Whangarei gears up for international rally
This weekend’s 3 – 5 May running of the ENEOS International Rally of Whangarei bring drivers and cars from Japan, Ireland, United States of America, Australia and around New Zealand to the Northland region to test themselves on the cambered fast-flowing rural roads.
The second round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC), changes to its structure have drawn a strong local interest at shooting for the international title.
Headed by four-time International Rally of Whangarei winner Hayden Paddon (Wanaka), he will be joined by Samantha Gray (Timaru) in last year’s winning Hyundai i20 AP4 car. While vying for a fifth event win Paddon will be competing alongside five others chasing points for the APRC title.
The new format puts Kiwi’s in strong contention for the title – last achieved by Possum Bourne in 2000.
Whangarei has long played host to the APRC and drivers like Paddon, who are prominent on the world stage. The 2019 event includes a number of subtle changes to the journey across the fast-flowing Northland rural roads.
“It’s always a favourite event and one I look forward to testing myself on,” said 32-year-old Paddon.
“There are a few new stages as well as re-configuration of old stages so there will be some tests for us with new notes to write. It looks like it will be dry so there will be a lot less grip which isn’t in my favour.
“My main goal is to better my previous times. We’ve set targets for the year and they are around lowering stage times.
“I always want to be going faster – that’s the best part of rallying and as a sportsperson, it’s the pursuit of becoming better that I enjoy most, rather than being affected by outside influences.”
Another change he’s used to has been a different navigator in the car.
“We’ve had a bit of co-driver roulette in the past year. It’s a great opportunity for Samantha and I’m very impressed with her pre-event preparation and testing she’s done with us – she’s very committed. For someone who’s wanting to make it internationally she’s doing really well,” he said of the Timaru based addition to the team.
In Paddon’s shadow and in with a strong shot of an APRC result are the father and son two-car team of Andrew and Jack Hawkesood (Brookby, Auckland). Driving similar specification Mazda 2 AP4 cars it will be a first attempt of the Northland roads by 18-year-old Jack Hawkeswood.
Making a return to the APRC, Australian based Kiwi Mike Young and co-driver Malcolm Read return in the Cusco backed Toyota Yaris while Japanese pairing Suguru Kawana and Noriko Takeshita compete in a second Cusco prepared car – a Toyota Vitz.
Missing out on points at the opening round held at Dunedin mid-April; Mt Manganui based Dave Holder and co-driver Jason Farmer make a fresh start in their Holden Barina AP4.
Included in the mix, internationally renowned US based extreme action driver Ken Block and co-driver Alex Gelsomino return to Whangarei as part of their ‘Cossie World Tour’.
The pair are contesting six rally events around the world in a 2019 version of a 90’s Ford Escort Cosworth. It will be Block’s third start at the International Rally of Whangarei, having last driven the roads in 2015 where he finished first of the national category cars, behind the APRC field.
Heading the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC) is Auckland based Ben Hunt and co-driver Tony Rawstorn in a Subaru. The second of six rounds for the 2019 title, Hunt is campaigning a production Group N specification car in a hot battle for supremacy against the newer generation AP4 cars, headed by Auckland’s Dylan Turner and ring-in co-driver Paul Fallon. A further 43 NZRC cars follow including another YouTube sensation: Irishman Frank Kelly and daughter Lauren in the Ford Escort MKII.
Another 20 cars from the modern Subaru of Jack Williamson to the classic Skoda 130LR of John Coker swell the entry list to 72.
While the weekend’s action will take place across closed sections of rural road the event starts on the Friday with a driver signing and ceremonial function on Whangarei’s river crossing Te Matau ā Pohe bridge from 5pm.
The teams then contest a double-run of the adjacent 1.25km Pohe Island Super Special stage that this year includes a purpose-built 1m high jump.
On the Saturday teams head north to tackle eight special stages comprising four groups of roads. Starting with the 20.39km ‘Marlow’ near Otakairangi the next stage is the 17.22km ‘Tapuhi’, followed by the 15.97km Crow’s Nest near Towai and the 14.82km ‘Helena’ near Helena Bay. Teams return to Whangarei for a 20-minute service break before repeating the loop in the afternoon.
Sunday journey’s south covers a further four stages, repeated. Starting with the 15.23km ‘Tangihua’ south of Whatitiri, then the 16.40km ‘Waiotira’, 8.32km ‘Millbrook’ and infamous 22.55km ‘Waipu Caves’. Teams then return to Whangarei for a service break and then repeat the course, returning for a ceremonial finish at the Quayside Town Basin from 3pm.
Spectators can enjoy free access to the service park (adjacent to the Northland Events Centre, Port Rd side) and ceremonial finish (Quayside Town Basin). Tickets for Friday’s driver signing, opening ceremony and the Pohe Island Super Special Stage start at $20 (under 15-aged kids are free).
Access to the rural stage spectator points is $10 per day.
Spectators are reminded to respect the direction of the local community group marshals, who are assisting the event with support of the
Whangarei District Council and Far North District Council.
Spectator information Maps and timetables can be downloaded from ‘Spectators’ section.