rival.
Third for the day and marking a return to four-wheel-drive competition, Australia’s Mark Pedder struggled with his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X, finishing over four minutes behind the leaders.
Fourth was China’s Jun Xu, in a ŠKODA Fabia S2000 while Australia’s Tom Wilde headed the two-wheel-drive field, driving a Renault Clio.
Of the nine that started today all returned to the finish, however Japan’s Rina Ito had a minor off-road incident in the third test – rejoining to complete the day.
Teams now have a double run of the night time Hella Pohe Island Super Special stage – totalling 2.5km. While not expected to change the overall standings there is a chance for an upset should a team fail to finish the lit spectator spectacle.
Mount Maunganui’s David Holder and Mal Peden top the New Zealand field in the ex-Hayden Paddon Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8 after a day of significant attrition. Defending rally championship duo Richard and Sara Mason of Masterton suffered centre differential failure in the Subaru STi this afternoon – dropping them in to second place.
Sunday’s six remaining special stages take teams south of their Whangarei city base and to roads familiar to many. Departing Whangarei from 7:55am the competition is split with the morning loop of three stages repeated early in the afternoon. Finishers are rewarded at a 3pm champagne ceremony, held adjacent to the rally headquarters and service park, which is located at the Quayside Town Basin in central Whangarei.
Spectating at the rally finish and Quayside Town Basin service areas are free with access to rural viewing points costing just $10 per adult. 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.