International champions headline season opening rally
This weekend’s VINZ International Rally of Whangarei opening round of the 2014 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) features both its defending champ Gaurav Gill from India and European Rally Champion Jan Kopecký from the Czech Republic.
Starting from the northern North Island city of Whangarei, 160km north of Auckland, the 11-13 April event uses roads internationally appraised by drivers that campaigned them during previous rounds of the World Rally Championship. The journey uses 220.87km of fast flowing gravel covered road broken in to 14 special stages in both the Far North and Whangarei Districts.
Starring a field of nine international entrants from a variety of countries Gill and Kopecký bring added status to the event.
The first time champions from sister series have squared off against each other in the APRC it will be a case of master and student, with Kopecký having never been to New Zealand before.
The pair will compete using matching ŠKODA Fabia S2000 specification cars; backed by Indian tyre manufacturer MRF with support from Czech Republic based automotive manufacturer ŠKODA.
“I have to say I have no expectations because this country is completely new to me,” said 32-year-old Kopecký.
“I have never been here before and I am still learning quite a lot about driving on gravel because in my country we don’t have any gravel rallies. Last year I did only three of them in the European Championship, okay two I won but this one seems to be completely different. They are new roads so for us so it will be a huge challenge.”
Whereas for Gill, who finished runner-up at the event in 2013, his past experience highlight the intricacies of the Northland region roads.
“First things first, I am a professional and I have a job to do which is to obviously bring the car home in the best position possible. So I am here for one reason which is to win – that is no different from either this rally or the rest of the rounds in the year. The biggest difference this year in Whangarei would be definitely the stages which are all new as we go north. I have had no experience on those stages so it’s going to be pretty much I would say a level playing field with the other boys who are new, as well like my team mate Kopecký ,” said Gill, who is also aged 32.
“You know sometimes we come here and there is lots of thick gravel and sometimes we turn up here and there is no gravel, so just the difference between is massive in the stages. It can amount to maybe two gears per corner in the difference in the speed. So although the stage is physically the same the conditions can vary. It can always rain in one stage and be dry in the next one so again it’s something that you really can’t predict here.”
Along with the Team MRF Skodas, a third Skoda Fabia S2000, for Chinese pairing of Jun Xu and Sheng Liu will debut to the series. Other competitors include former Honda factory driver and Australian Rally Championship regular, Mark Pedder, driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X. Tom Wilde (Renault Clio), also from Australia, will be battling for the two-wheel drive honours with Kiwi Michael Young (Proton Satria).
Other entrants include India’s Sanjay Takale in a Subaru Impreza, Japan’s Rina Ito in a Honda Civic and countryman Takumi Masukawa in a Mazda Demio.
The eighth consecutive year the championship round has been run from Whangarei; a change of direction see’s the introduction of six new tests on the Saturday. In addition the double run Hella Pohe Island Super Special Stage will be held at night.
The event starts in Whangarei on Friday 11 April with a driver signing and ceremonial start at the Cameron Street mall from 3:30pm. The action begins on the Saturday morning, taking teams in to the Far North district for the six special stages before returning. From 7pm teams tackle the Hella Pohe Island Super Special Stage – at Whangarei’s William Fraser Memorial Park. After that, and a second service break, the cars will be parked overnight before resuming competition early Sunday morning. Contesting a further six special stages broken in to two loops south of the city the cars return to the Quayside Town Basin for a ceremonial finish from 3pm in the afternoon.
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.
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 9 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.