Whangarei hosts New Zealand’s international car rally
This weekend’s 28-30 April International Rally of Whangarei brings a large multi-cultural blend and top cars to New Zealand for the opening round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC).
The only international FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) rally event held in New Zealand since the last World Rally Championship (WRC) experience in 2012, Whangarei continues to be the feature event for organisers Rally of New Zealand.
Using the Northland region’s worldly revered fast-flowing gravel roads, teams will test their ability across 16 special stages. The weekend journey will total 796.78km and entries vary from the latest international R5 four-wheel-drive turbo-charged SKODAs and AP4 Mitsubishis, to classic era cars of Ford Escorts and a Hillman Hunter.
Topping the international field will be last year’s winner and APRC champion Gaurav Gill from India. Joined by Belgium co-driver Stéphane Prévot they head the two-car MRF Tyres backed ŠKODA Fabia team. The second car will be campaigned by Norweigan pairing of Ole Christian Veiby and co-driver Stig Rune – contesting the event for the first time.
A new team to the series brings matching Mitsubishi Mirage cars run by Swedish based MPart. Experienced WRC driver Jari Ketomaa and co-driver Ville Mannisenmaki will start second car on the road behind Gill and are eying being on the top-step at season’s end.
“I am extremely motivated about the Asia-Pacific Championship. I would really like to win it – and I think as a team we can win it. It’s a very high profile championship and to add an FIA title to my CV would be fantastic,” said Jari Ketomaa.
Sweden’s Robert Blomberg and co-driver Lars Andersson will run the same Mirage that they used with great success in the UK in 2016.
Other international entries include India’s PG Abhilash/Srikanth Gowda and Japan’s Fuyuhiko Takahashi/Mitsuo Nakamura – each in Subaru STI cars.
Two Kiwi teams of Ben Hunt/Tony Rawstorn (Subaru STI) and Dylan Turner/Malcolm Read (Audi S1) round out the international field.
A further 54 cars will follow – compromising a mixture of New Zealand, Australian and Japanese entries in domestic category cars. Of that, 44 are entered to claim points toward the second round of the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship.
With the cars now based in Whangarei ahead of the weekend’s action, focus is on pre-event reconnaissance – where teams get to check the roads and make detailed ‘pace’ notes they will use in competition.
On Friday morning teams get a two-hour opportunity to test the cars at the William Fraser Memorial Park, Pohe Island.
Focus then turns to the autograph signing session from 5pm at “The Fishhook of Pohe” river crossing bridge. That is followed by the 6pm cultural welcome and ceremonial start with the first test – the 1km long Hella Pohe Island Super Special Stage to start at 7pm. Run twice, teams complete the evening ahead of the action proper starting early Saturday morning.
Heading north for two loops of four tests, the first starts at 7:26am with the 29.73km Riponui stage. The cars then head as far north as Northland’s Piahia before returning to Whangarei for a midday service break. Repeated in the afternoon the cars get a 45-minute service break at the end of the day before being securely parked for the night at the Toll Stadium.
Sunday’s remaining stages take the teams south, covering more familiar territory to some. The day starts with the 22.53km Waipu Caves stage, followed by the 16.46km Waiotira test and the 15.39km Tangihua stage. The cars return to Whangarei for a brief service break before repeating the loop in the early afternoon.
After the final stage the cars return for the 3pm ceremonial finish at the iconic Quayside Town Basin, adjacent to the inner harbour and city centre.
Spectators can enjoy free access to the service park (adjacent to the Toll Stadium, Port Rd side) and ceremonial finish (Quayside Town Basin). Tickets for Friday’s driver signing, opening ceremony and the Hella Super Special Stage start at $20 (under 15-aged kids are free). Spectating day passes for the rural stages cost $10 and can be pre-purchased from the Rally Headquarters (Ground Floor, Toll Stadium, 51 Okara Drive, Whangarei). Paddock parking is available at some locations for a gold coin donation.
Safety is paramount and organising chairman Mr Willard Martin advises a common-sense attitude will reward spectators: “The designated spectating areas are there to keep people safe while offering the best possible viewing. We want people to come along, see and enjoy the action and return home to be able to do it all again another time.
“Please listen to the directions given by marshals – and read the instructions on the spectator map.”
Free spectator maps can be collected from the Rally Headquarters or found in Wednesday’s Leader newspaper supplement. Further spectating information can be found here.